On any given day, nine out of ten Indian households are Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) products. Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) is India’s largest Fast Moving Consumer Goods company with a heritage of over 80 years in India. The Company is a part of the everyday life of millions of consumers across India.
Standing out from the crowd as always Shaswat Mohanty, a 3rd year student of Mechanical Engineering was able to intern at Unilever at a facility in Lagos, Nigeria and Priy Ranjan, a 4th year undergraduate pursuing dual degree (B.Tech + M.Tech) in the Department of Mechanical Engineering was among a select few who pursued their summer internship at Unilever in Leeds, United Kingdom as part of the Unilever Leadership Internship Program.
Here is a summary of all the things they had to share.
The selection process :
Round 1 – Group Discussion:
They offered two kinds of internships – Supply Chain Management (SCM) and Research & Development. There was a separate group discussion for both. In GD, the topic can range from being an abstract to a very realistic factory scenario. They were given a factory based scenario on which they had to discuss and come up with a conclusion. They were given a scenario where the company can either use the old technology which consumes a decent amount electricity and also requires employment of more people or they could use a new technology whose initial investment would be very high but it consumes less energy by means of which they could recover it in 3 years but it would put a lot of employees out of jobs and this might lead to a revolt by the worker’s union.
They suggested that for a group discussion we can’t prepare in terms of technical knowledge, so it’s better if we aren’t scared when we go in for a group discussion and just believe in our ability to assess a situation quick enough to come up with an articulate solution. While participating in a group discussion, we have to keep in mind to be an active participant and to be articulate with your arguments. We need to speak sensibly and come up with something out of the box than just extrapolating the topic. Its best to drive the discussion than to ramble. Present an innovative and original perspective instead of beating around the bush.
One of their mentor suggested that whenever we make a point, apart from putting your point across the table it’s vital to encourage others to talk. Thus, instead of making an open ended argument, always invite someone specific and ask him/her about his/her viewpoint on the matter. This ensures that you have given someone a chance to talk which shows your cooperative nature, your role as a team player and also ensures that your ideas stay at the centre of the discussion for a significant duration during the GD.
Round 2 -Technical Round:
Candidates shortlisted through the group discussion appear for a rapid fire question round. Priy shared his experience at the technical round saying, For me questions tested my expertise in mechanical engineering. You need to be frank about the things you know and the things you don’t know.
Shashwat tell us about his technical interview, In this interview I got questioned extensively on my technical knowledge, which also taught me a lot about making the resume. Putting up flashy projects which you have not been completely involved in or courses which you don’t know a lot about doesn’t add any weight onto your resume. I had two projects mentioned in my resume. There was one that I had a solid hold over because of which i could answer all questions related to it. However, there was a course project that looked really good on a resume but I really hadn’t delved deep enough into the project owing to which I answered the first few basic questions beyond which every question went over my head. Thus, it’s advisable to have something that you have a solid grasp over so that they cannot catch you off guard at any point.
Round 3 – HR Round:
Shortlisted candidates proceed to the HR round, the most stressful round of all. Here the interviewers will be argumentative and it is important to stay confident and not doubt yourself. You have to maintain your poise, even if you do make a mistake. Talk about your life, your past internships and projects. I had to elucidate details as to how I would present my idea, how I would take a stance in a conflict situation, etc. says Priy
Priy continued on to explain, If you have a good CGPA, good internship, a POR or a project, you should have something good to talk at length about. For example, I was the part of Raftar – the college formula racing. I spoke very passionately about this. You need to show them that you are capable of looking at the bigger picture rather than just following a mathematical equation. You have to prove to them that you are a candidate who not just approaches a problem analytically, but also understands its significance.
Mohanty explains how his experience was with the HR interview which consists of a standard set of questions, the likes of the Honest Engineering Review, and a few others based on your resume’s POR section. They aren’t looking for any fancy words rather they see how well versed and confident you are about what you’ve mentioned. The resume has around 10% impact and it is advisable to have points that you can talk about, if grilled extensively. While throwing light on your PORs, it’s very important to have incidents ready in mind from which you have drawn valuable insight. These insights should preferably be related to leadership or team building because these are the most sought after qualities by the panel.
They aren’t looking for any fancy words rather they see how well versed and confident you are about what you’ve mentioned
Priy was part of Unilever UK as an intern for a duration of 8 weeks in the Summer of 2016, where he worked with the Global Supply Chain team in Leeds. He continued to say, the highlight about this plant is that they have manufacturing units, global supply chain and global R&D, all in the same complex. I was part of the Global Supply Chain team. Mostly mechanical engineering undergraduates are taken as the part of manufacturing division whereas I worked as a business strategist on their can supply infrastructure optimization. Priy and his team made several sizable contributions which included strategizing roll-out of new cans in deodorants across the global network of suppliers and introducing statistical methods to reduce time for new machines at the Unilever sourcing units. He also analyzed the network of roll-outs of past innovations to identify the bottlenecks to the process contributing to the reduction of the roll-out time from 3 years to 1 year, creating an expected benefit of €40 million incremental turnover.
