It was an action-packed year for Otago Business School marketing student Loren McErlean, who took a year out of university-based study to immerse herself in the whirlwind life of marketing in big brand company Unilever in Auckland.
Twenty-year-old Loren signed up for the Programme for work experience, originally to help fine-tune her ideas of what she wanted to do with study and work. But not only has taking part in this validated a marketing career choice for her, it has presented practical skills and personal development well beyond what she had anticipated, and given her a valuable foot in the door for future employment. It has also prepared her for an overseas study exchange.
Unilever sells personal care and home products in 180 countries, offering a portfolio of globally popular brands as well as regional products and local varieties of famous-name goods.
Originally from a farm near Foxton in the Manawatu, Loren was a little daunted on the first day at the large Auckland-based company, as it coincided with a conference which meant meeting literally hundreds of people.
The internship gave Loren a good idea of how a large company can manage and market diverse brands, and of her own capabilities.
Unilever gave Loren work experience across a range of different jobs, so she did administrative tasks as well as customer marketing, worked with field staff and set up supermarket displays, gradually taking on more demanding roles. She even went on a training course in Sydney.
“The learning curve was huge. My first task was assisting with national payroll – I had no idea of how an office worked so it was an eye-opener to start at the deep end, but they have been really supportive.”
Loren was backed throughout the year by both academic and workplace mentoring as well as support provided directly by the Intern Manager. The requirements also included a reflective log to fill in, which turned out to be an invaluable tool for reviewing and managing day-to-day issues in the workplace as they arise.
“The Internship Programme is a proactive way of confirming the course you are doing, as well as knowing how to conduct yourself at job interviews and in the workplace. For me, I did exactly what I wanted to be doing at that time, but for other people I talked to on the Programme it was just as beneficial to find out it was not what they expected and they had time to change their plans and their course when they returned to University.”
“It’s been so useful to relate what we’ve learned, to see the theory working in practice. I’m very glad I took it on.”
Obviously that’s been good for Loren, but having interns in the workplace is good for the employer also.
Unilever National Field Manager Tony Meima found Loren has demonstrated a unique ability to quickly understand the inner mechanics of our complex business. “Her studies at Otago have provided the tools needed to not only succeed in the workforce, but be a leading contributor - the ability to ask questions based on learnt theory has enabled our business to implement new initiatives.”
Following her internship, Loren went on an overseas student exchange for the whole year – spending her first semester in Edinburgh and her second semester in Spain whilst completing her Otago BCom.
Loren returned to Unilever and a full-time, position in their Auckland office.