How do I get a graduate job working in consumer goods?
Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies 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.
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.
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.
What qualifications and skills do I need to get hired?
Language skills, a global outlook and a willingness to relocate could all help you get a place on a graduate scheme, as consumer goods companies seek to increase their presence in developing markets.
Qualification requirements vary, and tend to be more specific for specialised technical roles in areas such as engineering and logistics. A 2.1 degree is expected for many, but not all, graduate schemes and programmes offered by the most sought after employers in this area:
Unilever wants 300 UCAS points and a 2.1 minimum. Any degree is accepted for most roles. However, for research and development you'll need a strong technical qualification in a chemical, biological, physical, food-related or materials science or a similar subject. For the research and development packaging graduate scheme you'll need a strong technical qualification in an engineering subject: mechanical engineering or manufacturing engineering are ideal.
L’Oréal’s basic entry requirements are a 2.1 or above in any degree discipline, plus a minimum of 300 UCAS points.
Mars wants candidates with either 280 or 300 UCAS points (not including general studies), depending on the programme, and 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 in any discipline and a minimum of 300 UCAS points.
When should I apply for graduate training schemes with consumer goods companies?
Be aware that companies in this sector don’t necessarily take in one annual graduate intake. Danone's graduate programme is open to applications to the end of October each year, but new graduate opportunities also come up throughout the year and you can get in touch on a speculative basis even if there are no suitable vacancies available. P&G recruits graduates when there is a business need for them, while L’Oréal accepts applications to its graduate programme between the beginning of October and the end of January. Unilever recruits graduates on a rolling basis and is usually open for applications in July or August; some schemes, such as research and development, may remain open after other options have closed. Identifying the employers you are interested in during your second year and familiarising yourself with them will help you to move quickly to apply for vacancies when they become available.
The earlier you start researching consumer goods employers the better. Applying for an internship in your second year will give you a head start, as these are often used as a recruitment tool.
What can I get out of an internship in the consumer goods sector?
Internships with leading graduate employers in this sector tend to be well paid. For example, the salary offered for Nestlé's 2016 sales summer internship was £16,500 pro rata.
Extended, structured work placements, typically undertaken when students reach the end of their penultimate year, can be a direct route to getting a graduate job. Unilever offers top performers from its 12-month industrial placement scheme a place on its graduate scheme without them needing to apply, and Danone may also fast track candidates who have successfully completed placements onto its graduate programme. Almost a third of the graduates L'Oréal recruits each year are former interns.
P&G regards both its short and long-term internships as a period of mutual trial. All interns receive a performance appraisal and give a presentation of the results of their work to management. Interns who perform exceptionally well are likely to be offered graduate jobs.
Of course, many interns won’t come away with a job offer, but they will all have had a chance to find out what it’s really like working in the industry. An internship will help you make you an informed choice about what areas of the business interest you, which you will then be able to back up and explain in your graduate job applications.
If you come to the decision that the consumer goods industry isn’t right for you after all, you will have saved yourself a lot of time, effort and heartache. Whatever you take away from your internship in terms of insights into the kind of company culture and working life that suits you, you will also have developed skills that employers in a range of professions will be interested in, and you’ll have gained lots of practical, work-based examples that you can use in your applications and interviews.
Are there any other ways to get work experience at a consumer goods company?
This industry offers much more in terms of work experience than internships for second years. Although long, structured placements are a good opportunity to get a foot in the door, there are plenty of other ways to find out what working life is like and whether you’d be suited to a career in consumer goods.
Consumer goods companies are always keen to innovate, and that applies to recruitment as well. Look out for initiatives to attract graduate talent online, including games, virtual careers fairs and social media. L’Oréal’s Brandstorm will also give you an insight into the consumer goods industry.