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

What degree and skills do you need to get onto a FMCG graduate scheme and how important is it to have done an internship? Find out what to expect.

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A membership survey, published in November 2020 and carried out by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), which represents numerous big graduate employers, found that retail and FMCG were competitive areas for graduates to get into and that this had been exacerbated by the pandemic: between 2018/2019 and (anticipated hires for) 2020/2021 there has been a 45% decline in hiring. Nonetheless, there are still consumer goods vacancies out there and this article should give you some insight into what you’ll need to secure one. For further guidance after reading this, take a look at our article on job hunting during the coronavirus pandemic.

In this article: What is FMCG? | Areas you can work in | Qualifications you’ll need | Most sought-after skills | Internships and work experience | The recruitment process and interview tips | Salaries | Training and development

What are consumer goods (FMCG) companies?

You will 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.

What graduate schemes do FMCG companies offer?

FMCG companies are involved in such a wide range of functions that they tend to offer a variety of graduate schemes to match. FMCG and consumer goods career options usually cover some or all of the following areas:

  • 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
  • research and development
  • customer care.

What qualifications 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.

  • Premier Foods wants a 2.1 minimum, usually in a relevant subject, for its graduate schemes.
  • Mars typically looks for candidates with a 2.1 or above in a bachelors degree. For the engineering pathway of the functional leadership experience, however, you'll need a masters degree in electrical, mechanical or chemical engineering.
  • Danone typically requires at least a 2.1 degree, and like other consumer goods employers, has specific degree requirements in some areas. For example, you’ll usually need a degree in either nutrition or dietetics for its nutrition graduate programme.

What skills do I need for a career in consumer goods?

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 scheme. 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 (when this is possible once again) 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

Many consumer goods businesses offer internships 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. Nonetheless, relevant work experience with a consumer goods business 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, 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, along with many 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.

If you are interested in working for Procter & Gamble, consider applying for its student programmes. These include workshops, classes, competitions based on real-life business scenarios, hackathons, seminars and training sessions. This could prove to be a good opportunity to gain skills, learn a bit about the company and network with P&G employees.

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 (often requiring you to attach a CV and covering letter).
  • Online assessment, which could include aptitude tests or online games.
  • Video interview. This is used by employers including Kerry Group and Unilever.
  • Interview.
  • Assessment centre (which may be virtual due to Covid-19).

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 typically 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.

Most 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 training programme?

According to a membership survey published in November 2020 by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), the median starting salary for graduates who started work for consumer goods companies was £27,500.

Graduate pay at FMCG companies varies depending on the scheme applied to, but is usually between £22,000 and £32,000. Here are some examples:

  • Arla has offered graduate salaries within the £30,000–£35,000 range.
  • Associated British Foods' has a graduate starting salary of £30,000.
  • Danone has previously offered a base salary for graduates of £30,500.
  • Johnson & Johnson is said to offer graduate trainees a salary of between £27,000 and £33,000.
  • Nestlé graduates can typically expect to earn around £30,000.
  • 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 consumer goods 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 23 June 2021.

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