Tackling Unilever's discovery centre day

Unilever’s discovery centre day is the final stage of its recruitment process. This is basically Unilever’s assessment centre but it’s different to a standard assessment centre format. You won’t be asked to give a presentation and there won’t be a formal interview.

Instead, the day will immerse you in a typical day on the future leaders programme at Unilever and all of the exercises will be designed around a business case study. These exercises include:

  • a project meeting with colleagues from your function
  • a short meeting with senior management regarding a current business challenge
  • a team meeting with the other candidates
  • a one-to-one meeting with your ‘line manager’

Preparing for Unilever’s discovery centre day: read up on Unilever

Some preparation before you go to Unilever’s discovery centre day is essential. Read about Unilever and think about what the company stands for. Your research will help you think of some questions you could ask to show off your commercial awareness and your interest in Unilever.

If you’ve read our tips on preparing for Unilever’s digital interview, then you might have already read up on Unilever’s culture and values. If you have, refresh your memory on what you found out. If you haven’t, you can find out everything you need to know on the ‘who we are’ section of Unilever’s website. Pay particular attention to the sub-sections ‘our vision’, ‘purpose, values and principles’ and ‘our strategy’.

This knowledge will help you in all of the exercises you’ll face on the day. When talking about the current business challenge with senior management, for example, you can then think of ways to tackle the challenge that go hand in hand with Unilever’s strategy and principles.

You should also make sure you know what Unilever does. This will help you anticipate what topics might come up on the day and demonstrate your commercial awareness. Think about:

  • the markets it operates in eg food and drink, personal care, home care
  • the brands it works on eg Flora, Lynx and Persil
  • the Unilever Sustainable Living plan eg its approach to reducing environmental impact
  • its competitors eg Mars, Procter and Gamble, Nestlé and SC Johnson
  • any prominent issues it's facing at the moment eg how might Brexit affect Unilever?
  • consumer trends eg the increase in ‘free from’ products available in the supermarkets

Tips on professional behaviour

Unilever has used this format of assessment centre for a reason. The recruiters want to see you in action so they can easily assess how you might perform on the job if they offer you a position and how you behave in a professional environment.

Dress for the office. Treat Unilever’s discovery centre like you would an interview. It’s probably best to go for office dress but make sure you’re comfortable in what you wear. If you’re still not sure, our article on dressing to impress at graduate interviews can help.

Draw on your experience of any work environments to guide you, whether that’s your summer job as a lifeguard or volunteering once a week as a teaching assistant. It might help to think of colleagues who you admired. What skills and qualities did they have that stood out to you as impressive?

Show you are listening to your colleagues. A good way to do this is to acknowledge somebody’s point by nodding or asking a question.

Be proactive in meetings. Take a notebook in but don’t be seen to be doodling. You want to show you’re paying attention. You could even volunteer to take notes. And be sure to speak up. A good way to do this is to follow on from somebody’s idea with ‘That’s a good idea Tom. We could advance that by…’

Remember not to swear and, finally, don’t be afraid to take refreshments. You’ll need to keep your energy up.

The skills Unilever will be testing on the day

Some of the skills Unilever will be looking for are:

  • time management – can you juggle several tasks at once and set out enough time to spend on each task? Can you keep a meeting on schedule?
  • communication – as the exercises are all face-to-face meetings, this is more about oral communication than your written communication. Can you express your points clearly? Do you listen to your colleagues? Can you build rapport with people?
  • teamwork – can you work well with other people in your team? Three out of the four exercises are meetings with more than just one person. Be sure to actively contribute to the meetings but don’t monopolise the discussion. Engage with the group and listen to what they’re saying. If you find the group is getting off track, can you get it back on track?

You can find a list of more skills that Unilever looks for in its graduates in its advertisement in The Guardian UK 300.

Think about Unilever’s standards of leadership

Unilever’s graduate programme is called the future leaders programme so you’ll definitely need to show off your leadership potential at the discovery centre. In the past, Unilever's recruiters assessed candidates against the following standards of leadership:

  • growth mind-set – competitive leadership
  • consumer and customer focus – purpose-driven leadership
  • bias for action – action-driven leadership
  • accountability and responsibility – performance-driven leadership
  • building talent and teams – people-driven leadership

We recommend focusing on the words in bold above. Think about what these standards suggest about Unilever’s ideal leader and the kind of behaviour that aligns with them.

Being people-driven, for example, is all about motivating your team and building a strong team that will pull together to succeed. This requires somebody who cares about other people, listens to what their colleagues are saying and values everybody’s contribution. Bear this in mind at the discovery centre. Interrupting somebody or dismissing their opinion, for instance, doesn’t align with this standard.

One way you could show that you are action-driven at the discovery centre is to make sure the meetings you participate in result in decisions rather than just having a general discussion. For example, after you’ve discussed a topic, consolidate what the action point from this will be. Equally, thinking about your customers’ needs during the meetings will definitely show that you are customer focused.

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