What it Takes to Break Into the Cosmetics/Personal Care Industry: MBS Industry Career Panel
On April 6, 2016, the MBS Program, in collaboration with the Center for Dermal Research, hosted a “Personal Care Science Career Panel” which gave students many great insights into the opportunities within the industry. This event brought together a wonderfully diverse group of experts from industry and academia to give advice on how to better approach the job market as a recent graduate and to give students insights into the various career paths within the personal care industry.
Dr. Mathew Sills, Professor of Professional Practice PSM Program, kicked of the night’s discussion by welcoming everyone to this exciting event. He introduced the esteemed panel and asked them to give a brief background into their careers. After this he posed a few questions to them and as the event went along he opened the floor for student questions. This brought about great discussion and we were able to get the expert opinion of the entire panel.
- Joe Albanese, Regional Sales Manager for Sytheon Ltd., Executive Committee Board Member and Program Co-Chair, NY Society of Cosmetic Chemists
- Tom Branna, Editor, Happi Magazine
- Ricardo Diez, R&D, Fragrances and Toiletries, Chanel & MBS Professor of Professional Practice
- Linda Foltis, Vice President of Care Specialties R&D at Ashland Specialty Ingredients
- Joe Matt (MBS Alum), Account Manager, Personal Care at Croda Inc.
- Bozena Michniak-Kohn, Ph.D. Professor Department of Pharmaceutics and Director of the Center for Dermal Research (CDR) and Michniak Laboratory for Drug Delivery (LDD) of the NJ Center for Biomaterials (NJCBM)
- Ying Xu (MBS Student), Formulation Chemist, Johnson & Johnson
Articles written by an MBS author published by the New York Society of Cosmetics Chemists:
An overview of jobs and skills in demand: https://issuu.com/nyscc/docs/cosmetiscope-2016-04
Skills needed to be a Cosmetics Chemist: http://www.thecosmeticchemist.com/education/career_corner/the_job_market_for_cosmetic_chemists.html
After introductions, first on the agenda was the question, “Was your career path a straight line?” Now, I would have expected everyone to have pursued a complex career path. That was the case for some, but at least two of our panelists attested to having a somewhat straight path. Dr. Michniak-Kohn added that she started with her Ph.D. in Pharmacology, moved on to be a professor of Pharmacy, and then transitioned into dermal research, where she was able to form the Center for Dermal Research in collaboration with the New Jersey Center for Biomaterials here at Rutgers. She noted that she is able to teach, do research, and collaborate with industry on cutting edge projects. The other panelist who spoke on his straight-line career path was Tom Branna, who got his degree in Journalism and English from Montclair State University, worked at a newspaper, and then transitioned from there to HAPPI magazine. Other panelists did discuss more diverse paths, such as moving from the lab into sales and marketing. So, it turns out that you can have a straight path in the industry, or you can branch out into areas that you may never have imagined yourself doing while in school.
The next question posed to the panel was, “What can students do to make themselves more marketable? ” Ying Xu, former MBS student, let us all know that networking was a big part of how she got her foot in the door at a company. She did all her schooling in Food Science, and had the opportunity to work at International Fragrance & Flavors because she was passionate about flavors. However, due to her network she was able to transition to the personal care industry with a co-op at Colgate- Palmolive. She encouraged the students in attendance to never to give up and to always use networking to their advantage. As an international student she did not let the fact that some companies do not accept applications from international students due to immigration reasons, she still applied and was able to land this exciting and interesting job in a leading multinational consumer products company. She also noted that she has since transitioned to Johnson and Johnson, where she is a formulation chemist for oral care products.
After the moderated questions, the floor was opened up to the audience and many questions were asked of the panel. One question that resonated was, “Have you ever been frustrated with the Cosmetic industry?” To this question, Dr. Diez, added that he sees the tremendous value in skincare but these days a lot of companies are not investing as much as they once did in innovation. He said that surfactant science was so groundbreaking at the time it emerged – in the 1950’s – as scientists were able to use byproducts from the coal industry to make cleansers, which changed the face of the personal care industry. Nowadays, he finds that companies are less interested in making innovative products with “real value”. This may be a controversial opinion in this age of “cosmeceuticals” but I think students appreciated the candid response that Dr. Diez gave. His advice to the room was to make a difference by not being complacent and using science and innovation to create products that meet the consumer’s need.
The conversation then shifted to how one could successfully transition from the laboratory to the commercial side of the industry. Linda Foltis added that you can work with your supervisor to see how you can make the switch and how best your company can facilitate that, and Dr. Michniak- Kohn spoke about rotational programs that many companies have. She said that these would give you the opportunity to move around the company in different roles whether it be business or science so that you can get a taste of what areas you are truly interested in. Joe Matt then added that your personality will also help you in figuring out which side you are better suited for, but you must make the transition when you are ready because the step back can be very difficult.
As the night winded down, the panel all agreed that entering into the MBS program was a great choice for students who have not been exposed to the personal care industry and to those who currently hold positions but want to expand their skillset. Many panelists spoke about how the program encourages students to have a global perspective while understanding both the business and science, which can definitely distinguish young professionals from the pack. As the MBS Director, Dr. Deborah Silver noted, “The MBS program allows students to improve and build their communication skills, which greatly aids with networking and interviewing. Our students also get strong grounding in the regulatory aspects of the industry, marketing, and other business fundamentals.” I definitely agree with this sentiment as I have gained a wealth of knowledge in year that I been a part of the MBS program. I believe that the ultimate goal of the program is to give students the tools needed to connect what we have learned in the program with the tasks we will have to perform on the job.
The panel brought about thought-provoking conversation, and the two-hour discussion ended with the panel giving their final thoughts on how graduates can navigate the industry. As well as a few insightful tips on how to be successful in this dynamic industry. These key lessons are included below.
Key Lessons for Students Seeking Careers in the Personal Care/Cosmetics Industry
- Be respectful as the industry is small and ever-changing. Today you may be competitors, but tomorrow you may be co-workers
- Be prepared to do your best
- Learn from the people who are at your job and in the industry; internal networking is also very important – For example, attend the New York Cosmetic Society’s Supplier Days
- Make sure your resume reflects what you have accomplished
- Be versatile, flexible, and open to change
- Join societies and engage in continuing education
- Make sure you focus on your personal life as much as the professional, as you need to have balance
- The personal care industry is very diverse and students can also look at careers in patenting, regulatory, marketing, sales, writing, and even research (academia)