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How do I get a graduate job working in consumer goods?

What degree do you need and how important is it to have done an internship? Find out what to expect from the recruitment process for a FMCG graduate scheme.

Leading fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies accept applications from graduates of all degree backgrounds, though you will usually need at least a 2.1 and some technical programmes have specific degree requirements. FMCG employers that recruit large numbers of graduates typically offer a broad range of different training programmes, from research and development to marketing.

A membership survey carried out by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents numerous big graduate employers, found that retail and consumer goods was an exceptionally competitive area for graduates to get into, with 67 applications per vacancy. The study, published in September 2019, found that FMCG and retail was the most competitive of all the industries covered, and attracted more applications per vacancy than areas such as finance and professional services and energy, engineering and industry.

What are consumer goods (FMCG) companies?

You'll need to have a good understanding of what fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies do to apply successfully. FMCG businesses that recruit large numbers of graduates are often responsible for big, household-name brands. They typically sell large quantities of relatively low-cost products that customers buy on a regular basis, such as cleaning products, toiletries, cosmetics and confectionery.

Consumer goods tend to be manufactured in high volumes and transported to the shops via extensive distribution networks. FMCG businesses invest in marketing to create brand awareness and attract loyal customers, and carry out scientific research to develop new products and refine their current offering.

You might be interested in a supply chain role with a consumer goods company. The life cycle of a consumer product from the sourcing of raw materials to the point of sale is referred to as the supply chain, and this series of processes needs to be as efficient as possible in order to meet consumers’ needs and maximise profits. Minimising environmental impact is also a key consideration.

All consumer goods companies want to sharpen their competitive edge and ensure their future success by recruiting graduates with the right skills and attitudes. Their employees need to be able to respond quickly and decisively to both problems and opportunities in order to overcome difficulties and achieve commercial goals.

You’ll need good commercial awareness to land a place on a FMCG graduate scheme. This means researching the market and being aware of the competition, and knowing which brands belong to which company.  

What graduate schemes do FMCG companies offer?

FMCG companies are involved in such a wide range of activities that they tend to offer a broad range of graduate schemes to match, usually covering some or all of the following areas:

  • research and development
  • HR
  • supply chain
  • procurement
  • operations
  • sales and marketing
  • IT, ICT, IS (information systems) or technological development
  • engineering development
  • quality assurance
  • accounting and finance
  • packaging
  • customer care

What qualifications and skills do I need to get hired?

Qualification requirements vary, and tend to be more specific for specialised technical roles in areas such as engineering and logistics. A 2.1 degree in any subject is the standard requirement for many, but not all, graduate schemes and programmes offered by the most popular graduate employers in this area.

  • Unilever wants a 2.1 minimum from applicants to the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (UFLP). Any degree is accepted for most roles. However, for research and development you'll need a strong technical qualification in a chemical, biological, physical or food-related science. Chemical/material or engineering-related disciplines are also accepted. For supply chain, you'll need a strong background in electrical, mechanical, chemical or manufacturing engineering, or a similar engineering qualification. Maths, business, technology and design-related disciplines are also accepted. You don’t need a technological qualification for the technological development scheme.
  • Mars looks for candidates with a 2.1 or above. For some programmes you'll need a degree in a relevant subject: for example, for the engineering development programme you'll need a 2.1 in electrical, mechanical, manufacturing or chemical engineering.
  • Danone requires at least a 2.1 degree, and like other consumer goods employers, has specific degree requirements in some areas. For example, you’ll need a degree in either nutrition or dietetics for its nutrition graduate programme.
  • P&G recruits candidates who are academically strong – you’ll need to check against the individual job description for details.

Like many other graduate employers, FMCG companies want to take on team players who have the potential to lead, and who are capable of innovation, adaptation and negotiation. They also tend to look for graduate recruits who have strong communication and problem solving skills, who are flexible and adaptable, and who have good commercial awareness.

For example, Kerry Group looks for flexible, mobile team players who are creative, forward-thinking, and driven. Language skills, a global outlook and a willingness to relocate could all help you get a place on a consumer goods graduate scheme, as FMCG companies seek to increase their presence in developing markets.

Internships and work experience in consumer goods

Consumer goods businesses offer many internship and work experience schemes, and these can give you a real advantage when it comes to applying for jobs and could even lead to you being fast-tracked onto the employer’s graduate scheme. However, if you put together a strong application and show the skills recruiters are looking for, you should still be in with a good chance even if you don’t have directly relevant work experience with a consumer goods business.

This is a career area where any experience you have of part-time retail work is potentially relevant, as you may well have worked in an outlet that sold consumer goods. Work experience or extracurricular activities can also provide you with examples of your teamworking and communication skills and the other competencies FMCG companies are looking for.

The application system for internships is often similar to that for graduate schemes, but slightly shorter. While the internship application process may seem demanding, it’s worth remembering that you could be fast-tracked onto the graduate scheme if you succeed.

For example, if you apply to Unilever’s summer programme you’ll need to fill out an online application, complete a video interview and attend a half-day selection day. For the financial management option, there’s also an online assessment. If you apply to the graduate scheme, you’ll be invited to complete an online application and a profile assessment – a series of online games. The next stage is recording a digital interview, followed by a discovery centre day.

If you are interested in working for Procter & Gamble, consider applying for its student programme, a two or three-day workshop available to students in their final year and graduates. This is a good opportunity to familiarise yourself with the company.

You should also check to see if a consumer goods employer you are interested in is going to be visiting your university campus. These events usually take place in the autumn.

Some employers run online initiatives or competitions as a way of making contact with talented graduates. For example, L’Oréal’s Brandstorm is a well-established online business game that has now evolved into a way of enabling students to develop innovative projects.

What is the recruitment process for a FMCG graduate scheme?

The recruitment process typically involves a combination of the following:

  • Online application.
  • Online assessment, which could include aptitude tests or online games. For example, Danone asks candidates to complete SHL verbal and numerical reasoning tests.
  • Video interview. This is used by employers including Kerry Group and Unilever.
  • Interview.
  • Assessment centre.

The busiest time for applications to FMCG graduate programmes is October to January, but some programmes open as early as August. Vacancies may also be advertised outside the traditional recruitment cycle. P&G recruits graduates when there is a business need and undergraduates who have attended the student programme will have an advantage when applying for entry-level jobs.

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