I really enjoyed my placement at Unilever - I was given genuine responsibility and was able to work autonomously on my work, with guidance and support where needed. Working in a global organisation was an amazing experience and offered many different opportunities in addition to my main role. I learned a huge amount and enjoyed working with great people.
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I generally felt valued by my colleagues - my team were supportive and offered help and guidance wherever I needed it. At times, I would have benefited from some more positive feedback in order to develop my confidence and help me improve in my role. Until near the end of my placement, my team felt somewhat disconnected and so the support structure lacked at times, although this did improve.
My manager has given me a good level of support this year in regards to my work at Unilever and my personal development. Closer support from more senior management in the team may also have been beneficial, particularly in terms of the end of year process and next steps, perhaps in the form of a Career Sponsor figure.
My work plan was consistently busy, but to a good extent. I never had days with nothing to do, although some periods were naturally quieter than others. The agile working culture at Unilever means that you are able to work flexibly to accommodate peaks and troughs in workload. I am confident, however, that if my workload had been too much at any point, my managers would have supported me as needed.
I was given a great level of responsibility during my placement, and increasingly so as I developed my confidence and knowledge of Unilever. I led several projects for my team and was trusted to be accountable for results. I really enjoyed this, and was motivated by this level of trust.
I am confident that the skills I have developed this year will be beneficial for my future, specifically my stakeholder management skills, organisation and time-management skills. My Excel skills have also significantly improved, which will be helpful in my final year research project. Completing this placement year has undoubtedly been a valuable experience for my development.
My office was open-plan and had a relaxed atmosphere. Some days were quieter than others, dependent on people's agile working patterns. The office was particularly quiet on a Friday as most people worked from home. People were friendly and the demographic is generally quite young. Team dynamics naturally vary between teams but generally fun.
Organisation was good, although could have been better. I was employed as a contractor through a third party called Manpower, and so HR systems were slightly different to those for permanent Unilever employees. I had to submit weekly timesheets by 5pm on Fridays in order to be paid the following Friday. Holiday entitlements and accrual was unclear and inconsistent. Smoother systems would be beneficial.
One of the key positives about this year has been the amount of training and development I've had the opportunity to get involved in. This has included workshops such as Discover Your Purpose and the Unilever Standards of Leadership, as well as online resources on the Degreed Platform. More training and support in this area may have been useful in the early weeks, particularly in areas such as using Excel. Moreover, personal development may have been better supported through the assignment of a Career Sponsor, who could offer 1-1 mentoring.
Expectations around future employment prospects were poorly managed. Throughout the placement year, we believed that strong performance could lead to a direct offer to the Unilever Future Leaders Programme (the graduate scheme). However, none of the Industrial Placement students in my function were offered the grad scheme (instead, people were fast-tracked to the final stage of the recruitment process). This caused disappointment and was demotivating. In future, expectations should be managed better and performance and future prospects should be more closely aligned.
Yes, there was a network of Industrial Placements, of which I was a part of. Prior to starting the Industrial Placement, I was added to a Facebook group so I could find other placement students to live with. I was able to make connections before starting which made settling in easier.
London/Surrey prices are not to be underestimated! The cost of living and socialising was higher than I anticipated and must be factored into budgeting, particularly if you will be living away from home. Be savvy on your choice of letting agent too, and do your research to reduce unnecessary costs.
The Leatherhead office is out of central London and so lacks a social scene in general. There is a Unilever bar on-site which holds occasional drinks evenings but engagement in these is typically low.
The Blackfriars and Kingston offices enable more social activity, and so people often work from other offices in order to attend after-work drinks or other events.
'Extra-curricular' opportunities were limited and largely initiated by the Industrial Placement community. I was involved in a social netball league, but was not aware of many other opportunities, other than the work gym and the classes offered there. The gym was great and is a really good benefit which we were lucky to have use of.