Natalia Kravchenko, HR business partner at Unilever, in an interview during Management Career Week: Autumn 2019, told how to begin with a student who plans to build a successful career in an international company, what competencies should be possessed, and what trends are present in all professional areas and why the qualities of a “person with high ethical principles” are so important in business.
What skills do candidates need to get to work in your company?
Recently, many companies in the selection of employees are increasingly putting human qualities at the forefront. Soft skills become more important than technical skills. I would call them the skills of a “person with high ethical principles”. They are very easy to count and hard to underestimate. They are formed in the process of education, in relation to with other people, so it is extremely difficult to learn to be a “person with high ethical principles”. While hard skills can be developed.
Can you give examples of the qualities of “a person with high ethical principles”?
This is, for example, honesty. If they ask me, I say honestly: I did or did not do, I was late, I managed or could not, that is, an honest assessment of myself and my actions. The second quality is the desire to help others. Help should be open and not dependent on the expectation of a reward in the form of additional privileges. The third skill is the balance between the "I" and the "others". It is important to preserve yourself, be aware of your tasks and ideas, but at the same time notice and respect other people, be able to build a dialogue with them. The position of equality is appreciated: "I am not better than others, I am part of a large team."
What else should we pay attention to in the process of teaching a student aimed at an international career?
For both Russian and foreign companies, the ability to make decisions based on big data is very important. It's not even about simple mathematics or corporate finance, it refers to the ability to single out the main thing from the sea of numbers and tell a story with their help. Stories like these presented by an inspiring speaker can best convince people to believe in your idea. The second thing I would like to draw your attention to is diversity and inclusion. When a person’s knowledge is not limited to one area, he is interested in many things and can quickly switch and cope with diverse tasks equally well. The third significant skill, and this seems to me a trend of the last five years, is resourcefulness. This means a clear understanding of feelings at every moment in time: how much energy I have left, what sources of energy loss, how I will make up for it. The specialists who are in balance become a very valuable resource for the company.
How to start a career in such a large international organization as Unilever?
Unilever has various internship formats, for example, Agile Internship, during which you can afford to combine work with study, or the three-month ULIP program, which assumes an already tighter schedule for inclusion in the work. The richest program for graduates is UFLP (Unilever Future Leaders Program).
Tell us more about the UFLP internships.
The program is a fairly complete immersion in the chosen specialization (HR, marketing, logistics, finance, IT, etc). For two and a half years, the company has been preparing an intern for a managerial role in one of the areas. The participant must complete a series of assignments that are offered to him as part of rotations between different departments and contribute to his professional development. For example, a trainee leaves the Moscow office for a St. Petersburg factory, then goes to logistics, then goes to a position in Research & Design, and then can go abroad for an exchange. After the final stage, which lasts from three to six months, the UFLP participant receives a managerial role that assumes a wide range of responsibilities and high expectations from the company. Graduates of such programs are strategic for Unilever, so we try to find positions for them with a challenge and a large level of influence.
Do St. Petersburg University alumni work at Unilever? Can one give them some general characteristic?
Yes, I know many of St. Petersburg University students who work with us. In addition, I have been cooperating with the GSOM SPbU for a long time, I act as a guest lecturer. It has never been that I left the audience with the feeling that my time was wasted. In my opinion, these students are very real, they can operate with simple concepts, such as "kindness", "value", "complexity", "money". At the same time, the most interesting thing is that they have “excellent technical stuffing”: they know a lot, and they are ready to face a lot of challenges, argue a lot, adjust, naturally smarter than us, because any new generation is smarter than us.
I visit different universities in Russia, not only in St. Petersburg, so I can compare. I want to say that St. Petersburg University students are my favorite ones. These are people who are always ready to learn.
Does your company have opportunities for international students?
We do not limit the geography. If the language allows, and the student will perform activities in English and his native language, all programs are open to him. Also, an alumnus from Russia gets a chance after some time to go to the market of a foreign country that interests him.
Do you have any advice to students?
I would recommend learning to work as a team. Often I hear answers: "I was the coolest, but the team was poorly motivated, so nothing happened". It is necessary to look for a balance, to simultaneously see our role and team responsibility. In my opinion, a team is a little bigger and broader than the formal things that students are used to: separation of tasks and setting deadlines. If the students understand this, they will win.