The cosmetics industry is a fast-growing sector in Hong Kong and management trainees are crucial to the success of the multibillion dollar business.
L'Oreal's management training programme offers a fast track into positions that combine management skills with work at the heart of the vibrant cosmetics industry.
The programme was launched in 2003. It has surged in popularity since the financial crisis dried up finance opportunities and opened graduates' eyes to other ways they may apply their management skills. While 600 candidates applied in 2005, there were more than 2,000 applicants this year.
L'Oreal Hong Kong's recruitment and integration manager Bocco Chen said the programme took about eight to 10 applicants a year, but this number was growing. Applicants are mostly local graduates and a few from overseas.
Kim Lo took the programme in 2007 and now works as a senior marketing executive for the L'Oreal-owned cosmetics company Kiehl's. She said her first project was to supervise the grand opening of Kiehl's new retail shop at Elements shopping mall.
"I designed the decorations. I used flowers as Kiehl's cosmetic are made with natural ingredients," Lo said. "The brand manager trusted me, inspired me and accepted my new proposals."
The trainee programme starts with a few weeks of field experience, where candidates are placed on L'Oreal's frontlines helping to sell and promote cosmetic products in stores.
Paul Yuen, one of last year's trainees who now works as an accountant co-ordinator, YSL Beaute, said he sold his first mascara during the field experience.
"I knew nothing about mascara at the beginning of the screening process," he said. "I felt so happy to see how I moved from knowing nothing to having my first buyer."
After the five weeks' field experience, the trainees go through product training - learning the ingredients, unique selling points and ways of applying different cosmetics.
During the programme trainees are instructed through a combination of on-the-job learning, individual guidance and mentoring. There are regular round-table discussions, when the trainees share their experiences.
Towards the end of the programme's nine months, trainees produce a graduation report - often more like a sketch book - which summarises their experiences. They then have an individual meeting with the managing director.
To enter the programme, candidates have to take an assessment test or win a L'Oreal online game which tests their business acumen.
He said applicants also had three interviews, with the recruitment manager, human resource director and line manager. These look for people who fit L'Oreal's culture.
"We want someone who is passionate about the industry," Chen said. "They should be talented not only academically but also in other areas such as sport and music, highly energetic, fast paced, entrepreneurial, curious, innovative and ambitious.
"We are in a grooming industry and, therefore, we should be well-presented.
"It could be a disaster for a female candidate to not know how to do her make-up and a male candidate to not be neat and tidy."
One of last year's trainees, Eric Lui, said that he stood out in the screening process by showing his knowledge of L'Oreal's business.
"I went to various L'Oreal retail points to investigate its product counter," he said.
"Then during the one-on-one interview, I expressed my thoughts and gave suggestions."
Liu said that developing your own ideas, being able to think critically, and having good time-management skills were the way to succeed on the programme. He now works as the merchandising executive of L'Oreal's active cosmetics division.