What do you actually do!? Episode 13: Lewis McDowell, Graduate Scheme at L’Oreal

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on grad schemes. We interviewed Management graduate Lewis McDowell, who now works at L’Oreal.

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KATE: You’re listening to the What Do You Actually Do!? podcast. Each fortnight we want to bring you an inspiring interview, a useful tip or encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world.


KATE: Hello, and welcome to this episode of what do you actually do? My name is Kate Morris, and I’ll be your host today. In today’s episode, we’ll be talking about working in marketing and the cosmetic sector. Today we’re joined by Lewis McDowell who works for L’Oreal as a marketing graduate trainee. So Lewis, what do you actually do?


LEWIS: I am on my second rotation at L’Oreal on the marketing management trainee programme, to kind of summarize what I do is quite hard. Because basically, each rotation you are challenged with doing something different. And the good thing about L’Oreal is there’s so many different things you can do. So kind of take everything you know about marketing for the day, and you kind of you’re tasked with different things every day, and you figure out how to fix them, essentially. But it’s quite an operational role. And it’s very different move on the business, that’s great.


Can you give me an example of a kind of a task that you’d be given then?


So recently, I worked on a big Christmas campaign. So in the division that I was in, we basically had to put together a proposal to go to our salons with and show them this Christmas incentive scheme we had. And I got to lead up from the front work with all the different salons, our different account managers, and also a big retailer to provide all the kind of incentives that we were trying to go with. And I drove really good, like growth in the department and the business as a whole.


So it sounds like it’s quite varied, then what you’re doing, you’re doing a lot of strategic work. And are you actually physically going out and meeting different clients and salon owners? That kind of thing?


Yeah, it’s like you have like a lot of strategy and analytical based jobs, but equally it’s so important to the business that you get out there and meet with, you know, depending on where your you’re in, in the business with salons or with retailers, and basically try to understand the context behind everything because your efforts are kind of useless until you understand what you’re doing and for and you know, how you have to adapt your different things for different people. Even per retailer, you have to give them a completely different kind of plan or method of going to kind of launch things with them because they expect different things from you.


So you were working with salons and is one of your placements, what are the placements Have you done as part of the Graduate scheme?


Yeah, so my first rotation was L’Oreal professional, which was with salons. And then I’m currently working for Garnier on the ultimate blends team. So working with all the different retailers that you would naturally buy Ultimate Blend from but equally trying to explore different avenues for us to go down as a business. I also did an internship at L’Oreal as well. And over that year, I worked with Armani fragrances and their marketing team.


So did you get like to free stuff?


Yes. Yeah, one of the best things about L’Oreal is you get to be really hands on with the products and we also have really good kind of staff shop options as well. So this is kind of all kinds of opportunities for us, to get involved with the products and really understand fundamentally what it is that we’re working with. I think especially as a guy going into the kind of beauty industry as a whole, I was a little bit kind of scared of, you know, really understanding, you know, what is this product that you know, you’ve used it before, but actually, when you use them, you understand them. If it’s a product that you wouldn’t actually naturally use, you can have somebody else use it for you. And there’s such a great way of getting to know your job. And also you get free stuff


Win, win!


It really is.


So what where did your interest in marketing and sort of cosmetics, beauty, that kind of thing? Where did that come from?


It’s hard to say, because I think naturally, I was never interested in cosmetics. And it was never something I considered. And like I just kind of said it as a guy I think particularly I was like, well, I don’t use them, so why would I be interested in and it was always stuff like sports, music, films, that I was generally interested in. But actually, I was kind of speaking to different people and engaging with the lights of L’Oreal careers events. And you actually learn more about the industry, you learn how much more they do, then you realize all the different brands they work with, you realize there is elements in there that actually are really attractive to you. And then with marketing to be completely honest, I don’t know why I was interested in marketing, I think I’d always describe myself as naturally creative. And then kind of it was one of those things where Okay, well if you’re creative, then marketing is a place for you. But then kind of a L’Oreal is kind of helped me to understand that I’m more than just creative. Like you know, there is analytical sides to it, there is very kind of operational side as well as like very business critical kind of this Christian. So you have to have.


