We spoke to BSc Marketing student Kiera Brown and her placement employer Stephanie O’Malley at Unilever about her experience in obtaining a placement as well as how the placement has benefitted her skills and experience in industry.
Finding The Perfect Placement
KB: I applied quite late for my placement because during my second year I was determined to get the best grades possible. I actually didn’t start looking till December – January. I contacted the Employability hub because they have a CV service; they sat down with me and I went through my CV and what I wanted to go into. I study Marketing which is so broad, there’s so many parts you can go into, I didn't really know what I wanted to do, so I applied for a few including Unilever.
You have to do an online application form then there was a telephone interview. I asked the Employability hub about telephone interviews because I'd never had one before. My previous experience was working in Home Bargains in Eccles and I also worked in EE in Manchester so all my interviews have been face to face. I communicate with my hands a lot so I found that really hard to do. The Employability hub gave me advice and I did some of my own research as well.
Then I got shortlisted for the assessment centre which is in Leatherhead in London. There were three tasks, one was a group task, one was an individual task and then one was a normal interview where they asked about competencies. The Professional Development module in second year helped me with that because of the STAR technique which everyone knows about! Even to this day I still use it, talking about what the situation is, the task, action, result.
The Placement Experience
To get an internship with Unilever is massive. I don’t know how many applied, it was like thousands and I got shortlisted.
I'm on Customer Development and Sales and there’s a Marketing function as well.
Moving to London, that was a big thing for me, I didn’t know anyone really but Unilever has a Facebook page when you first join where you can speak to other people who have got placements and it also helps to get a house if you're not from the area. I live with two other girls on placement and they’re lovely. One of them is in Marketing so I get to learn about what she's doing, how it differs from what I'm doing and then helps me make my path to know where I want to go
PJC: Sounds like the role you've got – eCommerce New Revenue Streams Executive - gives you quite a lot of responsibility.
SO’M: It’s not fetching coffees, it’s a real role.
KB: When I was 16 I did some work experience and it was admin, filing, stuff like that so when I got to Unilever, I didn't realise how much responsibility I would be given, it’s an actual role. Sometimes on a work placement, you think you’re going to be given tasks such as getting teas and coffees for people. I think that's what really shocked my system when I first started because you are in a place where you’re given real responsibility including over some of the budget. Commercially, I need to make it work for Unilever, the business that we have.
PJC: How did you step up into that, did you get good support?
KB: Steph has been fantastic with me. I was lucky that the previous lady - she wasn't a placement student, she was actually an employee here - did a week’s handover with me which doesn't sound like a lot but was enough to help me start. From her learnings, I've been able to look at what she's done and decide where to alter it or use the same method. There’s only me and Steph in our team so we're quite a small team but it's great. I really enjoy it.
SO’M: At Unilever, there’s quite a structured support for industry placement students. You have the training courses with the other IPs and the students are given work plans and targets for the year so that impacts on how they get paid and their bonus structures. In that way, it's like a real job.
KB: The structure is 3 + 1, so I’ve been given three targets plus one. An example of the plus one is the work on Twitter that I do, that is actually a ‘plus one’ to my role.
The Salford Experience
PJC: From your point of view, Steph, how have you found dealing with Salford University, dealing with the Employability hub, employing one of our students?
SO’M: I think the level of professionalism that you guys teach your students, whether that's through the Employability hub, or in your coursework, is great. It sounds like you guys have courses on professional development which I think prepares students for these placements. And even from the presentations that we've just seen there I think it's really visible that the students realise that they are going into a real role, that this is what the working life will be like and it's definitely visible with Kiera that she can bring things like Star techniques when she's in a meeting with someone. That's been really really good.
From my experience with Keira and meeting a few of the students, it seems like you guys really prepare them for that industry focus. Sometimes some universities can really focus on the academic side of things but what's important is preparing students for a balance of academic structure but also focus on industry.
KB: I think we’re quite lucky with where we are in Salford because we're so close to the business sector, we’re only 10 minutes away from the city centre of Manchester. So when we’re in Uni, they’ve always vocalised how Salford’s in a really good position because we’re so close to the business, so close to industry.
SO’M: We've been really happy working with Kiera and working with you guys. It's worked out really well so actually we've extended Kiera’s placement to a summer internship so that she'll stay on with us for another two months
PJC: So are you looking forward to coming back for your last year, coming back to being a student again?
KB: I think this year's helped me prepare for final year uni. Deadlines have been really difficult for me, in uni I really struggled with them just because I like to plan so I'd always do pages and pages and pages on planning. Working for Unilever has helped me be able to scrap the pages. The Eisenhower diagram, it's helped me put my to do list into boxes and helped me decide what needs to be done now, what needs to be done next week.
[Time Management] was a course that Unilever took all the placement students on, we’re given real industry experience, we’re given real courses that other full time employees went on as well. I also did a course in Salford, it was a leadership course. It was by Salford Students Union. I really recommend that because that's helped me with joining Unilever as well, because I had done that course before I started. That helped me in terms of leadership and knowing when to take a step back with things because I think sometimes when I worked previously, when I'd go into group tasks, for example, if I was doing a group assignment I’d always be needing to be in the middle need, I’d need to make sure everyone's doing the right thing. But now I know that I need to take a step back and just watch what people are doing. I think when you're younger, you always want to be in the centre of sorting issues out but now grown up I know to take a step back within experiences I’ve had a Unilever.
SO’M: That's a good example of leadership skills. So the fact that you guys train that in your professional development, but then when they can actually bring those kind of skills that they learn in the classroom, into the workplace. That's just a good example showing those leadership skills.
Industry Skills Developed in Placement
KB: I think I definitely developed my leadership skills again, and I think that’s helped me know when to take a step back and when to be in the middle of everything. I've also learnt to trust people more as well, knowing when you work in a team, for example. I work with supply chain, to trust what they're doing is going to help me and say, if there's an issue that I know that I can trust the person that's dealing with the issue to help me and feed back to me, and then for me to be able to go back to my buyer and speak to them and for them to trust me as well. The whole trust circle is important.