I worked across different geographies, interacting with managers of more than 15 different brands. I thought of myself as an employee of both the firms - Fractal and this Consumer Goods behemoth. The stakeholders gave me ample learning opportunities and I began wondering what it would feel like to be on their side of the table- use my team's results to develop marketing strategies for the future, heavily driven by data, numbers and insight.
I joined IIM Calcutta in June 2019, with one single goal on my mind- to join Hindustan Unilever Limited as a ULIP (Unilever Leadership Internship Program) intern. I will break down my journey into different parts- how I prepared, what all it cost, how I made it there and my experience.
I prepared very rigorously for my summer internship process at IIM Calcutta. I wanted to land an internship in the marketing domain, as it had interested me for quite some time since my undergraduate college days.
I kept my academics aside (not advisable) and spent a lot of time framing my CV for the process. Besides this, I connected with seniors who had interned in top FMCG firms like HUL, P&G, RB, Nestle and ITC. Knowing the kind of competition I had, I stepped up my game. I took part in case competitions to apply what I was learning in the classrooms; I eventually emerged as a campus runners-up in P&G CEO Challenge. That landed me a PPI with them, which I eventually could not convert.
I also went through industry reports and took part in mock GDs and PIs organised by our seniors. I took extra care while preparing for specific companies- I looked at ITC's portfolio, I did an analysis of the alcohol industry when preparing for AB InBev and checked out the beauty industry when preparing for L'Oreal.
Apart from this, our college's Marketing Club organised sessions to clear up basics and help us cover the necessary concepts one should know when appearing for marketing interviews. I also had marketing preparation compendiums from other colleges like FMS Delhi and IIM Bangalore, which came in handy when brushing up concepts.
I would go to classes, but think only about my preparation. I would spend time with my friends there, but continued thinking about my preparation level. I would sometimes party too, but would feel guilty of not preparing enough. I do sound unhealthily obsessed, right? But it was the obsession which helped me chase the almost unattainable. I even enrolled for Kraftshala's SummersPro program, which helped me prepare for my marketing interviews even better.
The HUL Selection Process
HUL rolled out its application form and I remember running down from my friend's room to my room to start filling it as soon as it had come out. I took time to fill the form and the required questions carefully and waited anxiously for the GD/PI shortlists to come out.
HUL shortlisted only 24 people for the process, including direct GI (Group Interview) shortlists for the top performers during their Marketing Brainworks workshop. I was really angry at myself for having missed attending that workshop and the reason of missing it, still evades me.
6 of us (3 men and 3 women) were called in at 9 a.m, for a group discussion. The topic was "Brexit- Is it Art or Science". I made a good number of entries, backed by data and facts and had managed to crack up the interviewer and H.R by making my introduction and conclusion funny. Humour always works.
I was then called in for a Group Interview with Mr. Vipul Mathur (an IIM-C alumnus and Global Brand Leader, Brooke Bond Family). Most of his questions revolved around the work I did when I was with Fractal and how well I understood data. Fortunately, he had touched upon my strength and I could answer convincingly and confidently. During the G.I, I would listen to others' answers carefully too (a useful tip by our seniors).
After a couple of days of stressful waiting, I came to know that I was selected as a marketing intern (along with 10 others) to join the prestigious ULIP programme of 2020, along with 100 students from top B-schools of the country. Plentiful sleepless hours of preparation and a badly battered CGPA, led me to the hallowed internship program, where I would rub shoulders with the sharpest marketing brains of the country.
The ULIP Journey
I was given an opportunity to work along with Payal Bhuptani, Sr. Brand Manager (Tea), on a project which required me to deliver launch recommendations for a global herbal wellness tea brand. This is all I am allowed to say/write about the project, as it was in stealth mode and very confidential.
I did extensive consumer work and other activities which I have dutifully mentioned on my LinkedIn profile. Let us focus on the experience part now.
I interacted with fellow interns, learning about how brands functioned and came up with the products we have loved for so many years. I also had insightful sessions with senior leaders of HUL and different teams which would come together to deliver that final product which millions of people used daily. Media, R&D, Packaging and Finance- I talked to interns, managers and leaders. The knowledge I got, cannot be put down in a few hundred words over here.
Yes, the virtual setting had dampened the overall experience a bit, but HUL did not fail to deliver to the expectations I had from it. The Employee Brand Management team took great care of us interns and organised activities which would help us learn beyond what we learnt during our projects.
My tutor/manager and my coach, Mr. Gaurav Bhatnagar, were highly supportive during the stint and helped me develop values and ethics which I would take along with me in my career forever.
What Came In Useful For Me And Some Learnings
Integrity- I would send daily update mail to my tutor, where I would outline what I did that day, what I plan on doing in the upcoming days and a few ideas I had when working on my project.
Rigor- I went beyond my project brief to conduct extensive consumer calls to build upon an insight I had. My tutor liked this a lot about me- taking ownership of my work and developing solid backing for my insights.
Drive- I hit roadblocks when it came to presenting my ideas properly. I tried my best to keep improving the quality of decks as much as I could and my tutor too helped me hone this skill. Now, I can present any idea I have, in a deck which has less than 5 slides and has content which makes sense. I can communicate my idea over a cup of tea without showing any slides too (the Unilever Art of presenting ideas).
My inadequate presentation and communication skills cost me the PPI. So, do keep in mind the importance of this arrow in your quiver.
Consumer-centricity- This is the second thing my manager applauded me for. I detached myself from own biases and the existing notions of the society, to craft insights based on consumers' thoughts.
Lessons For The Reader
You might be having the same vision as I do. You might be dreaming of making it to ULIP the way I did. These are some things you should keep in mind-
- Prepare very rigorously. The HUL selection process is difficult and unpredictable and you need to be on your toes for whatever might come your way.
- Be open to learning from your peers, as much as you can.
- Own your work and mistakes. Take control of your plans and drive your project. Everyone appreciates that- your interviewer, your manager, your fellow interns, everyone. You would get more help then.
- Look around for the ideas that sold like hot cakes and try to understand why they were successful. Look at failed ideas the same way. That is a good way to prepare for stepping into a brand manager's shoes.
- Be consumer-obsessed. See what they think and think what they want to see.
All the best!