Aug. 19, 2018

Searching for a job

It could be a pretty picture. You were at school job fair, the big four or top three of your major were there. You prepared with a impressive resume, and don a neat outfit, and ready with mock questions. You landed an interview. Everything went fine. You and the interviewers had a conversational exchange, and then the time was up. You sent a thank you email later. After a week, you got an offer, and after some consideration, you took the job. Then you worked tirelessly happy ever after. Or not.

To be exact, that was my dream before my senior year, or ask some seniors with a star power after they landed a job in a company. I was day-dreaming. My job searching experience has been nothing close to my dream.

In the fifth year of my undergrad, there was the search of Unilever for Management Trainee Program in Vietnam. The promise then was you will have a starting salary about 7-8 times compared to the base salary of an entry engineer. More importantly, you were promised to be trained along with the seniors so that after two years, you could lead a department of Unilever, – if you are selected and excelled at all rotations. The prize was worth the effort, but at what price?

Brand names under the giant Unilever

I did not know the total applicants submitted in 2007, but I knew that eventually there was going to be six seats at the table with the second ranking officer of Unilever of Vietnam. Six candidates for the six sectors to cover the major operations of a domestic consumption giant from skin care products, to home cleanings, kitchen and cooking products. The name of the company represents the excellency of the European company and its working culture that any Vietnamese could dream of. I'm the one. By the way, there will be six rounds to get the the final seats as well.

When looking back at that job search journey, I could not understand how delusional or adventurous I were to apply for that job. And yes, I am glad that I were that crazy, that I did not know who I were then. Turn out, being a bit more risky, doing things that seems the odd of success sets myself in a different trajectory.

By the way, I were out after the 5th round. I were in the logistic sector and competed with other team of three to get one seat as to be confirmed by the (supposedly) Vietnam chief HR of Unilever. Round one was just application screening to make sure that a application was submitted in accordance with the guidelines. The second round was English test which I was told that I were exempted because of my TOEIC 600. Round three was an IQ test which brought me to Round four with a live interview. The interviewer was a technical manager at Unilever at Hanoi factory (in Thanh Xuan district, you know this place when you pass by the factory with a heavy fresh tobacco smell). I passed the forth round because I can speak English, more or less, in complete sentences, with a command level. I can make a sound in English that other seems to understand.

The fifth round was a true test of knowledge of logistics or supply-chain management. Two teams of three members was assigned a working problem, that was to hold or launch a product given with a limited information. Two key changes that I called off top of my head were that product had a limited shelf-life and in a few months, the engineering team was expected to develop a method to extend the shelf life, and in the mean time, the marking team learned that the competitors (let say Procter & Gamble) had plan to launch a similar product. As the head of the logistic team, you need to decide if you should launch the product now to get a head-start advantage, or delay the launch to include the new method of packaging for a couple months later, extending the shelf life in the risk of losing market domination. There was no better choice.


I did not recall what we proposed, but our team members was not selected. I heard the other team had more technical knowledge in logistic than ours. Nevertheless, attending the fifth round in the Unilever's very competitive recruitment against other business and candidates closer to logistic deserved a round of applause, a token of success rather being defeated.

So yes, my first attempt to earn a job was not at my school, and that was definitely not a top one in my major, and I did not have an impressive resume, or knew what to expect. What I had then was an OK English, which took countless nights sleeping over the keyboard when listening to Headway, or to take the evening class to learn mostly grammar during my fourth and the fifth years. More important, I applied to a process that I knew I were a weak candidate and inferior because of unmatched major.

So let start another post to see what was the story after that partly successful job searching.

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