A Practical Guide to Getting a Job in the Cosmetic Industry

This is probably one of the most common questions I get, and to be honest it’s also one of the hardest to answer. There’s no “secret” to getting a job in the cosmetic industry, it’s the same as any job hunt.

Do you have the relevant experience, both work and education?

Are you approaching companies?

Does the interviewer like you?

And that’s really it. There’s no shortcut to skip producing resume after resume and endless interviews to get your foot in the door. In reality the only shortcut is nepotism – but not everyone is that privileged.

There are some things you can do to make sure that you actually want to work in this industry, and to find the right job for yourself.

What do you want to do?

The first thing I ask when someone asks me a question like “I want a job in the cosmetic industry” is what sort of job? And often times there really isn’t a clear response, just “any job in the industry”. As a potential employer that’s not an enticing approach.

The cosmetic industry is an industry like any other, there are many roles and positions across hundreds of companies. There’s a need for people trained in IT, there’s a need for MBAs, there’s a need for programmers, there’s a need for people with sales skills, and of course there is a need for people with scientific training.

A good place to start is to actually take a look at the recruitment positions that a large established company is offering. Estee Lauder and L’Oreal, for example, list their ‘fields’ very clearly and what the ideal candidate for each position looks like.

If you’re still in university or high school – plan your education stream to match your goal. A cosmetic chemist does not need the skills from a psychology degree, but a physical chemistry, food chemistry, or chemical engineering degree is going to be very useful and attractive. There are even cosmetic chemistry programs – though they are more common in Europe. On the other hand a person looking to work in global brand strategy likely won’t benefit much from a chemistry degree – an MBA is much more desirable in that case.

Who do you want to work for?

The cosmetic industry extends beyond brands, far beyond them. I think most people look at companies like Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, Neutrogena, and LVMH and stop there. But there’s an entire group of companies that produce products for these companies – raw materials, logistics, IT, and so on.

Estee Lauder doesn’t make their own packaging, they use a contract manufacturer to create them. And that company employs their own product managers, sales people, product designers, and so forth. These companies are harder to find, because they don’t advertise to the public – they advertise their services to other companies.

Often cosmetic companies aren’t their only client. Most chemical companies for example produce products for many industries. Just one company produces products for textiles, mining, coolants, oil refining, agriculture, flame retardants, construction, pigments, hydraulics, and finally the cosmetic industry. As you can imagine the profits from the cosmetic industry are overshadowed by the other industries.

So how do you find these companies that aren’t public-facing? You need to be creative here! One strategy might be to find a convention for that industry and look through the list of attending companies – scour their websites and highlight companies that seem interesting to you…and then contact them.

Build a network of people in the industry, be kind, be patient, and be thankful. Just because a person you contact can’t offer you a job doesn’t mean that that’s the end of your relationship. That person may recommend you when another company or friend in the industry needs to hire someone.

Make it easy for people to help you. Give them all the information they will need to help you. Your goals, what you imagine your job would be like, your experience – all the things that you might think are relevant. Most importantly make it clear how they can help you – have a succinct and clear ask.

There’s a big difference between “I want a job like yours, how?” and “I’ve just graduated with a degree in physical chemistry with a focus on emulsions. Here are some papers that I’ve worked on that I think are relevant. I’d like a job where I help scale up lab test formulas to production quantities. Is your company offering any roles that I might suit? And if not, do you have any ideas for companies or people that I may want to contact or would be able to help me?”

Make it easy for people to help you, I can’t stress this point enough. I got my start in the industry through a business plan competition in my second year of university, and I met my business partner at a water fountain at a gym. Often times we close ourselves off to help without realizing. Dropping your ego and sense of entitlement is often the solution to this problem.

Don’t be afraid to take a position that isn’t your ideal, but gets your foot in the industry. Intercompany networking is a powerful tool, and it’s much easier to hire someone if you’re already friendly or familiar with them. Having a job doesn’t mean your hunt for your ideal job is over.

Your blog or social media probably won’t help

Unless you’re looking for a position like managing social media, or copywriting – your social media presence probably won’t help you find a job in the industry.

It really doesn’t matter to a company who is looking for a cosmetic chemist whether or not they have a “scientific” blog or not. Applying for the job shows interest. In reality, from chemists that I’ve spoken to, a personal blog is often a detriment – not a positive.

Companies hope to control their own message, they do not want their employees producing content and messaging on their own. They have their own department or employ a company to manage their public messaging. The cosmetic chemist has a specific set of roles – and social media is outside of them.

You need to be realistic about where you spend your efforts. Two years developing a blog or social media presence isn’t going to help you become a cosmetic chemist as much as spending two years in a professional training program, interning, or working in an adjacent industry or lab.

I personally don’t think being enthusiastic or passionate about your job or industry is as valued as it used to be. A person with better skills or education is often more attractive than someone with less skills or experience who is enthusiastic. Companies know that if they raise the offered salary – they’ll attract better talent, who will work just as hard or consistently. An employee whose work ethic is closely tied to their enthusiasm or passion for a project they like can sometimes become a liability. You will not like every aspect of your job, do not let that disillusionment shatter you or stall you.

Companies are looking for employees, not friends. Strong opinions may indicate to a company that you may find it difficult to perform tasks set out for you that you disagree with or don’t think are the best approach. Doesn’t almost every employee think they’re smarter than their boss? Don’t many of us think we’re already more knowledgeable than the Sephora sales people? But at the end of the day, those Sephora sales people have been educated on a company’s material and are doing their job how they’ve been trained to.

A gathering of people in the cosmetic industry doesn’t look like Capitol citizens from the Hunger Games. We just look tired.


How’d you get your job in the cosmetic industry? With M. at MAC Cosmetics

How’d you get your job in the cosmetic industry? With Kaci at Estée Lauder

How’d you get your job in the cosmetic industry? With Dan at Estée Lauder

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  • Mattie

    Totally agree – as someone who just started working in the beauty industry (I live in NYC), connection is a key element. Get to know as many people as possible and don’t be afraid to be a little pushy when engaging with them.

  • newenglandsummer

    Hello! As a grad student in mechanical engineering working on areas like rheology of non-Newtonian fluids, it was quite refreshing reading your post. Thank you for your emphasis on skills that a candidate has and not just a chemistry degree or passion. Great post!