An empire awash with ambition

The sky's the limit for Procter & Gamble recruits. But it's hard to get in. Helen Jones reports

"I didn't think when I was at university that I would become an expert in nappies and sanitary towels, but I am," says Jonathan Kemp, customer business development manager for Procter & Gamble.

He joined P&G, makers of Pampers nappies, Ariel washing powder and Wash & Go shampoo, as a graduate trainee four years ago and now spends his time dealing with Tesco, one of P&G's biggest customers.

His job is primarily sales and he is responsible for the volume, share and retail presence of a number of brands, within Tesco. "People have a view of sales as a sort of Arthur Daley profession but there's a great deal of negotiating to do and it's very intellectually challenging," he says.

Kemp started at the company on an internship programme in the summer before his final year at Liverpool University, where he studied economics. "The initial attraction was the salary and the fact that I got the use of a company car, but I found that I really enjoyed it and wanted to carry on."

Apart from the university milk-round, the internship programme is the main way in which P&G recruits its graduates. Candidates sit a test and are given four interviews. Those selected spend three months with the company in the summer before their final year and, if successful, are then offered a job when they graduate. "They receive pounds 1,050 a month, which isn't bad for a summer job and they do proper jobs," says Nicole Brennan, human resources manager. "It gives both sides a chance to weigh up each other."

The company, which takes on about 110 graduates a year, says that it looks for people with initiative, leadership qualities, problem-solving skills, communication skills, the ability to work with others, innovation and creative thinking and the ability to set priorities. The degree subject does not matter, except in some technical areas.

There are opportunities from sales and financial management to product supply, research and development and human resources, but brand management is the most popular. "People think it's glamorous and we get a huge number of applications," Ms Brennan says.

Successful applicants all receive the same salary of just over pounds 20,000.

Responsibility comes quickly, says Kim Pamplin, who graduated in manufacturing engineering and economics at Birmingham University three years ago, and is now a production manager working on the Fairy, Ariel and Bold washing detergent brands at P&G's factory in Thurrock, Essex. "I'm in charge of a team of 24 men, most of them much older than me," she says. "I'm not only managing them but I have to ensure that the quality of the products is maintained."

All graduate trainees have the same opportunities. Ms Brennan says: "We only promote from within - it's a meritocracy. If you have the ability then you are in the best possible position to reach the top, unhindered by external candidates leap-frogging those already in the system"n

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