How to shine at interview for a graduate job in consumer goods
Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are keen to assess potential graduate trainees’ flexibility, adaptability and communication skills. Interviews are a good way of doing this, and typically play an important part in the recruitment process. Video or telephone interviews are more likely to be used at an early stage, whereas face-to-face interviews often form part of assessment centres. Candidates for some consumer goods roles may find that they take part in several interviews before receiving a job offer.
Different employers use different combinations of interviews and other assessments, and you'll find it useful to find out what to expect as part of your employer research. With any kind of interview, preparation is the key to overcoming your nerves and making a good impresssion.
General tips for answering interview questions
Whether you're taking part in a phone interview, video interview or facing a panel at an assessment centre, most questions are likely to be competency-based. They may take the form of scenarios, so you are asked what you would do in a given situation. Your interviewer will then seek to match your responses to the company’s list of desired competencies.
You may also be asked about your motivation for applying to the company and wanting to work in the consumer goods industry. It’s also a good idea to think ahead about how you will respond if you are asked about your strengths and weaknesses, your achievements, and any creative projects you have been involved in.
It will help to be familiar with the company’s products: be prepared to be asked which is your favourite. It’s also a good idea to be aware of competitor products, but don’t get them muddled up. Commercial awareness is one of the key skills that FMCG employers are looking for.
Try to make your answers clear and to the point. Although thinking about your responses to typical questions in advance will help you, you need to respond to the particular questions you are asked, rather than giving rehearsed answers.
You can use the STAR technique to help you focus your responses. With each question, think about the S – Situation (set the scene); T – Task (what did you need to do?); A – Action (what did you actually do); and R – Result (what the outcome was, whether good or bad) of that situation.
What to expect from FMCG interviews at different stages
Your first interview is likely to be a video interview or telephone interview.
Video interviews are used by many FMCG employers including Kerry Group and Danone. Danone uses video interviews as part of its recruitment process and assesses candidates' communication skills by inviting them to answer three questions designed to find out about their motivation and their understanding of the employer. Unilever's digital interview consists of three short hypothetical questions and a business case based on a scenario relevant to the employer. You can pick up tips on how to prepare for the Unilever digital interview from our Unilever how to get hired advice.
If you apply to Procter & Gamble, your first interview could take place over the phone, at an office or on campus, and your interviewer could be from the recruitment team rather than the specific business area you have applied to. You'll be asked to give examples drawn from your experience that reflect your skills, and you'll also be asked how you would behave in hypothetical work-related situations.
Second interviews are typically face-to-face and are likely to take place at an assessment centre, with a member of staff from the business area the candidate has applied to. Again, they tend to be broadly competency-based. Try not to repeat examples that you have already used on your application form or at the first interview. Be prepared to go into detail about any examples you give.
You may be also invited to one or more final interviews. These may be with senior members of staff, whether from the recruitment team or from the business area you have applied to. You may be asked more technical questions at this stage. For example, if you have applied to a marketing scheme, you may be asked to review product packaging and recommend changes.
Example questions for interviews with consumer goods companies
During the first interview with L’Oréal, described by the company as an ‘exploratory’ interview, you may be asked questions similar to the following:
- Tell me about a creative project you have been involved in.
- What are your favourite L’Oréal products?
- What is your biggest achievement to date?
At the second round interview, the questions may be a little more searching:
- Why have you applied to L’Oréal?
- Why do you want to work in the beauty industry?
- What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses?
At a second round interview with Procter & Gamble, you may be asked questions along these lines:
- Describe a time when you had to combine two different approaches or perspectives to solve a complex problem.
- How do you deal with heavy workloads and tight deadlines? How do you go about prioritising work?
- Describe a time when you had to respond to constructive criticism.
- Have you ever not met your expectations with regards to a particular goal? How did you deal with it?
- Describe a time when you came up with an idea that lead to a successful project taken up by colleagues.
In a telephone interview for a graduate role with Unilever, you could be asked about to describe a time when you showed innovation. You could also be asked to describe a time when a project didn't go according to plan, and how you responded. Our advice on the Unilever phone interview gives you some ideas on how to frame your answers.