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

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

A friend who works in the Research and Development team at MAC Cosmetics was kind enough to speak to me about her experience working at the company.

I think her story is a great example of what hard work, putting yourself out there, quick learning, and dedication can achieve!

What was your education and work background before your current job?

Honours Science Degree – B.Sc at the University of Waterloo

 

Did you want to work in the cosmetic industry?

I love lipstick and all, but never ever once imagined myself working for MAC Cosmetics. I was initially looking into healthcare.

 

How long have you been employed in the cosmetic industry?

Almost a year full-time!

What is your role at MAC?

I am a Lab Technician for the Outside Vendor group at the Canadian Innovation Centre. I deal with third parties to launch products through MAC.

What did you do yesterday at work?

I am working on launching shade extensions of existing products. There are many tests that the products must go through before it launches, therefore I observe stability of various products while keeping a record of results and any issues that arise.
What sort of projects do you work on?

As I am just under a year with Estee Lauder (which, by the way, owns MAC), I am currently assigned to shade extensions which must be released within deadlines. Fragrance changes, fading opportunities, new colours – all must be re-tested. After more experience, I hope to take on new products that have never launched before.

Do you see yourself moving around in the company? What sort of position would you like to be in, if not this one?

Currently my position has given me a lot of knowledge about the world of cosmetics at MAC. I am also taking the initiative to learn as much as I can  – attending vendor meetings (effects of new raw materials), and attending workshops to improve personal skills like public speaking, time management, and more! I am definitely interested in the Product Development or Marketing side of this fascinating industry.

Besides your own job, what other interesting jobs do you see within the company?

Marketing is something that intrigues me, just because there are so many aspects to it. To be a successful global company like Estee Lauder, making consumers of the over 15+ brands it owns is tough – but a challenge I would like to be a part of (well to start off at least…with MAC).  As a millennial, it’s easy to see the power of social media and what factors really influence consumers to purchase a product.

Biggest perk of working at MAC?

SEEING PRODUCTS MANY MONTHS BEFORE IT HITS THE COUNTER!

Just joking (not really).

Employees are given an appreciation bag of goodies, but more than the physical items, I would say working in the small R&D Lab has given me more exposure and opportunities than I had imagined. I am surrounding with chemists who have been with the company for 10+ years, launched magnificent products for MAC, and are still working for months to develop the next best thing – being in the presence of that itself is a treat for me.

What would you suggest to someone who’s currently an undergrad who wants to work in the cosmetic industry? How did you find out about the job you have now?

How did I get here? I worked production for 3 months one summer – no interest in the cosmetic world I just needed some cash. A year later I was finishing my finals of my last semester at University when my ex-supervisor emailed me about a cleaning position at the R&D Lab. I had told her when I left to give me a heads up if any lab position opened up, this definitely was not the one I had envisioned – I took it.

My number one advice for many post grads is to let go of their ego and get ready to do the dirty work first. I worked out of the cleaning position, as a chemist had seen potential and became an assistant. After 2 months, a chemist handed me a job posting that I did not have access to at the time. With zero experience I was hesitant to apply, but I did it. I interviewed for the Lab Tech position with no experience, but a lot to promise if I had gotten it. The smallest life choices can get you somewhere you never expected.

You’ve mentioned you came in from a non-chemistry degree, how do you think this has helped you adapt to your current role?

I would like to become a Chemist in the future, but I have yet a lot to learn about formulating. Sometimes opportunities are thrown at you when you least expect it, that’s the time to take charge and make it work with extra time if needed. As long as you know the basics of Chemistry, the rest will be taught by senior mentors and experience. There are new things I am learning every day, and that’s the beauty of it all.

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

One of the major concerns people have when thinking about working within the cosmetic industry is a lack of a chemistry degree.

While I won’t say it doesn’t help, there are plenty of positions available to people in the industry that aren’t dependent on a knowledge of chemistry.

Roles in sales, distribution, marketing, logistics are all available. Pretty much any position you’d find at any other large transnational, you can find within the cosmetic industry.

What was your education and work background before your current job?  

Before starting at Estée, I was working at a Microbiology Food Laboratory.

Did you want to work in the cosmetic industry?  