So because you did management here, didn’t you? And then was it sort of doing the internship with L’Oreal that really sealed the deal that you wanted to work for them in the longer term


when I did my internship with them, like I kind of knew then that there was a possibility of going further with them in terms of like, securing a career with them, obviously, the big word shooting. And I kind of I got kind of started with L’Oreal when they came into the management school to do a presentation to resort. And at this point, I was just trying to engage with as many employers as possible, you know, we had to start applying for our placement programs. And I thought it was worth going to hear what they had to say, as y’all came away from my really interested in what they had to offer. Like I said, I knew that with them, it wasn’t just an internship, it was the potential of going so much further with them. So then kind of after doing the internship, loved it, had a great year, it was also really good for me, as an individual to kind of move away from here and go to London, experience all of that, because I’ve never, you know, really kind of left my comfort zone like that before. So I think overall, as a person I grew up over the year and then also learned so much from the experience at L’Oreal. It just felt so natural to kind of carry on while I started there. And I think one of the great things about the internship there is that they really build you into becoming like a future leader of the company, or, you know, they’re really kind of molding you into exactly what works. And I think that’s something that I continuously see the benefits from so I don’t think it was ever a conscious… that’s just what happened. Yeah, it’s so natural, I think it does almost the kind of beauty of it is that it was natural. And I never felt, I don’t know worried about anything. It was just like, I feel like this really works for me.


So, you’ve mentioned creativity see mentioned sort of analytical skills and being strategic? What are the kind of skills or strengths or personal qualities, however you want to put it, do you think a useful for someone to have if they want to get into marketing, they want to start working at L’Oreal in particular?


I think one of the biggest skills, and I think is overlooked so often is being very personable, I know the word’s kind of thrown around, you’ve got to be chatty and stuff like that. But I think within a business, you are interacting with so many different stakeholders. And it can be you know, different kind of suppliers, customers, managers within the business. Like there’s so many different people and the way you communicate with them is representative of you and the business, and also build your reputation as a whole. And especially at L’Oreal there’s quite a focus on your network and how that builds. And it’s interesting to see people, for me in particular, that I met really early on in my internship. I bumped into now and we have these great conversations and then you kind of then know more people around the business who filter into different brands, and then work with like your suppliers, you like your different vendors and everything like, the better you are working with them, the better results you see, generally.


It’s that real ability to build relationships.


Yeah, like building and managing relationships is important. I think everybody kind of naturally has that. But like, there’s such a scope and opportunity there that so many people forget to kind of take the opportunity to go there. I’ve built some really good friendships with some of our suppliers. And you know, some of the people that I work with, you know, just by working with them and building those relationships that have proved so valuable to me over my duration in the company. Other skills… I think, I think, like analytical kind of general operational side of things, being creative. I think also just having the ability to kind of step back and think about what it is you’re actually doing. And always kind of questioning why, so at L’Oreal what is particularly valued is kind of, you know, if you don’t necessarily agree with something, talking about it, give your reasoning, but also being quite proactive in terms of, but I don’t really agree with are doing that, but this is what I suggest and this is how it would work. So I guess product proactivity does kind of filter into that, and it’s just kind of being really energetic, coming to them with new ideas… Something that was great as well is that I always thought my ideas were accepted. It’s always scary kind of coming as a newbie, and you think, okay, my ideas are going to be terrible, these guys have years of experience…


Is there anything you don’t like about it? It sounds like lots of positives that is going really well. Is there any aspect of the role that you’re less keen on?


