Vault recently spoke with Simone Sebastian, Consumer Marketing Director at Reynolds American, who interned with the company in 2014 and received a full-time job offer at the end of her internship. Throughout our discussion, Simone describes some of the most exciting aspects of her internship and the welcoming culture of camaraderie and learning that sparked her desire to work at Reynolds full-time. We also touched upon the nature of working for a tobacco company, and the core values of responsible, marketing that set Reynolds American apart.
Vault: Can you please tell us a little bit more about yourself—your background, your experience, and what drew you to Reynolds American?
Simone Sebastian: All through undergrad, I really didn’t know what I wanted to “be” when I grew up. So naturally, I went to law school. Two years into law school, I realized that I really didn’t want to practice, so I added an MBA hoping that an extra year would help me figure it out. I realized that my ultimate goal was to be a Brand Manager. I met Reynolds at the National Black MBA conference in 2014 and after a few interviews, I was offered a Consumer Marketing internship. What drew me to Reynolds was how nice everyone was that I interacted with throughout my interview process. Everyone seemed really genuine and I could tell that they were really committed to bringing in and fostering new talent within the organization.
Vault: What were some of the most exciting aspects of your internship experience with Reynolds American? What kinds of projects did you work on?
SS: I loved that I worked on a real project. A lot of my classmates were getting coffee or making copies at their internships. Reynolds gave me a project that would eventually go to market. Because of the significance of my project, I even had the opportunity to work with an agency that provided creative in support of my project. It really made me feel like I was adding value. Outside of work, the HR team was really great about getting us out in Winston-Salem and making sure that we had a great time in the city.
Vault: What do you consider some of the most important lessons you learned from your internship with Reynolds American? Were there any surprises?
SS: I think learning that I didn’t always have to be right was the most important lesson I learned. Reynolds was a space where I felt comfortable to ask questions and empowered to make mistakes. The biggest surprise was that every VP and Senior Director’s door was always open for me. No one was too busy or too important to help me with my project.
Vault: Did you have any reservations about pursuing an internship with a tobacco company? What was it about Reynolds American organization that put those reservations at ease?
SS: I definitely had reservations at first. Once I realized how committed the company was to marketing responsibly, I felt way more comfortable.
Vault: What do you want potential interns and jobseekers to know about working at Reynolds before making a decision based on their preconceived notions of the tobacco industry?
SS: First, this isn’t a stuffy corporate environment full of cigarette smokers; instead, it’s a really health-forward workplace full of dynamic people, who make working together fun.
The other thing to know is that we are extremely committed to marketing responsibly and only to tobacco consumers over the age of 21. We are not trying to make people use tobacco who don’t already use tobacco or encourage under-age usage. We want those who are already a 21+ adult tobacco consumer to choose one of our products.
Vault: What sets Reynolds American apart from the tobacco industry as a whole?
SS: What I think makes us different is our broad portfolio that provides adult tobacco consumers with plenty of responsibly marketed alternatives to traditional combustible products.
Vault: Speaking of being a full-time employee, can you tell us more about what that process was like? When did you know you wanted to pursue a career at this company beyond your internship?
SS: I came to Winston-Salem for the summer in 2014. I was given an offer at the end of my internship.
I knew that I wanted to pursue a career with Reynolds probably half-way through my internship. Everyone was so invested in my success and even in a few short weeks, I genuinely felt like they were my family. I was invited to their gatherings even though I was the intern. I never felt like an outsider.
After seeing so many of my friends being treated as if they were in competition with the other interns at their organizations, I knew that I wanted to come back to Reynolds where my growth was a priority.
Vault: What was your experience with mentors, colleagues, and other interns at Reynolds? What kinds of learning opportunities does Reynolds offer its interns? Is it relatively common for interns to join the company full-time?
SS: I was assigned an official mentor at the beginning of the internship program. He was always available to help answer any questions that I had. My other colleagues were always around to help. There were full-time employees who looked at my presentation two or three times throughout the summer without ever complaining. My VP was extremely helpful and accessible and even helped look at my fonts for my presentation the week before. I can’t think of another company where a VP would take time out of their busy day to double-check an intern’s fonts. It was so crazy (in a good way) to me at the time.
I can only speak for the Consumer Marketing internship, but typically, there is always a spot for an impressive intern. We never go into an internship program as though it’s a competition for a certain number of spots. I have seen summers where one intern gets an offer and summers where every intern gets an offer.
Vault: What was the hiring process like for your internship? For your full-time role?
SS: For the internship, I met Reynolds at the career fair. There, I had a first “fit” interview. I got a call about a week later to come in for a panel interview. That panel interview took place about two weeks after that. During the panel interview, I did 3 different interviews with two employees in each room. I got a call the next day extending an offer for an internship.
After my internship was over, I got a call the next week offering me a full-time position. Prior to that, I had a mid-term and end of internship review so I always had a sense of my performance.
Vault: Do you have any advice for college/grad students interested in pursuing an internship with Reynolds American?
SS: I would say do a mock interview prior to your Reynolds interview. Find someone that works in your chosen field and ask them to do an interview with you. This was what got me my job. If I hadn’t done the mock interview, I would never have been prepared for the official interview.
Once you get the interview, bring your whole self. Show us not only that you’re smart, but that you’re someone that we want to work with.