What should a student who plans to build a successful career in an international company start with, and what competencies are they supposed to have for this?
Natalia Kravchenko, Unilever HR business partner, told us what the current trends are in all of the professional fields, and why the qualities of a 'person with strong integrity’ are of great importance in business.
Could you please tell us what skills applicants have to have to get a job in your company?
Recently, many companies when recruiting staff are increasingly giving priority to human qualities. Hard skills, no matter how bitter it might be, are being sidelined – soft skills are stepping forward. I would call them the skills of a ‘person with strong integrity’. They are very easy to count and hard to underestimate. They are developed in the process of education and manifested in relation to oneself and other people. So, it is extremely difficult to learn to be a ‘person with strong integrity’. While hard skills are acquired and they are easy to apply.
Can you give examples of the qualities that a ‘person with strong integrity’ has?
For example, honesty. If they ask me, I say honestly: what I have done or have not; whether I have been late; and when I have managed to do something or have not. So, it 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 expectancy of a reward or fringe benefits. The third skill is significant and it is the balance between ‘me’ and ‘others’. It is important to preserve yourself, be aware of your tasks and ideas. However, at the same time you should notice and respect other people and 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 students aiming for an international career pay attention to during their studies?
For both Russian and foreign companies, nowadays, it is of great importance to have the ability to make decisions based on big data. This is not even about simple mathematics or corporate finance. It is about the skill to single out the main point from the myriad of numbers and tell a story with their help. Stories like these, presented by an inspiring speaker, are the best way to convince people to believe in their idea. The second thing I would like to draw your attention to is a broad outlook: diversity and inclusion. When a person’s knowledge is not limited to one area and they are interested in many things, they can quickly switch and cope with diverse tasks equally well. The third significant skill, and this seems to me to be a trend of the last five years, is resourcefulness. This means a clear understanding of my condition at every moment in time: how much energy left I have; what the sources of energy loss are; and how I will make up for them. The people who are in balance are themselves a very valuable resource for the company.
How do you start a career in such a large international organisation as Unilever?
We have a large number of entry points. A first-year student can even ‘enter’ the company. Unilever has various internship programmes such as: Agile Internship, during which students can combine work with study; or the three-month ULIP programme, which assumes a much tighter schedule for involvement in the work. The programme with the heaviest agenda is UFLP (Unilever Future Leaders Programme), and it is for graduates.
Could you tell us in more detail about the essence of the UFLP internship?
The programme is a fairly complete immersion in the chosen field, be it HR, marketing, logistics, finance, or IT. The company trains an intern for a managerial position in one of the areas for two and a half years. The programme participant is supposed to complete a series of assignments. These are offered to them as part of their rotation between different departments and contribute to their professional development. For example, a trainee is sent from the Moscow office to a St Petersburg factory, then is moved to logistics, after that they work in Research & Design. They can also go abroad for an exchange. After the final stage, which lasts from three to six months, the UFLP participant receives a managerial position that assumes a wide range of responsibilities and high expectations from the company. Graduates of such programmes are strategic for Unilever. So, we try to find positions with challenges and a great level of influence for them.
Do St Petersburg University graduates work for Unilever? Can you give some general characteristics of them?
Yes, I know a lot of graduates and students from St Petersburg State University who work with us. Moreover, I have been cooperating with the Graduate School of Management for a long time. I am a guest lecturer, so I communicate with students. This has made it possible for me to shape a certain profile for them. I have never left a lecture hall with the feeling that I have wasted my time. In my opinion, these guys are very natural, they can handle simple concepts, such as ‘kindness’, ‘value’, ‘complexity’, ‘money’. Also, the most interesting thing is that they have ‘excellent technical stuffing’: they know a lot; are ready to face a lot of challenges’; argue a lot; and adjust. They are, of course, 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 my favourite student audience is at St Petersburg University. These are the people who are always ready to learn.
Are there any opportunities for international students in your company?
For example, the UFLP. We do not limit the geography. If the language allows and the student will perform activities in English and their native language, then all programmes are open to them. Also, a graduate from Russia gets a chance after some time to go to the market of a foreign country that is of interest to them.
Can you give some advice to students?
I would recommend learning to work as a team. I often hear answers: ‘I was the coolest, but the team was poorly motivated, so nothing happened.’ It is necessary to seek a balance, to realise their personal role and team responsibility at the same time. In my opinion, a team is a little bigger and broader than the formal things that students are used to: task sharing and deadline setting. If students understand this for themselves, they will win.