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15 tips to nail a FMCG or retail graduate job interview

Elise Tornos

To help you prepare for your retail or FMCG graduate job interview we turned to our insiders see what it takes to get your application over the line.

Let’s start with a disclaimer: we’re not talking about the type of interview you’d complete before securing a job as a retail assistant or shop clerk. We’re more concerned with the professional careers that you might pursue in the corporate apparatus of a retail organisation like Amazon, GlaxoSmithKline, or Woolworths. Alternatively, job opportunities abound at fast-moving consumer goods organisations, such as Nestle and Unilever, which manufacture large amounts of products for distribution across the globe.

To help you prepare for your career in a retail or FMCG organisation, we also turned to our insiders—graduates who have already secured positions at leading companies and know what it takes to get your application over the line. Here’s what they had to say.

Five questions to ask while performing your preliminary research

Research the role and make sure it's what you want to do; it's hard work but extremely rewarding.

Executive, NSW, Aldi

We know - this seems obvious tip. However, recruiters often express their amazement at candidates who arrive at interviews with only a superficial understanding of what their target job will entail. You should instead possess an in-depth knowledge of the job description and be ready to convince employers that you’re ready to take it on.

Truly think about some of the questions you will get asked, so look online and do your research so that you feel confident and ready to go.

Graduate, Melbourne, Coles

Start by reading the job description, paying particular attention to any academic requirements, as well as essential and desirable attributes. Be proactive and reach out to a graduate recruiter or company contacts if there’s anything you want to clarify. You can also check if GradAustralia has a profile of the company.

It’s a good idea to check whether or not the retailer in question is facing any challenges that might come up in the interview. These challenges could relate to topics like declining revenue, planned mergers, new markets or changing market tastes, new products, or operations strategy. Here are five research questions to get you started:

  1. Which academic credentials or professional accreditations are required for the job?
  2. What does the prospective employer list as desired or essential attributes for applicants?
  3. Am I familiar with the products manufactured or sold by this particular retailer or FMCG organisation? What are its most successful brands? Who is its target audience?
  4. Who are the business’s competitors? What market challenges does it face?
  5. Which of my skills might be advantageous in this role, even if they’re not listed in the job description? Is it worth mentioning that I can code, or speak another language, or lead teams effectively?

Five questions that will deepen your understanding of the job

When it comes to demonstrating your suitability for a particular role, the general rule is this: the more specific you can be, the better. Of course, this means arriving at a deep understanding of what the role will require by asking questions like those below:

  1. How much of your working day will be spent working alone, and how much interacting with others?
  2. Will, you only have to deal with your immediate team and supervisor, or will you interact with internal or external clients?
  3. Is this job more focused on meeting immediate, conflicting deadlines in a fast-paced environment, or longer-term planning and development work?
  4. How flexible will you have to be, eg in terms of travel, working hours, or changing projects or picking up new skills at short notice?
  5. Will training and development time be built into your job, or will you be expected to learn extra skills and keep up to date with new developments this in your own time?
  6. Five bonus tips from our industry insiders

1. Be patient—the application process can take a while

The interview process is lengthy but for a good reason. There was a phone/Skype interview, a group interview, an individual interview, then finally an interview with a Director and Managing Director. This was in addition to psychometric testing and other pre-employment checks.

Graduate, VIC, Aldi

With so many applicants to choose from, retail companies and FMCGs tend to invest a lot of time in identifying suitable candidates, while giving them an opportunity to shine in interviews, tests, and other assessments. As a result, it’s not unusual for the graduate application process to span several weeks, or even months, with candidates expected to complete interviews, group assessments, psychometric tests, online assessments, and so on. While some of our insiders felt that the process took a bit too long, almost all agreed that, in the end, it was worth the trouble—a competitive position at a globally recognised retail or FMCG organisation is a terrific way to start your career.  

2. Take care not to emphasise interview performance at the risk of other assessments

The interview wasn't the most important part. It is more about your overall performance on the day. How you interact with everyone and engage in group discussions and situations. You don't have to be the smartest person in the room, but you need to be able to work with people and lead people to achieve the task you have been set.

Entry level, Sydney, Reckitt Benckiser

It was less about what I knew and more about how would I handle certain situations and people. I really value that Diageo believes we can be taught anything we need and that we should really just hire based on the ability to problem solve, collaborate, and give/take constructive feedback in high pressure environments.

