A range of large, well-known companies run retail graduate schemes in a variety of functions, from buying and digital to e-commerce and supply chain. Find out what programmes involve and how to apply

Graduate schemes are structured, salaried programmes that combine work with training. They're usually offered by large organisations and aim to prepare recent graduates for a particular role.

There are plenty of retail graduate schemes to choose from and the good news is that there are more employers in the retail sector who are prepared to accept graduates with a 2:2, than in other industries such as IT or law.

That said, competition to gain a place on a retail scheme is fierce and you'll need to take advantage of every opportunity to impress potential employers.

Which companies run retail graduate schemes?

A number of large, well-known retail companies offer graduate schemes, from clothing retail brands and supermarkets, to home wear retailers and department stores. Graduate schemes are available in a variety of retail-related areas such as digital, distribution, buying, finance, IT, management, merchandising, online and logistics and supply chain.

Organisations that run retail graduate schemes include:

  • Aldi - provides an intensive year-long graduate area manager scheme.
  • Arcadia - owns brands such as Burton Menswear, Dorothy Perkins, Miss Selfridge, Topman, Topshop and Wallis. The company runs four graduate programmes, each with a focus on a particular business area, these include: buying, digital, finance and merchandising.
  • Argos - runs a two-year digital graduate scheme and a 20-month software engineering graduate scheme.
  • Boots - offers seven different programmes covering commercial, digital, finance, global brands, HR, software engineering and supply chain.
  • Dunelm - offers Graduate Leadership Programmes in areas such as business leadership, technology, software development and finance.
  • Halfords - provides a two-year retail scheme. Beginning in store you'll then move into Halfords support centre. By the second year you'll be working as an assistant manager.
  • Harrods - offer schemes in distribution and IT.
  • Lidl - offers three separate graduate programmes - the Retail Graduate Management Programme, Buying Graduate Management Programme and the Head Office Graduate Management Programme.
  • Marks & Spencer - seven graduate schemes covering a variety of retail disciplines. Schemes include the Enterprise Programme, Simply Food Store Management Programme, Marketing Programme, Merchandising Programme, Buying Programme, Supply Chain and Logistics Programme and the Digital Programme.
  • Mitchells and Butler - operate around 1,700 pubs and restaurants across the UK. Their retail graduate scheme trains you to run your own establishment within two years.
  • Morrisons - offer ten schemes each focusing on a particular business area. Programmes are available in retail, manufacturing, logistics and supply chain, buying, finance, technology, corporate, people management, digital and Nutmeg - the supermarkets lifestyle brand.
  • New Look - fast-track graduate schemes are offered in three key areas - finance, IT and e-commerce.
  • Next - this high-street retailer offers trainee schemes in both buying and merchandising.
  • Ocado - provides a two-year retail graduate programme, which aims to make you an expert in e-commerce.
  • Tesco - 11 programmes are on offer, each covering a core business area. Schemes are available in distribution and fulfilment, finance, food, marketing, online, stores, technology, technology cyber security, technology product, technology software engineering and procurement.
  • WHSmith - provides two graduate schemes, the Head Office Graduate Programme and the Retail Management Graduate Programme.

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. To fully understand how Aldi stores are run 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 Lidl Retail Graduate Management Programme is a two-year, rotational learning curve. The first year gives you the chance to explore three areas of the business. You’ll spend six months covering sales, three months covering logistics and three months covering supply chain. In your second year you choose your area of interest and train in more depth as either a store manager, warehouse manager or supply chain manager.

Tesco's online graduate scheme kicks off with an induction. You'll spend the first month of the programme in store getting to grips with the basics and finding out what customers love. You'll then head to the office and rotate around the online department.

If you join the Morrisons retail graduate scheme you'll spend two years learning about operations systems, procedures and how to run a store. You'll be trained to run your own team before moving into a senior management role.

Working in London, the 12 to 18 month Marks & Spencer graduate scheme in buying will see you working alongside teams such as womenswear to help them find the next big thing. You'll brief designers, work with suppliers, trial new lines and help to launch new products.

What are the entry requirements?

For graduate schemes run by Aldi, Boots, Harrods and WHSmith you'll need a 2:1 undergraduate degree, but many retail employers including Arcadia, 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 except graduates with a 2:2 onto their programmes.

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

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

How do I apply?

You'll apply for most schemes online, although some 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.

To stand out 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 and stock take 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, Arcadia, Harrods and New Look recruit all year round, while others like Tesco and Marks & Spencer have set application deadlines of January and November respectively.

What skills will I need?

Retail is a competitive industry and you'll need to pass through a number of application stages before making the grade. To stand out to employers you'll need to demonstrate a number of sought after skills such as:

  • commercial awareness
  • brand/company knowledge
  • a passion for retail
  • the ability to come up with innovative ideas
  • creative flair for design, marketing, buying and merchandising roles
  • leadership skills
  • numerical and analytical skills
  • good organisation and time management
  • problem-solving ability
  • attention to detail
  • excellent customer service skills
  • flexibility and adaptability
  • strong communication skills
  • team working ability and a respectful approach to colleagues.

With so many graduate schemes on offer it's best to check individual programme details to make sure you meet all the employers' requirements.

Take a look what skills employers want.

How much will I be paid?

Salaries on retail graduate schemes vary widely. For example:

  • Lidl pay graduates on their Graduate Trainee Area Management Scheme a starting salary of £46,893.
  • Aldi offer a graduate starting salary of £44,000, which rises in stages to £75,360 after four years in the role.
  • Tesco pay graduates on their schemes a salary of £28,000
  • Salaries for Marks & Spencer graduate schemes range from £25,000 to £28,000.
  • Boots pay their graduates £26,000 (£29,000 for those on the Software Engineering scheme).

Retail graduate programmes also provide an impressive number of benefits such as the use of company cars (Aldi give every graduate starter an Audi A4), opportunities to experience international secondments, generous holiday allowances (usually up to five weeks), store discounts, bonus schemes, private health cover and discounted cinema tickets (Tesco).

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 management, IT (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