While there are plenty of retail graduate schemes to choose from you'll face stiff competition when trying to gain a place on a programme. These roles offer early responsibility, relatively high starting salaries and often a job at the end of the scheme

What are retail graduate schemes?

Usually one to two years in length, retail graduate programmes are structured schemes that allow graduates to experience and gain knowledge of a certain area of the business all while working and earning a wage.

A number of large, well-known retail organisations offer graduate schemes, from clothing brands and supermarkets to homeware retailers, technology retailers and department stores.

Schemes are available in a variety of fields such as digital, distribution, buying, finance, IT, management, merchandising, online and logistics and supply chain.

Which companies run retail schemes?

  • Aldi - an intensive year-long Graduate Area Manager Scheme.
  • Asda - two-year graduate programmes are available in retail, George, data and technology and business operations.
  • Dunelm - programmes are available in finance, software engineering, business transformation and insight and analytics.
  • Gucci - run an international Gucci Grade graduate programme in fashion retail management.
  • Harrods - one and two-year schemes in digital and customer strategy, IT, distribution and store development.
  • Lidl - programmes are available in retail graduate management and head office graduate management.
  • Marks & Spencer - graduate schemes encompass retail leaders, food business and clothing and home business.
  • Morrisons - nine schemes each focusing on a particular business area such as retail, finance, logistics, buying, people management, corporate, data science, technology and manufacturing/buying.
  • Ocado - run several schemes spanning functions such as business management, software engineering, engineering, finance and UX.
  • Santander - offer a retail graduate scheme focusing on retail banking.
  • Tesco - eight programmes are on offer, each covering a core business area, for example finance, online, product, retail, technology cyber security, technology product, technology, technology software engineering.
  • The British Heart Foundation - graduate schemes are available in technology, retail and people and organisational development.
  • Vodafone - runs ten graduate programmes covering technology government security, technology network development and quality, technology software engineering, business sales, business, customer commercial and analytics, commercial and marketing, finance, human resources and finally digital.

Search for graduate jobs in retail.

What do retail graduate schemes involve?

This depends on the company and the scheme. For example, if you join the Aldi graduate scheme, you'll spend a year training to become an area manager, with the help of a mentor. You'll start by stacking shelves, getting to know your products and learning about customer service. By week 15 you could have the keys to your own store and by week 47 you'll be looking after your own regional area.

The two-year Tesco retail graduate programme will see you working in stores, getting to know different departments. You'll also work in the support office, with transformation teams and in distribution all while receiving leadership development training. By the end of the programme you'll have all the skills to become a store manager.

As a graduate on the Marks & Spencer clothing and home programme you'll spend your first four months in store, gaining hands-on experience in clothing and home departments. You'll then work within key areas of the business such as buying, design, merchandising, supply chain and online operations before choosing a specialism in either the commercial or product stream.

On the digital scheme at Vodafone you'll spend time within content design, product ownership, chatbot design and app design.

What are the entry requirements?

It's a common misconception that people over a certain age cannot apply for a graduate programme. As long as you hold a degree there is no upper age limit on when you can apply for a graduate scheme.

While some schemes specify the need for a particular degree subject, others accept graduates from any discipline.

For graduate schemes run by the likes of Aldi and Harrods, you'll need a 2:1 undergraduate degree, but many retail employers including Lidl, Morrisons and Tesco also accept those with a 2:2. In fact, an increasing number of retail employers are widening the net and are willing to accept graduates with a 2:2 onto their programmes.

Other entry requirements may include a specific number of UCAS points, evidence of particular skills, a driving license and a willingness to relocate.

If university isn't for you but you'd still like to formally train within a retail organisation you could consider a retail apprenticeship.

How do I apply?

You'll apply for most schemes online, although application processes vary so check with individual employers.

You'll need to fill out an online application form and complete any numerical or psychometric tests set by the recruiter. If successful at this stage you'll move on to complete a video interview before progressing on to an assessment centre. The final stage of the application process is usually a face-to-face interview with the employer.

Make sure that you tailor your application to the job you are applying for. The retail sector does not look favourably on generic CVs. Find out more about applying for jobs.

To set yourself above the competition try to gain plenty of relevant work experience. Shop floor experience is highly respected. There is no real substitute for working with customers, dealing with deliveries, stock taking and working as part of a retail team. Enquire in-store for shop floor opportunities and apply online for head office experience and industrial placements at large retail organisations. For more information on the types of jobs available in the retail industry, see jobs in retail.

Some retail graduate programmes such as Aldi and Harrods recruit all year round, while others like Tesco and Marks & Spencer have set application deadlines.

How much will I be paid?

Salaries on retail graduate schemes vary widely. For example:

  • Aldi offer a graduate starting salary of £50,000, which rises in stages to £94,240 in year eight.
  • Lidl pay graduates on their Sales Graduate Management Programme a starting salary of £38,000.
  • Depending on the scheme you're on you'll either get a salary of £28,000 or £37,000 when working for Tesco.
  • Santander pay graduates on their retail scheme £35,000.

Retail graduate programmes also provide an impressive number of benefits such as the use of company cars, international secondments, generous holiday allowances (usually up to five weeks), store discounts, bonus schemes, private health cover and discounted cinema tickets.

Will I be offered a job afterwards?

If you complete the full programme, most schemes lead to full-time employment with the organisation. However, some companies will state that offers of permanent employment aren't guaranteed upon completion, so you may want to check this before applying.

The knowledge and skills you learn on retail graduate programmes also equip you for roles in a number of other sectors including hospitality and events managementIT (if you've taken a programme in technology), accountancy, banking and finance (for those who’ve completed a finance scheme) and transport and logistics (if you've completed a supply chain or logistics scheme).

Find out more

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