Graduate, Sydney, DIAGEO

It’s natural to prioritise the interview stage of your application—after all, first impressions are lasting, and, often, the interview will mark your first face-to-face interaction with prospective employers. However, while the interview is certainly important, our insiders report that recruiters were equally attentive to their performance during group activities and other assessments, which give a better sense of how well candidates can work in teams with unfamiliar people. If you’re not confident with your interpersonal skills, a little research and practice can go a long way towards helping you feel relaxed and competent on the day.

3. Know and exemplify the prospective employer’s values

Personal value propositions are everything. Know them, live them. We take pride in our history, so know it. Go deeper, read the annual report, show some critical thinking on the CEO's comments. Have scenarios where you can demonstrate the company values.

Midlevel, Melbourne, Procter and Gamble

GSK places a high emphasis on being a people person (EQ) and the ability to work and influence those around you to achieve goals. Focus on ways you have been able to drive teams behind a vision or work across boundaries to deliver. The GSK values are transparency, respect for people, integrity and patient focus. They are meaningful at GSK.

Graduate, Sydney, GlaxoSmithKline

Many large businesses codify what they stand for as a set of values or propositions. You can find these values easily by performing a quick search. For example, Procter and Gamble’s values are leadership, ownership, integrity, trust, and passion for winning; Reckitt Benckiser’s values are responsibility, ownership, entrepreneurship, achievement, and partnership; and Coles’s values inspire customers, be bold, simplify always, one team, and care passionately.

Whatever the values of your prospective employer, it’s highly recommended by our insiders that you know them by heart before your interview and write down a couple of examples of how you’ve demonstrated them during your studies of previous work experiences. This will show that you can offer more than just your skills—you also have an attitude that already fits with the company’s ethos.

4. Know the products well

I love working with products that I grew up with. In the short time I have been here I have enjoyed seeing the brand evolve. The most satisfying thing about my job is being able to gain an insight and work with the wider team to mould the product offer to address that consumers need.

Graduate, Sydney, Nestle

If you’re interviewing at a large retailer or FMCG, there’s no excuse for not being familiar with its most popular or culturally influential brands. Bear in mind that some FMCGs are responsible for hundreds of brands—you shouldn’t waste time trying to learn all of them. However, if you’re applying for a job at Kraft, for example, you should know that it manufactures Oreos, Natural Confectionery Company candy, Cadbury chocolates, Ritz Crackers, Toblerone, and so on. A good insider tip is to familiarise yourself with brands that are representative of the business’s overall portfolio, from foods to cleaning products (if applicable).

5. Be honest with yourself about your enthusiasm and suitability for the role

Be the right type of person. There is no point applying if you aren't a go-getter in your everyday life. You need to be able to handle pressure and provide creative solutions to the problems that will stand in the way of you achieving your goals.

Entry level, Sydney, Reckitt Benckiser

Sometimes you don’t know how much you’ll enjoy (or not enjoy) a role until you try it—and that’s perfectly okay. However, sometimes you do know, and it’s always worth listening to this inner voice. Perhaps it confirms that you really are excited about a potential graduate job, and you can then more deliberately cultivate this enthusiasm, relying on it to get you through the hard work of preparing for the application process.

However, it could also be that, after doing additional research into a role, you start to feel that maybe it’s not for you. Maybe it won’t draw on your most highly developed skills, leaving you feeling unstimulated; maybe, on reflection, you’re not sure that the organisation will provide you with the right cultural fit. Whatever the reasons, say our insiders, there’s no need to react to them with shame or blame—instead, accept the realisation as evidence that you’ll need to do a little more searching before you find a role in which you can truly flourish. Making that effort now is far better in the long run than making the effort, later on, to feign interest in a job about which you never felt genuinely enthusiastic.

Bringing it all together into your own pitch!

By combining what you’ve learned from the position description and your own supplementary research, you’ll arrive at a strong sense of the talents and attributes you should emphasise in the interview. For example, you might reach one of the following conclusions:

I will be working for both internal and external clients, so I’ll need to show that I have good interpersonal skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, building relationships and negotiation with tact and patience. The recruiter will also want to see that I’m ‘presentable’, confident and friendly.

I’ll be working to tight deadlines so I’ll need to show that I can handle pressure and manage competing priorities.

As a marketing assistant, I’ll have to be familiar with my employer’s products, as well as any campaigns used by competitors.

I’ll be coding every day, so I should talk about my contributions to open source projects and provide other examples of my experiences solving complex technical problems.

I’ll be in charge of accounts, so it’s imperative that I emphasise my background in finance, and any previous experience I have working in retail environments.