In this edition of Insight’s summer blog, Soovadeep Bakshi talks about his experience at Hindustan Unilever, India’s very own FMCG powerhouse.
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The Selection Process
Considering that HUL came for interns through the PT Cell after a long, long time, nobody had an inkling of what the process would be. All we knew was that the big three FMCG companies (HUL, ITC and P&G) had scheduled their entire selection processes on the same day, each offering the same stipend.
Open only to students from Mechanical and Chemical departments, HUL’s selection process consists of CV based shortlisting out of the entire pool of applicants, which is then followed by a Group Discussion and two rounds of interviews (technical and HR). As I was shortlisted for all three companies, I had to go through two group discussions and six interviews on the same day, and I can assure you that it is an extremely taxing experience. Yet, when you do find your name on the list on the internship blog after grueling twelve hours, the feeling is inexplicable.
With HUL, the technical round is extremely challenging if you do not have concepts of thermodynamics and fluids at your fingertips. You are grilled on each and every project you mention on your résumé, and since the interviewers are mainly those who have graduated not so long ago, it is extremely difficult to twist your way out of a question. What I felt to be a big disadvantage for those from the Mechanical department is that the interviewers tend to base most of their questions on those aspects which are mainly covered in Applied Thermodynamics in the sixth semester. Even the ‘HR’ (well, technically) round is based mainly on your projects and your knowledge of the subjects taught.
Out of the sixteen selected for the round of technical interviews, I was the eighth or the ninth candidate to be interviewed. [pullquote]After being asked about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and responding correctly, I was told that I was the first candidate who had actually succeeded in telling them both the statements of the Second Law. [/pullquote]After being asked about the Second Law of Thermodynamics and responding correctly, I was told that I was the first candidate who had actually succeeded in telling them both the statements of the Second Law.
As I said earlier, for any prior preparation, it is important to brush up the major concepts of thermodynamics and fluid mechanics, and know every detail of your own projects (this might sound very trivial, but it often happens that we tend to take our own projects lightly).
The Internship Experience
One month into the internship, I can say that it has certainly not been what I had expected it to be. I currently work seventy odd hours per week, and if that sounds like an astounding figure, I can assure you that it is a lot of fun – specially for a person without any sort of prior industrial experience. This has been an eye-opening tenure, with loads to learn.
HUL has fifteen interns from six IITs as a part of their Unilever Leaders Internship Programme, and even before the actual internship begins, the campus recruitment team tries to break the ice with informal communication and online competitions. Another thing to be happy about is the fact that the stipend amount is quite a lot (it was increased after the selection process was complete), along with free accommodation. Each intern is assigned a buddy (informal friend, philosopher and guide), a tutor (generally one who oversees your project) and a mentor (a senior HUL representative). The project details are handed out a week before the start of the internship, thus they expect that you will start from scratch without any sort of prior knowledge required.
The first two days of the internship are packed with sessions and activities which are unconventional and quite enjoyable (no boring speeches for once), with the introductory sessions ending with a party, in all a grand affair. The stay is arranged at their world-class facility in Andheri (they say so in an introductory mail, and believe me, the stay is truly world-class).
I am currently working at HUL’s Kolkata GRF (Garden Reach) factory with the project team here on a new setup. The Kolkata factory is the second oldest setup at HUL, situated near the Kolkata Port, which is truly one of the shadiest places in town (people are reluctant to go there after sunset).[pullquote]The Kolkata factory is… situated near the Kolkata Port, one of the shadiest places in town (people are reluctant to go there after sunset).[/pullquote] It is currently one of the largest factories in India under the Personal Wash category, and the main products are soaps like Lux and the ubiquitous Lifebuoy. Although I am not allowed to divulge too many details, the project does not constrain itself to a single domain or subject. It gives you a flavour of aspects you might have to handle if you join Unilever in the future. There is a great mix of young and the more experienced people in my project team, which means that I get answers to almost any questions/doubts I have almost immediately.
While the hours are certainly flexible (no fixed office hours), I do have to report to my tutor at the factory regarding the list of deliverables every week to ensure that work is on track. The expectations from interns are pretty high here, as is the case with most FMCG companies. For HUL interns, there is no particular place in the hierarchical order where you will fit. You will find yourself dining with the Factory Manager one day, and packing soaps on the assembly line the next. [pullquote]You will find yourself dining with the Factory Manager one day, and packing soaps on the assembly line the next. [/pullquote]And this is a good thing because you get a holistic view of the entire organization at work. Unfortunately, language can prove to be a troublesome issue in Kolkata, especially with machine operators and workers, since they are neither fluent in English nor in Hindi, but this is a very region-specific issue.
At the end of the two month stint, some interns are selected for the Pre-Placement Interviews which are held in Mumbai at the Head Office.
Accommodation, Food, Travel and Culture
Being a Bengali, it would be biased to present an opinion about my own culture (awesome) and food (more awesome), but I can certainly say that people here like to relax (read: laziness). It might take ages to get things done without the right motivation, and you might find yourself overloaded with work meant for others. On the other hand, if you want to get into intense political discussions, GRF is the place to be.
Kolkata is one of the best cities to visit, with something to offer for everybody. There are quite a few places to visit on weekends for the enthusiastic traveler, both within the city and outside. For the foodie, Bengali cuisine is heavenly. For football lovers, Kolkata is, well, football crazy to say the least. Yet, the only downside is that the city seems to collectively go to sleep by ten at night. For nightlife, one has to visit the famous Park Street (mainly the central part of Kolkata).
Talking about HUL in general, interns are allotted rooms at HUL guest-houses. Hence, one does not have to worry about food and accommodation, which are generally better than expected standards. The random allotment of locations at HUL, however, can prove to be unfortunate (Khamgaon, Baddi and likewise).[pullquote]The random allotment of locations at HUL, however, can prove to be unfortunate (Khamgaon, Baddi and likewise).[/pullquote] On the other hand, if you are lucky, you will be allotted to the Mumbai Head Office (five-day week), or to Nepal (you could be the first ever intern to Nepal from IIT Bombay, plus you get to boast about a ‘foreign’ intern).
I am also told that the internship culminates with a summer summit and an even grander party, and with the Formula Student competition to attend just afterwards, representing IIT Bombay at the international level – I can safely say that this summer has been worth it.
If you would like to share your internship stories on Insight’s Summer Blog, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To read (dis)similar internship stories written by IIT Bombay students over the years visit http://summerblog.insightiitb.org/.