We caught up with Hoi Kit Cheung, who discusses his experience of a student placement at L'Oreal.
I managed the back-office Supply Chain Logistics for L'Oréal in their Professional Products Division serving Amazon, Feel Unique and Pretty Little Thing. My weekly responsibilities included end-to-end ownership of order processing, shortages, returns, supply chain enquiries, dispute management, credits/debits, and debt management, maintaining information flows between stakeholders, delivery troubleshooting (root-cause analysis), online availability and portfolio management.
Further to my extension, I moved to our L'Oréal Luxe division directly managing John Lewis and supporting Amazon, Harrods, House of Fraser and more. I remained in the Customer Supply Chain team for this rotation as a Customer Supply Chain Executive.
How did you find out about the job?
I was made aware of the role from my Spring Internship at L'Oréal from my first year. From this week, I participated in a short assessment centre for either the Placement or Summer Internship position – sometimes the smallest decisions can lead to future careers. I searched for the initial opportunity using Google Jobs and the L'Oréal Careers Website.
What made you apply for the role?
Curiosity – I joined Alliance MBS without knowing which area of business I wanted to go into, hence I opted for the Management degree without any specialism. I decided to search for internship opportunities around areas in which I had some interest after researching. Supply Chain isn't a popular choice for graduates compared to finance, accounting, and marketing, however, I felt that after the Spring Week at L'Oréal that this was a path I wanted to explore further.
What had you expected from your placement before you started?
Before starting my placement, I envisioned that I would not be provided many responsibilities which were solely managed by the intern, instead, managers would have a close link with the tasks I completed. I also expected that in a large organisation such as L'Oréal, networking would be easier due to the number of people you would encounter on your day-to-day basis, despite potentially also facing some challenges networking with seniors as a result of being in an FMCG organisation. I also anticipated that there would be a vast array of learning opportunities at L'Oréal combined with a variety of methods to engage with different learning styles.
Have your expectations been met?
My expectations were exceeded in my internship experience and demonstrated L'Oréal's investment in young individuals and perceived them as the next generation of aspiring leaders. I was provided with a plethora of responsibilities upon starting at L'Oréal, being enthusiastic and engaged aided with this as managers saw my determination to maximise the opportunities on placement. My managers would check up occasionally to see how I was getting on, but close supervision was not evident, instead, managers trusted interns to complete the work to a high and accurate standard.
Networking at L'Oréal was made difficult mostly by the pandemic, being virtual meant that office conversations, meeting new people throughout your day was challenging. This was rectified in my last few weeks whereby the organisation returned to a hybrid way of working, from this, I can safely say that the office culture is vibrant with plenty of opportunities to meet new people day-to-day. Networking with seniors was also never an issue. Everyone that I've approached to network with, have coffee catchups, introductions and more with has never said no, regardless of their seniority, they will make time for interns.
As I will discuss below, there are plenty of learning opportunities for interns at L'Oréal with an emphasis on continuous learning and development. The quantity and quality of training and teachings were beyond my expectations. While the opportunities are out there, it is up to the interns to drive their learning journey and make the most out of the opportunities open to them.
Did you face any issues during your placement? If you did, how did you manage difficult situations?
I faced some difficulties in my placement year, mostly the workload and accommodation, both of which I received support and advice from my team.
Due to staffing shortages and unexpected workloads of a new customer, I found myself working a lot during the year in industry with higher-than-expected workloads (exceeding expectations of management) as well as added pressure to meet stakeholder requirements. My team were very supportive of this, they offered continuous help to balance the tasks and to manage expectations. Some days have been stressful, but those challenged my abilities and aided my continuous development.
Alongside this, I had some issues with my accommodation in London. Most notably, the flatmates that I stayed with made the environment undesirable. As you can imagine, this isn't good for mental well-being, especially when working from home during the pandemic. L'Oréal offers support for this by bringing incoming interns together in a Facebook group so you can all network and socialise (there is a huge community of interns!), use this as an opportunity to find potential flatmates! Everyone I've heard that has done this has had a great experience. I would try to avoid renting alone/with people you don't know unless you have no alternative options.
Did you undertake any training or development?
During my year, I made extensive use of L'Oréal's training and development opportunities available for all employees. This included mentoring to learn more about commercial, MOOCs on Coursera and via our platforms 'Learn today, shape tomorrow' and MyLearning.
