What is your employment status and title at this time? How long have you been in the position?
I work for Unilever in procurement operations as an innovations analyst. Currently I oversee all aspects of sourcing for new deodorant products in the Axe, Dove, Suave and Degree brands. I have been in my current role for about three months and I’ve been with the company for about a year.
How did you find your current position/program? What resources/methods did you find most useful?
My junior year I wrote a paper on corporate sustainability and Unilever kept coming up as an example of a company that was doing it right. So my senior year, although I applied to a variety of companies, Unilever was always in the back of my mind. In the spring I started to search for jobs at Unilever, and discovered that a friend of a friend worked in Procurement. I asked my friend to introduce me via email and soon I had scheduled an informative interview with a manager. During the meeting I learned a lot about the company and was given a lot of advice about breaking into a field in which I didn’t have education or work experience. Within the month, that manager had an opening on their team and reached out to offer the role to me!
So in short, networking and using my connections. Informal interviews are a great way to brush up on your interviewing skills while getting someone else invested in your career to the point of helping to find you a job.
What do you enjoy the most and what do you find the most challenging in your current position?
My favorite part of my job is a side project of leading the procurement sustainability team. We are a cross functional team who all share a common interest in sustainability (Robert Kite and Megan Dillinger, also sustainable development grads, are on the team with me). It’s a great chance for me to learn about and get involved with all of the sustainability efforts within procurement.
The most challenging part of my job is the amount of responsibility I have. I would never have imagined that after just a little more than a year out of school I would be the main point of contact for all new deodorant products for four incredibly well known brands. The type of work I do and the monetary value of goods and sales I oversee is comparable to what managers or even directors at other companies would handle. Further, when I reach out to an external stakeholder, such a supplier, I am usually working with and directly challenging higher ups in management as if they were my peers. It can be incredibly daunting when you realize you have to tell a VP of finance that the payment issues are being caused by their company as opposed to your own.
Are you able to utilize any skills/knowledge from the program in your day-to-day activities?
A large portion of my day to day work can be boiled down to problem solving and project management. I was lucky enough to get a good foundation of project management skills from my capstone class. If you can influence a class of second semester seniors to get their section of the project done early, working with coworkers to get information you need will seem easy.
Growing and utilizing my problems solving skills was integral to my experience in the sustainable development program as well as my overall Columbia undergrad experience. To be a successful problem solver in the workplace, you must be able to quickly form a solution by determining potential roadblocks you would face later down the road and then adjust as new information becomes available. Discussion based classes teach you how to quickly form an idea or opinion and then adjust it as other students present differing viewpoints. Even more, when writing a research paper you have to prepare for counterarguments by thinking ahead and preparing for counterarguments.
What courses in the program have been most useful to you professionally?
Global Food Systems was the most helpful to me in two senses. The first is that it was the only exposure I had to supply chain concepts before I started my role. I was able to see how sustainability can be integrated through supply chains at even a community level. Second, I used the assignments in that class as a chance to learn more about sustainable sourcing at Unilever. I was able to write a ten page paper on Lipton’s sourcing strategy (one of Unilever’s brands) which I was able to talk about in my interview. Being able to have physical evidence of my passion for the work and the company definitely helped me make a memorable first impression during my interview.
What was your favorite course in the program, and why?
Ethics of Sustainable Development was where I really discovered and cultivated my passion for corporate sustainability. I really had a chance to voice my opinions and debate with classmates what the best way to implement and encourage sustainability was. It was in this class I really learned to speak up and make a solid argument when I disagreed with others in the class. Additionally, Adela Gondek, who taught the class, is one of the most wonderful people I have ever had the fortune of interacting with and learning from.
What post-graduation advice would you give students in the program?
Relating to your job search which I’m sure is stressing 98% of the upperclassmen out: own your liberal arts degree and the skills you have developed during your time at Columbia with pride. Work with the center for career development to have your resume reflect the work you have done in the most powerful way possible, and brush up on your interview skills with a focus on how to talk about what you learned and gained from your experiences in a way that is relevant to the jobs you are looking for.
Relating to your first job: if you get a job in the field of sustainability, congratulations! Unfortunately, most of you, like me, probably won’t be working in a job that directly touches what you studied in school. That is completely okay. Use this chance to build up as many skills and good work references as possible so that one day you can easily land your dream job. Until then find every chance you can to volunteer to work on a project that reminds you of why you chose to study sustainable development. It will help keep you focused on your end goal and at least for me, keeps you feeling fulfilled on even though toughest days of spreadsheet analysis.
Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development is an interdisciplinary program that addresses sustainable development through an understanding in the interaction between natural and social systems, offered through the Earth Institute in partnership with Columbia College and the School of General Studies. Participating departments and schools of the Sustainable Development major and special concentration include the Department of Earth and Environmental Biology; the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering; the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health.
To learn more about the Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development, please visit our website or contact Jessica Sotomayor, Program Manager at email@example.com.