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How to write a great application for a graduate job in consumer products

Pick up tips for online applications that will impress consumer goods recruiters and get you through to the next stage.

Consumer products companies that recruit large numbers of graduates typically ask candidates to fill in an online recruitment form as the first step in the recruitment process. You may also need to put together a CV and covering letter to complement your online form, as a number of companies ask you to submit these with your application.

Employer research will help you sell yourself

You need to be able to explain why you have chosen to apply to this particular consumer goods company and what attracted you to the scheme you’re going for. Familiarise yourself with the product portfolio of your prospective employer and its competitors. You are likely to be asked about your extracurricular activities and interests, including any volunteering, and your contribution to clubs, societies or teams.

Find out about the competencies and qualifications sought by each employer you are interested in, so you can show how you fit the bill. Consumer goods companies tend to look for candidates with an enterprising, entrepreneurial approach, good commercial awareness and creative flair, who have strong problem solving and negotiation skills.

Here are some examples of the kind of questions you could be asked on application forms, to give you a flavour of what employers are looking for:

Questions consumer goods companies ask on online application forms

The L’Oréal application form may include questions that focus on innovation and your ability to take an entrepreneurial approach, such as these:

  • Describe a time when you undertook an entrepreneurial task with profitable results.
  • Describe a creative task that you have undertaken and what the results were.

The Mars online application form may ask for details of your level of involvement in clubs, societies or teams (so it’s not enough just to have signed up – you need to have made a genuine contribution). You could also be asked for examples of times when you had to do the following:

  • Complete a challenging task
  • Overcome difficulties in establishing a working relationship with a colleague
  • Influence others to deliver a project.

The recruiters at Mars are likely to be particularly interested in what you have learned from your experiences, so you could use examples where, with hindsight, you would have done things differently. You’re not expected to be perfect, but recruiters do want to see that you’re capable of adapting and developing your skills.

P&G’s online application form is likely to ask you questions about specific skills required for the role. You will find it helpful to review the company values before you devise your answers.

Unilever’s online application form is relatively short and straightforward, and is mostly based around basic personal information and your education history. You are then asked to complete a profile assessment which consists of online games designed to asses your cognitive, social and emotional traits.

Danone's recruiters will be looking for answers about why you think Danone is the right company for you, as well as evidence of your enthusiasm for the company's commitment to improving health through nutrition. You'll also be asked about specific times that you have demonstrated at least one of Danone's core values. It's worth familiarising yourself with the 'our values' section of Danone's website before answering.

Writing a CV and covering letter for a role with a consumer goods company

Leading consumer goods companies such as Danone typically invite candidates to submit a CV with their online application forms and may ask for a covering letter as well. Make sure you follow instructions and stick to the length requested – don’t provide a two-page CV if you’ve been asked for a one-page one.

So how do you make sure your online application form, CV and covering letter complement each other rather than simply repeating the same points? The trick is to use your CV and covering letter to expand on what you’ve done and to take advantage of the extra space to sell your skills. In order to do this successfully you’ll need to analyse your work experience and degree course and pick out angles that will be of interest to the employer, then decide how much information to put in different parts of your application.

The good news is that even if you think you don’t have enough work experience to fill a two-page CV, you almost certainly do – you just need to think carefully about how you present it. Any experience of working in retail or customer service is likely to be highly relevant. Think about what you learned from part-time or temp jobs in these areas and see if you can relate this to the competencies the employer is looking for.

How to present what you’ve learned from your course on your CV

Do you do project work? If so, you could expand on some examples of your project experience in your CV, showing how you’ve worked in different roles in different teams. You could even add a ‘Project Experience’ section. If you are applying for a supply chain or logistics management position you could highlight your skill at analysis, planning and implementation; for a sales role, emphasise your effectiveness at persuasion and influencing and your flexibility. You could highlight a relevant experience in a bullet point, and then expand on it further in your covering letter.

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