I think naturally in every job, there’s probably something you;d prefer not to do. But I, I do believe in, if you don’t do the stuff you don’t like, then you won’t really get better at it, or you won’t grow in those areas. I always think for me, I’m like, such like a creature of habit. And I get stuck in my ways. And I get very good at doing stuff that I’m comfortable with. And then tend to kind of approach those things that I don’t really like and say, okay, well, I don’t really want to do this, and I don’t get better at it. So that’s something I’ve really started to try and knock down on. I like to see the bits I don’t like is a an opportunity, an advantage. So there isn’t a great deal that I don’t like. I think sometimes it can be quite hard to manage workload. But that is something I think over time you get used to find different ways of managing and understanding what works and what doesn’t work. And that kind of helps you in other areas in terms of how you communicate, and you know, being very self aware of your work and making sure that you tell the relevant parties about what you’re doing and managing them as well as they’re managing you.


I can imagine that’s really important. The way you’re describing some of these placements, where you’re kind of going out and meeting different kind of big retailers, small salons, this and you must be in touch with your supply chain people all these different pieces of the puzzle. And if you kind of, if you’ve got multiple relationships going on at the same time to be able to keep on top of that, and not let it all spiral out of control, that must be a really sort of important element of it.


Yeah, absolutely. Like it is a balancing act. Yeah. And I think one of the biggest assets is knowing what to prioritize and what not to. And that’s kind of defined by different things. So that’s why the discussion you’d have with your manager or your team. But you know, there is a lot of balancing to do. But it makes it so fun to kind of work with all these different people, that kind of stuff you just completely overlooked because it doesn’t matter. Because you’re just enjoying getting to work for different people work different projects with them.


And so what do you think the key challenges will be for the sector over the next few years?


I think one of the biggest thing, and I guess this is for every sector as a whole is Brexit. I think the problem is, is that we don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know yet, but probably that consumers are going to be less likely to use the like expendable income on cosmetic products that they might not necessarily need. But equally, I think as well, there’s areas where we see so many different smaller brands now popping up who are specializing in certain areas, there’s a huge pressure now on, you know, especially in the cosmetic industry of making sure that your brand is very natural, is very aligned with the kind of vegan side of thing, ensuring that our kind of packaging is recyclable made from 100% recycled materials. And making sure that as an industry as a whole, as a company or as an individual brand that we’re really tackling that.


Any other sort of tips or advice for students who think they might want to get into the marketing kind of sector?


I think naturally experience is good. And the good things about, you know I did like a summer internship, I did the internship with L’Oreal, did other pieces of work, I think it’s always good to know what it is you don’t like, yeah, as well as what you do, like I think is establishing that understanding where your strengths and weaknesses are, and being able to communicate them really effectively. But honestly, as well, I think we just mentioned a kind of about the sustainable thing. But I think there’s also a huge piece on being really authentic now. And I think that comes down to the individual person. And that’s where it starts. So I think as well, you know, you’re going to start seeing, you’re hiring the person. And you know, you don’t want somebody who is perfect, because nobody’s perfect. Somebody needs to be able to communicate the areas that they know, they’re probably not so good at, but then the ability to be conscious of that and, and communicate to an employer that you’re looking to work in those areas is such a strength. And I think such an attractive trait.


Interesting. So people having a really strong sense of themselves, as you say strengths and weaknesses, who they are. And their motivations, I suppose as to why they want to do it.


I think as a whole as well, you kind of got to remember, companies are hiring people who will fit in well with their teams, who won’t go in there and disrupt the kind of natural flow of things. So I think, you know, there is areas we do your research on the company, feel free to reach out to people on them. Like something certainly that I did, and try to understand what the culture’s like, you know, whether it is for you. Because there’s no real point in applying for something that isn’t for you, because neither party really benefits from that. And I think you’re just kind of understanding, okay, Is it for me? Will I fit in there? Do I think that I’ll be able to offer them, like a lot. And then can I communicate that to them?


So did you kind of actively research people on LinkedIn? And what – sent them a message?