Shaswat was a part of Unilever Nigeria as an intern for a duration of 8 weeks in the summer of 2017. He continued to say, mine was a purely engineering intern as I was working on improving the efficiency of the gas generator that was being used. There is a course in mechanical called IC Engines and coincidentally my project was the practical application of the course. My job was to ensure that the fuel consumed by it was reduced by 10%. Luckily after all the effort, I was able to achieve that in 5 weeks. The factory managers are very knowledgeable and they know their plant in and out but it is the workers who impart the best knowledge because of their proximity to the machines on the work floor. They have a lot of practical knowledge but they do not know the implication of their actions. We as interns, were made to carry out the role of a leader. We sat down with the entire team and tried getting to the root cause of every problem by using the 5W principle, so that we could optimise our process from the very beginning. The problems could be as basic as laws of motions that the operator might not be able to picture in his/her head. We suggest best ways of improving the manufacturing process and then analyse the results. On learning technicalities about the machine from the operator, we’d experiment on the physical parameters of the line and try implementing changes supported by theory to obtain favorable results. By improving the packaging of one line, we end up helping the company on a larger scale as we can implement the same for every other line. At Unilever we call it – World Class Manufacturing. Every product has a manufacturing process which involves procuring the raw materials and processing it, followed by packaging and eventually bringing it out to the consumers. The process part of every product is fully automated, including the raw material getting dumped into the silo. Even though packaging is fully automated, regular maintenance, due to the wear and tear, has to be done manually .There is a daily, weekly and monthly maintenance procedure for the machines accompanied by an annual overall maintenance of machines. However, packaging sometimes will be monitored manually to detect faulty packaging.
The factory managers are very knowledgeable and they know their plant in and out but it is the workers who impart the best knowledge
People, culture and experiences
There were a set of legal documents that had to be signed regarding my safety and security during my stay in Nigeria. This was to ensure that I always had an armed escort, outside my workplace. But that was purely precautionary because there were hardly any incidents in the near past in my area. We were given projects two weeks before we had to leave for Nigeria. Since my project was on a gas generator which was part of my course, I was thorough with the basics.
People are very warm, welcoming and generally happy. They’d exchange pleasantries even without knowing me, which made me feel very comfortable. I was accepted very quickly as they offered me to join their football matches right on the second day itself. The only odd part about this whole experience was to have two people sitting with guns to take me to the factory. The people there were very cooperative as they believed I was there to help them out, so they just give me access to whatever it is that I asked for to ensure that I was in a better position to help them. The inefficiency in the system out here can be attributed to the lack of resources and not to the lack of knowledge or the thirst for it because for the entire duration of my stay, I had a lot to learn from the factory mates and they were always ready to learn from me. To my luck, everyone loved football there. Majority of my co workers watched football and always had an opinion about it. Nigeria has frequent power outages ,so my hotel had a diesel generator which was a boon for the football enthusiasts in the village during the Europa finals, Champions League finals and the entire Confederations cup.
The native engineers here want to bring about a change for the good but they require guidance for doing so which is why foreigners are brought in for 3-4 months to help out in the plant. Conversations with factory managers who have been around for more than 25 years made the learning experience very rich. Enough about work. The food that I had was amazing. I’d have two omelettes, four sausages and bacon for breakfast every single day. I’ve rarely ever had 3 meals a day in insti but for my 52 days in Nigeria, I was up for all 3 meals and the best part about it was that all of the meals were loaded with meat. All in all, I had a wonderful experience and I met a lot of knowledgeable individuals over the course of my stay. The lifestyle in Agbara was entirely different from the hustle and bustle of the metros; calm and simple.
The first few days are always quite intimidating but people at Unilever are very supportive. Everyone in the office, including the Directors and VPs, would find time to interact with me if I needed their help.The life was very comfortable in Leeds. We were provided accommodation in luxury apartments -The Chambers. Unilever takes care of your visa, accommodation and makes your internship as hassle free as possible. There are no fixed work hours at Unilever UK, as long as you are done with your work. I also had the opportunity to interact with several important people at Unilever. Even at a value improvement workshop in Leeds, which was attended by stakeholders from around the globe, I was made to feel like an integral member of the team.
We also used to travel every weekend. We started out exploring places close to Leeds. Every small town would have a castle with its own rich history. We also took a trip to Scotland, York and London. In Edinburgh, we went trekking where we ended up climbing 3 mountains. The experience was amazing. We even got to see a castle where the season 1 of the popular television show, Game of thrones was shot. The city of London is a dream come true for anyone. It beautifully shows the passage of time through architecture dating back to the 6th century.
On the whole, this experience has been very enriching in terms of the technical learning as well as the exposure to different cultures.
Life lessons learnt:
Shaswat rants on passionately about his major takeaway from this experience, “For anyone in insti who believes that unless you’re in CS or EE there is no life in engineering ahead is a very big misconception because the world values engineering a lot, there is so much you can do as an engineer. Everyone believes that if you don’t know how to code, if you don’t know ML then it is absolutely useless because the world is changing from an engineering point of view. But even the basics of engineering have a lot of applications in the world and something as simple as thermodynamics can be exploited to a great extent, which is something we, as students won’t realise. Most of the residents at the hotel I was stationed in, were engineers who were to provide technical assistance to the various companies at the industrial estate. With most of them having over 20 years of experience, there was always a lot to learn from them not just about engineering but also about it’s significance in the world. They made me realise that no matter how far ahead the world progresses the old school basics of engineering will always be relevant. Moreover, I learnt the importance of paying attention in class. It was not just the significance of what we learn but had I been a bit more attentive, I would’ve had a conceptual head start into my second project. Thus, it took me 3 days to completely understand the system before we could see how to replace it along with its financial implications. I realised that the best way to learn is to be friendly with every member of the factory, because as a newcomer you can gain their share of knowledge only if they find you approachable. That is something that I registered at the very beginning and it helped all throughout my 52 days. On the whole, this experience has been very enriching in terms of the technical learning as well as the exposure to different cultures. This is something that the entire batch of interns would agree with because no matter where you go, you’ll find a lot to learn and in some way or the other you’ll end up having a bit more respect for what you study in class, unless you end up doing a non-core intern.”
Authors: Shashwath Sargovi Bacha (DD-ED ’21), Priyanka Joshi (DD-ED ’21) & Vineet Gopakumar (BT-CH ’19)