Alessandro has been with Procter & Gamble for the last four years and has worked on Cost of Fund analysis, financial planning and logistics. He’s currently a Commercial Finance Manager and works on sales & marketing spend.
Nicolas : Hi, Alessandro, and welcome ! You’ve been with Procter & Gamble for four years now, and I’d love to have your perspective on some career performance topics. Let’s start with your perspective on building a strong network within your company.
Alessandro : Networking is important in every company, but inside P&G it is essential. Procter has got a ‘promote from within’ policy, which means we only hire entry level candidates and then promote people internally. I believe in this context being really good at your job is not enough, you also need to have a strong network and people who support you, know you and appreciate you.
Nicolas : You realized it and, looking at your resume, I can see that it’s working for you, because you’ve been promoted three times in four years. But is that the case for the majority of people at Procter ?
Alessandro : Unfortunately not, a lot of people undervalue the power of networking here too. Networking is at times perceived as being sleazy, manipulative and unauthentic, but it’s just plain wrong. It’s all about having an open mindset.
Nicolas : Networking takes you out of your comfort zone and people would rather criticize it than face their fears and grow.
Alessandro : I agree. And, again, it’s not about a bunch of ‘tactics’ that you implement and which automatically get you promoted. It’s a mindset that you work with everyday. For instance, during training or meetings with people from other departments, I always try to get to know new people. Now, it feels natural to grab a coffee with someone during the break and compare ideas, ask them questions about the trends they see inside the company, and it’s a great way to meet senior people as well.
Nicolas : When you say that, I can picture some of the readers going ‘I just want to get promoted, I don’t want to spend 10 hours a week chitchatting with strangers’.
Alessandro : I can’t help those people. That’s a really toxic mindset to have. When you meet new people, if you are just thinking about how you can use them, it’s not going to work, and they’ll notice ! When I meet someone for coffee or for lunch, I don’t have an agenda and things I need from them. It’s more about sharing perspectives, expertise and interesting stories.
Nicolas : And creating the right atmosphere, so they are comfortable reaching out if they get stuck on a problem.
Alessandro : Sure. It’s all about the long term.
Nicolas : So, we’ve talked about the ‘philosophy’ of networking, but what about how that translates on a daily basis ?
Alessandro : Well, there are plenty of things I do to keep my network active and engaged. I add everyone on LinkedIn, for instance. I also keep track of job announcements and always congratulate people on their promotions and schedule a lunch with them if we are in the same location.
Nicolas : Very few people do that.
Alessandro : That’s why I stand out when I do. And I love asking people about their thought process, why they accepted the job, how they made the decision, etc. So it’s win-win.
Nicolas : I agree with you 100% here, it’s a great time to follow-up with someone. Anything else up your sleeve?
Alessandro : That’s about it. Except maybe that I send Christmas cards and e-mails with more content to them than just ‘Merry Christmas’. I write something customized for everyone. But again, it’s not about ‘tricks up your sleeve’. It’s really a mindset of always be thinking how you can help people in your network, bring expertise, connect them together.
Nicolas : Great. Now, let’s talk about interviews at Procter & Gamble !
Alessandro : Sure. At Procter, usually you would be interviewed by someone working in the function you are applying for and not by Human Resources.
Nicolas : Interesting, so what does that change for the candidates ?
Alessandro : It gives a special tweak- people working in the function know better what it takes to succeed. In other interviews I had with other companies HR people were sensitive to the CV and how well I prepared the interview. Don’t get me wrong, I like that too. But when you actually work in finance at Procter, you realize that just being good at interviewing is not enough, you need to be ‘agile’. When something is broken in a process, you don’t even know where to start looking for the issue, so the skill set is very different than for business cases at school.
Nicolas : I had the same experience at General Electric. It’s not about advanced theory on the optimal structure, it’s about knowing who to contact to get the damn data.
Alessandro : That’s what I call agility, yes, and that’s what I look for during interviews.
Nicolas : How ?
Alessandro : When I feel a candidate is very well prepared for the interview, and that happens a lot with French candidates, for instance, because business schools there prepare them a lot, I start asking unusual or unexpected questions. And that’s when you can really see whether a candidate is good.
Nicolas : Everyone wants to know about those unexpected questions, so tell me !
Alessandro : Well, instead of asking things like ‘What have you done in the past to manage a conflict ?’ or ‘Tell me about a time when you had to learn something quickly’, I start deep diving on the resume and get a lot more specific. If I ask ‘Tell me about a time you had a conflict with your boss during your internship in Wall-Mart’s finance department ?’, then I mess up their whole preparation and they have to come up with a relevant example on the spot- it also helps me understanding how much “meat” is behind the usually long and impressive CV.
Nicolas : I like that. It forces people to think on their feet rather than giving you their canned answer…unless you get unlucky and talk about the exact experience they prepared !
What about technical questions, do you use them during interviews ?
Alessandro : I find it really difficult to ask a technical question which is relevant to a student. I think it is not fair to the student to ask about short cases with Product A and Product B, revenue, volumes, etc. or questions about discontinuing one of the products- theory is too far from practice here and the student would hardly be equipped to answer.
Nicolas : Well, for me this is more a ‘ strategy ‘question than a technical question. What about pure accounting questions, for instance?
Alessandro : Never. Candidates have backgrounds in a lot of different areas, not always finance or accounting, so asking those type of questions wouldn’t make sense.
Nicolas : What about the question ‘Why do you want a job at Procter & Gamble?’
Alessandro : I’m not a huge fan of this question. If the topic comes up, I separate people into three buckets. In bucket one, you have people who have made zero effort and their answer shows that. In bucket two, you have people who researched Procter on Google and say ‘It’s a great marketing company and I like the brand dynamic. Finance is very commercial and you see a bit of everything and, on top of that, the company promotes from within’. And the best bucket is bucket three, where you’ll find people who actually spoke with people working at Procter. They’ll say things like ‘I am great at understanding system issues and how money flows between the different legal entities. Since Procter is very complex, I think it’d be fascinating to analyze and optimise those flows’.
Nicolas : I like the bucket analogy. For a question like that, quoting people who work at Procter is always a good thing to go for.
What about the last question in interviews, ‘Do you have any questions for me?’
Alessandro : For me, it’s really what separates good and great candidates. I hate clichéd questions like ‘why do you like Procter?’ and I like a bit of a challenge here. Things like, ‘If you were to leave Procter, why would that happen ? What would you be searching for?’
Nicolas : Very good. Thanks a lot for your insights, Alessandro !
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June 18, 2015