My interests were mainly biological/scientific and computer technology. I was always fascinated by science even though half the time I didn’t understand it. Never would I have ever thought about looking for work in the cosmetic industry until I started at Estée Lauder.

How long have you been employed in the cosmetic industry?

Come April 2016, I will be with the company for 1 year.

What is your role at Estée Lauder?  

When I first started with Estée Lauder, I started as a Technical Administrative Assistant. A few months later my position merged with that of Formula Control. We basically handle releasing the methods of process and materials, etc to the manufacturing plants once a project is ready for production.

What did you do yesterday at work?  

Yesterday I had a lot of troubleshooting issues where the plants were not seeing specific data in the designated systems so I had to work alongside planners, brand reps, etc. to figure out what was causing the issue.

What sort of projects do you work on?  

I still take on duties from my initial position. I review documents for projects that are considered either “over-the-counter” or “quasi drug” and work alongside our drug compliance team and assure that the documents are up to good documentation practice standards.

Do you see yourself moving around in the company? What sort of position would you like to be in, if not this one?

I definitely do see myself taking on more tasks and responsibilities within the company and definitely see myself in my current position for years to come because it’s an essential position where I work side by side with engineers and chemists. After all, that is where the product first starts being created.

Besides your own job, what other interesting jobs do you see within the company?

The position of the drug compliance team is one that interests me. The FDA is ever-changing their rules and regulations and in turn keeps us on our toes to make sure we are compliant with whatever regulations and changes are being set both here in the U.S. and globally at our sister facilities.

Biggest perk of working at Estée Lauder?

The biggest perk to me working at Estée Lauder is the education you get out of it. The way you witness the startup of a project to product and how it works and the work that goes into it is just something personally I feel is a big perk. As the saying goes “You learn something new every day” and I like to think that’s definitely something that takes place every day a Estée Lauder.

What would you suggest to someone who’s currently an undergrad who wants to work in the cosmetic industry?

I would suggest to those who are contemplating to work in the cosmetic industry to be patient, have tough skin. It’s a competitive business but also a great one to be in for its ever changing culture.

I would also recommend for those who aren’t into trends or what’s hot and what’s not to at least consider taking a look into trends. Being that you are in the cosmetic industry and trend setting is one of the many main concepts it’s involved in.

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

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “How do I get a job in the cosmetic industry?”. I thought the best way to answer this was to interview people within the industry and let them share their background, experience, and how they got where they are.

My first interview is with Dan, a process engineer at Estée Lauder.

image

Formulations created at a small scale, such as a beaker, can often encounter problems when scaled up to production size.

A process engineer’s role is to help foresee these problems and troubleshoot them – ensuring that the formula looks and functions the same at any production level.

What was your education background?

Chemical engineering

Did you want to work in the cosmetic industry?

I majored in chemical engineering because I like chemistry and I wanted a job in the consumer goods industry (specifically food). It did not cross my mind that I could be a chemical engineer in the cosmetic industry initially. But I was exposed to chemical engineering opportunities in the cosmetic industry through my college’s alumni network and was immediately hooked on the idea.

How long have you been employed in the cosmetic industry?

7 months to date

What is your role at Estée Lauder?

Process engineer

What did you do yesterday at work?

Refreshed my knowledge of our up-scale methods in a class taught by a Vice President of the Engineering Department. Worked with a formulating chemist to discuss the next phase of up-scaling a formula for market launch.

What sort of projects do you work on?

My focus is scaling up skin-care products like moisturizers, toners, masks, cremes, SPFs, acne treatments, etc.

Do you see yourself moving around in the company? What sort of position would you like to be in, if not this one?

DEFINITELY. I chose to work for a large company for the option to move around and explore different departments. I see myself learning the business and joining the marketing team.

Besides your own job, what other interesting jobs do you see within the company?

Marketing, supply chain, innovation, and corporate strategy

Biggest perk of working at

Estée Lauder?

Industry exposure, technical and business knowledge training, and future opportunity

What would you suggest to someone who’s currently an undergrad who wants to work in the cosmetic industry?

Be flexible in your job search. Unfortunately, HR functions very slowly. Patience is key. Keep in touch with all your career contacts. I got my job because a neighbor struck up a random conversation with my father and happened to know someone who worked at Estée. Any connection, no matter how random, can land you that dream job.