Yes, the kind of, you know, you do kind of typing…. Then they can see what that you looked at their profile and that is… good stuff. But I think, yeah, like just typing a company name, obviously sometimes useful if you kind of approach maybe the university first and see if they’ve got any contacts anywhere. But yeah, I think reaching out to people, especially industries now where networking is so important. If you can start that initial conversation, before you’re even applyto the company, even if you don’t make it that company, that contact will always remember you. And it could come 10 years down the line, but in one way or the other, it will probably come full circle in the end, and there’ll be something there. So just just reach out to people don’t be afraid the worst thing that could happen is they don’t reply. And they’re never going to see some why you’re going to be embarrassed. I think, you know, reach out. I get people message me all the time, and I’m more than happy to give them advice on applying or how to tackle assessment centres, because I think you’ve got to remember, so many people have been in a situation.


Okay, so key things, obviously try and get experience, be clear on your motivations, why you want to do it, be clear on yourself, particularly if this new wave of authenticity is coming in, where brands are actually really interested in the real person rather than the sort of linear. But also, don’t be afraid to use the connections that you’ve got, we’ve obviously got York Profiles and Mentors here, but also to make your own connections.


Yeah, I think, you know, like, not just focused on L’Oreal. But when I was in this position, where I was trying to kind of figure out where I fit, I just kind of threw myself at every opportunity possible. And you know, whether that was an on campus event with different companies from different industries. I never saw a problem with kind of going to have a chat with a company I might not even ever heard of. I had no idea about their industry. But I think if you don’t make that initial kind of effort to communicate with them, because it could just come from that conversation alone, that they then want to interact with you. Particularly for me, that’s how I kind of started off of L’Oreal. You know, after the presentation I mentioned earlier on, they spoke to the careers department in management school and asked for my name because I’d asked a couple of questions. That’s how I did it. I had a phone call with them. And then after that, we started to get further and further and and before I knew I’m in my second rotation and you know, it’s weird how it’s amazing how things start. I think for such a long time, I always find it was such like a formal process. And it’s like, Okay, well, I do this application, and I go to the assessments and I may or may not get john. A lot of occasions that happens. But I think if there is opportunities to show them who you are before, you have to apply for stuff, do it. Like get involved, take an hour out of your day, like whenever you want and focus on making sure you are attending some kind of event, talking to somebody on LinkedIn, just just do stuff like – I think the good thing about the university as well as so many people who have so many networks, so you know, just go speak to people and pick their brains, see what they have to say. I’ve learned so much from like different people at the uni, from friends, to kind of lecturers, to careers staff, like there’s so many people…


And I guess, in a way, that ability to build those relationships and kind of use those networks it’s totally mirrored what you’re doing now in your job.


I think, for me as a lot naturally used to be terrible talking to people, petrified, used to hate it, a really shy person. You kind of have to start somewhere. So it probably is going out of your comfort zone a little bit. Some people at careers events, and you have a chat with them may think you’re an idiot, they may think is stupid but so what? At least you had the confidence to go over there and have a conversation. I think he’s kind of putting the work in now so you don’t have to put it in later when it’s harder.


And I think it’s actually a lot less scary in real life than you think it’s going to be – I see that a lot of students when we sort of try and talk to them about networking, and it sounds such a formal, scary process, and then reminding them actually it’s just having a chat someone and then they do it and it wasn’t that bad after all.


Honestly, like it’s crazy. I think I was probably one of those students who had the perception that networking was for kind of bankers and that was it. People in suits. And you’re going to talk to Stonewall who’s not going to give anything away, they have no emotions, etc. If anything now it’s my favorite things to do. Just grab a coffee with somebody that you don’t know, like, obviously, probably not a stranger on the street, but especially within the business at the minute like you know, it’s such a big business and there’s so many people you don’t know. But like, go grab a coffee with them understand, you know, how they got there, what they did, what their story is, and then that’s a connection made. And not like, I think also, don’t ever just do it for personal gain. Do it because you can.


Well, thank you so much for joining us today. really helpful. And see you tonight.


Amazing. Thank you for having me.


Thanks for joining us this week on What Do You Actually Do!? this episode was hosted by myself Kate Morris, edited by Steven Furlong and produced by both of us. If you love this podcast, spread the word and subscribe. Are you eager to get more tips? Follow University of York Careers and Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. All useful links are in this episode description. This has been produced at the University of York Careers and Placements. For more information visit york.ac.uk/careers