Degree: BSc Mathematics with Employment Experience
Graduate role: Finance Manager, Unilever
Tom took part in the University of Sheffield's Degree with Employment Experience scheme and spent a year of his degree working at Unilever, where he is now in a Finance Manager role.
What was the job title of your placement and who was your employer?
During my placement year, I did two, six-month jobs in the finance function at the multinational FMCG company Unilever, responsible for global brands such as Dove, Lynx, Persil and Ben & Jerry’s. My two role titles were ROMI Finance Analyst and IT Business Engagement Finance Analyst.
In a nutshell, what was your placement and what did you enjoy about it?
As a finance professional at Unilever, you are expected to use your analytical skills and commercial awareness to help make better-informed decisions, whether that be investing in new machinery in a tea factory, to launching a new shampoo brand in Vietnam. My first role was working in the UK business in Surrey, where I was responsible for leading projects on reducing the number of advertising agencies we were using, and analysing how effective our price promotions were in customers such as Tesco and Asda. My second rotation was then completely different, working in our IT department in Kingston to help make investment decisions on new IT technologies such as self-ordering ice cream cabinets. The opportunity to experience different areas of the business whilst working in such a friendly and supportive culture gave me a great introduction to the working world! I was given real responsibility from day one which gave me an incredible learning experience.
What made you choose to complete a placement? Did you receive any support from the University to get your placement?
Originally I hadn’t really thought about doing a placement year until my Mum suggested it! Once I started looking into it, the chance to build my work experience while earning money at the same time seemed like a no brainer. It was also a great opportunity to test out an industry and a company for a year, with no obligation to continue working there afterwards. The best way to be sure about what you want to do after university is to experience it first-hand! Once I had started considering a placement year, I went to numerous employer-led events on campus as well as the careers fair to find out what was available. The careers service was also very useful in helping me understand my options, and even assist me with some of my applications.
Was the fact you were studying maths and a student at the University of Sheffield help you get your placement?
To get my finance placement, Unilever don’t insist on a certain degree, however they do look for undergraduates who have strong analytical skills, a talent for influencing people and great enthusiasm and commitment. These naturally lend themselves to someone doing a maths degree and so that certainly helped me secure my placement. This in combination with the University of Sheffield having a great reputation, and a regular stream of alumni working for Unilever meant I could apply knowing I had a strong application behind me.
Did the experience help you decide on your future career?
Most definitely, the chance to see whether the finance industry was what I imagined was invaluable. I was undecided between a few industries before I did my placement year, so much so that I also decided to do a summer placement afterwards to experience as many as I could before deciding on a graduate career to embark on. It also makes you assess your priorities for a future career, whether that be flexible working, salary, work-life balance or company culture, meaning you can better choose the company and industry you want to be in post-graduation.
Did you get offered a job at the end of your placement?
Yes, I was lucky enough to be offered a place on the Unilever graduate programme after I graduated. It was great going into final year of my degree knowing that I had a job secured so I could focus on my final year exams. Since returning back to Unilever in September 2015, I have done three more rotations around the finance function, helping different teams in different locations from our global headquarters in central London, to our laundry factory near Liverpool. During the scheme I was also supported financially to complete my CIMA qualification and after two years, I was offered a management position, working as finance manager for one of our premium skin care businesses we had recently acquired which is where I currently am.
Do you think completing a placement degree improved your career prospects?
Without a doubt. Most companies now are focusing more and more about what work experiences candidates have on their CV. A good degree is no longer enough to secure a great graduate role and a lot of corporates actively fill their graduate positions with undergraduates that have already completed a placement with them.
Why did you choose Sheffield and a maths degree? What sets Sheffield apart from other Universities?
Despite my childhood dream of becoming a football commentator, maths was always my strongest subject at school. The joy of a maths degree is that it can take you down a wide range of possible career paths and the transferrable skills you can pick up are applicable in almost any workplace. Then, when I was looking around universities, I fell in love with Sheffield as a university and a city. The student accommodation was first class, the people were friendly and the university had all the unique benefits of being a campus university but based in a vibrant city centre. The city is made for students with great facilities and nightlife, and when you add to that a fantastic faculty at a well renowned university like Sheffield, then you have an ideal combination for an outstanding student life.