The platforms provided a vast range of opportunities from webinars to virtual training and sessions for skills development. I engaged in a variety of these from presentations to managing stress. Alongside these, I had opportunities along my placement to engage in activities aside from work such as being a 'Social Media Champion' as a part of the intern committee as well as working on a Maybelline Christmas Marketing Campaign Competition.
We also often have learning weeks focused on topics such as e-commerce and the importance of learning. L'Oréal also provides the opportunity for all employees to participate in 'Citizen Day' which is our annual volunteering day which helps to develop your understanding of social issues and contribute to social responsibility – further developing your understanding of sustainability.
What skills did you learn or enhance during your placement?
Being my first time in a workplace, I found the experience eye-opening, and each day provided opportunities to develop skills, notably stakeholder management by liaising with our customers, warehouse, commercial teams and more. I also significantly improved my communication and presentation skills both with my colleagues and seniors during presentations. With the improvement of team working, problem-solving and more, my most significant development was self-confidence.
Coming into the organisation, I was timid and introverted with little intention to reach out to others for support. This was picked up on by my managers, I decided to seize the opportunities after my mid-year review and reach out to others to learn more about different divisions, roles in the organisation and more. This was my best decision as this enabled me to establish my diverse network and develop confidence in speaking to others, asking questions and improving my skills in utilising a network effectively to support projects.
How valued did you feel by your placement provider?
At L'Oréal, you're never treated as 'the intern'. You're fully integrated into the team, provided real responsibilities and opportunities to grow, develop and showcase your abilities. Throughout the year, I felt that I was adding value to the organisation with my work, being able to see the products you processed in Amazon's recent order, live and available to purchase is rewarding. You add to the impact of L'Oréal's objectives. Whether that is 'delivering the beauty that moves the world' in Supply Chain or driving e-commerce acceleration for the organisation. The skills, knowledge and abilities of an intern are valued across the team, the division, and the overall organisation.
What was the culture like at L'Oréal?
One word: family. All the teams I've had the pleasure of working with at L'Oréal have been extremely friendly, transparent, and supportive. Everyone is welcoming and people-centric making it very adaptable for interns joining the organisation. My peers were very understanding, and a mistake was never frowned upon as the organisation accepts that this is the process of learning.
L'Oréal is casual in its dress code, from full suits to trainers in the office, you'll see a diverse range in the office. I spent my days wearing business casual as this made me feel comfortable in my role. If you're ever unsure, dress for the role you want, not for the job you have – first impressions count so it's worth dressing up for your first days.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about applying to the same role / company?
My advice for going into Supply Chain would be to firstly, investigate the market development. Have a look into the current trends, technological advancements and how these may impact any organisation but specifically for L'Oréal. Also research into L'Oréal's Supply Chain advancements too! Being in the Top 10 for Gartner's Supply Chain Worldwide Rankings, some interesting advancements are happening. Demonstrating interest, knowledge and understanding of these areas would put you ahead of other applicants.
Advice for L'Oréal would be to focus on L'Oréal's goals and philosophy. We are a highly sustainability-focused firm and therefore consider nature, the environment, waste minimisation etc. at the heart of your decision-making. Focus on our vision, recently that's 'Create the beauty that moves the world' and explore how the role/function you are applying for can be integrated into this idea.
Have you had any worries about coming back to the university? (e.g., settling back into academic life after a year as a young professional)?
My concerns were mostly around making new friends and networks as well as returning to the studying routine that I had grown out of during my 15 months in industry.
Studying a four-year sandwich programme rather than the standard three-years for BSc Management meant that majority of my course colleagues that I knew since my first days at Manchester would have graduated. It's initially daunting to think that you'll be returning to campus not knowing anyone, but the reality is far from that. I returned to AMBS knowing some people across the school, some returning from placement, others from abroad and some which I knew from the year below. It's wise to engage with the school even when you're away from your studies. I did this by being a Peer Coordinator and Mentor which allowed me to network with students across multiple disciplines and years.
I found that my study routine improved when returning from industry. I was much more focused on my learning and studied effectively as my time at L'Oréal developed my skills in prioritisation and time management. Being able to apply real-life examples alongside the theories gave new perspectives and supported my understanding of frameworks.