Advancing in a meritocracy Everyone has heard of Coca-Cola. In the 114 years since the brown stuff was first conceived, it's grown into a multinational brand instantly recognisable from Barnsley to Beijing. So if you're looking for a product with which to give your fledgling sales skills a head start, Coke, in the words of the slogan, is it. There are certainly plenty of opportunities. Unlike many multinationals which select a hand-picked élite from the annual crop of applicants, Coca-Cola prefers to recruit in bulk and, says Claire Thorby, human resources manager at Coca-Cola Enterprises, "let the best people progress". She explains: "We're a very meritocratic company. We have a strong emphasis on talent recognition and career planning, developing people through project work." Rather than operating a formal graduate recruitment scheme, commercial human resources manager Avril Brown says the company prefers "to put people into real live roles with real live experience from day one". Many management applicants are graduates, although others apply straight after A levels and some are mature entrants with experience gained elsewhere. The experience of philosophy graduate Gordon Muir, pictured, is fairly typical. He became a member of the regional sales force after responding to an ad in his local paper. After an initial structured induction at Swindon, he was attached to Coca-Cola's Scottish regional sales office. And 18 months later, he was promoted to a head office job. Coca-Cola's sales force is divided into eight regions and also into different channels which relate to the type of business being targeted ­ independent, wholesale, or convenience stores for example. "We like people to have worked within more than one channel before they are promoted," explains Brown. "They need to get a broad base of experience before they move upwards." Sometimes this means a geographical move from region to region, sometimes a move into the national structure dealing with larger retailers. Throughout a manager's career, constant assessment makes sure that no-one misses out on the right opportunities. The company believes strongly in talent rating and succession planning as the way to get the best from its staff. "We get a lot of feedback from line managers," says Brown, "and there are cross-assessments to make sure we get consistency. "Assessments can show us if someone needs more development in order to progress, or if they need to be steered into additional roles." Particularly promising recruits can spend time with senior managers who can often help develop and encourage their skills more quickly. Brown is wary of "making proclamations" about where graduate recruits might end up two, three or five years into their careers with Coca-Cola. "We don't like doing that, because then people tend to obsess about where they're going next at the expense of what they're doing now. Every individual is different...they move as fast as their performance and development merit!" {{Z SUPPLEMENTS }}