How do I get a graduate job in fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG)?

What is the FMCG sector? And what degree, skills and experience do you need to get onto FMCG graduate programmes? Find out what to expect.

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Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are poular with graduates starting their careers. After all, the industry is responsible for big, household-name brands. Graduates will work on FMCG products they've grown up with and used on a daily basis. A student recruitment survey, published in November 2021 and carried out by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents numerous big graduate employers, found that the retail, FMCG and tourism sectors reported the highest number of applications per vacancy during 2020/21, with an average of 192

While it is a competitive industry to get into, there are a good number of jobs out there with FMCG organisations. This includes formal graduate schemes that recruit university students every year. In fact, some of the top FMCG companies in the world have operations in the UK. Since the coronavirus pandemic, the ISE survey reports that the retail, FMCG and tourism sectors are bouncing back, with a 35% growth in the number of graduates recruited in 2020/21 compared to 2019/20.

In this article: What is FMCG? | Top FMCG companies | FMCG graduate programmes | Qualifications you'll need | Most sought-after skills | Internships and work experience | The recruitment process and interview tips | Salaries | Training and development

What is a FMCG company?

FMCG companies typically sell large quantities of relatively low-cost products that customers use on a regular basis, such as food, drinks, cleaning products, toiletries and cosmetics.

Consumer goods tend to be manufactured in high volumes and transported to shops via extensive distribution networks. FMCG businesses also 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. Sustainability and environmental impact are other key considerations.

Top consumer goods companies in the UK

Big FMCG companies with operations in the UK include:

  • AB InBev
  • Danone
  • Kimberley-Clark
  • Kraft-Heinz Company
  • L'Oréal
  • Mars
  • Mondelēz
  • Nestlé
  • PepsiCo
  • Premier Foods
  • Procter & Gamble
  • Unilever.

Bear in mind that the FMCG brands you know and love aren't the names of the employers you'll be applying to. Instead, you'll be applying to the parent company behind the brand. Magnum, for example, is owned by Unilever, while Procter & Gamble is home to Gillette. Most FMCG companies list the brands they own on their websites.

What FMCG graduate programmes are there?

FMCG companies are involved in such a wide range of functions that they tend to offer a variety of graduate jobs to match, such as:

  • research and development
  • HR
  • supply chain
  • procurement (sourcing and selecting materials that a business will use and negotiating prices)
  • operations
  • sales and marketing
  • IT, ICT, IS (information systems) or technological development
  • engineering development
  • quality assurance
  • accounting and finance
  • packaging
  • management
  • finance
  • customer care.

How to get into the FMCG industry

Many FMCG organisations seek graduates from all degree disciplines and place more importance on the passion you have for the function you're applying to, especially for roles such as marketing and sales. However, a more specific degree background tends to be required for specialised technical roles such as engineering, research and development and, sometimes, supply chain.

Furthermore, you often do not need a minimum degree classification to apply. The ISE's Student recruitment survey 2021 found that the retail, FMCG and tourism sectors had the highest proportion of companies reporting no minimum degree requirements (36%). However, some employers, such as Premier Foods, ask for a 2.1 degree minimum.

What skills do I need to work for a FMCG company?

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 . They also tend to look for graduate recruits who have strong communication and problem solving skills and who are flexible and adaptable .

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

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.

FMCG internships and work experience

Many consumer goods businesses offer internships and placement years, 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. Nonetheless, relevant FMCG experience is unlikely to be a necessity. If you put together a strong application and show the skills recruiters are looking for, you should still be in with a good chance.

This is a career area where any experience you have of part-time retail work is potentially relevant. You may even 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, along with many competencies FMCG companies are looking for.

The application system for internships is often similar to that for FMCG 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.

Some employers may run shorter work experience programmes for students. For example, Procter & Gamble runs student programmes including workshops, forums, classes, hackathons, seminars, training sessions and the P&G CEO Challenge.

You should also check to see if a FMCG company 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 (often requiring you to attach a CV and covering letter).
  • Online assessment, which could include aptitude tests or online games.
  • Video/digital interview.
  • Assessment centre (which may be an in-person or virtual assessment ).

The busiest time for applications to FMCG graduate programmes is October to January, but some open as early as August. Vacancies may also be advertised outside the traditional recruitment cycle. P&G typically recruits graduates when there is a business need, for example.

At least some interview questions are likely to be competency-based and may take the form of scenarios in which you are asked what you would do in a given situation. You may also be asked about your motivation for applying to the company and wanting to work in the consumer goods industry. It’s 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 and those of competitors.

How much could I earn on a FMCG graduate programme?

According to the ISE's Student recruitment survey 2021, the median starting salary for graduates who started work for retail, FMCG and tourism companies was £28,000.

Graduate pay at FMCG companies varies depending on the scheme applied to, but is usually between £22,000 and £35,000. Here are some examples:

  • Associated British Foods' has a graduate starting salary of £30,000.
  • L'Oréal graduates start on £30,000.
  • Mars has a graduate starting salary of £32,000.
  • Nestlé graduates earn a starting salary of £30,000.
  • Premier Foods offers a £28,000 starting salary.
  • The starting salary on Unilever's future leaders programme is £32,000.
  • William Jackson Food Group's graduate programmes have a £25,000 starting salary.

What training and development do FMCG companies offer?

Graduate positions at consumer goods companies often have a clearly defined path for promotion and career progression. Because of this they tend to be highly competitive to get into.

Many FMCG companies run on the 70:20:10 learning and training principle, which involves receiving 70% of learning and development opportunities through stretching assignments on the job, 20% through mentoring and 10% through formal training opportunities (which sometimes include professional qualifications).

However you decide to develop your career in the future, time spent on a consumer goods company’s graduate scheme will give you experience of a fast-paced commercial environment that will stand you in good stead.

Article last updated 28 April 2022.

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