Are you looking for a graduate role that offers early responsibility and a relatively high starting salary? Then consider a retail graduate scheme

There are plenty of retail graduate schemes to choose from and the good news is that employers in the retail sector are prepared to accept graduates with a 2:2.

However, 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 schemes?

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

Schemes are available in a variety of 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 - 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 - two-year Graduate Leadership Programmes in a variety of areas.
  • Harrods - schemes in distribution and IT.
  • Lidl - graduate programmes in sales, logistics, head office and retail.
  • Marks & Spencer - graduate schemes encompass retail, technology, support centre, digital and data, food and clothing and home.
  • Morrisons - ten schemes each focusing on a particular business area. Programmes are available in retail, manufacturing, logistics, buying, people management, finance, technology, corporate, supply chain and data science.
  • New Look - fast-track graduate schemes are offered in three key areas - finance, IT and e-commerce.
  • Ocado - run several schemes spanning functions such as business management, software engineering, engineering, finance, analytics, UX and people.
  • Tesco - seven programmes are on offer, each covering a core business area. Schemes are available in business, finance, retail, technology cyber security, technology product, technology and technology software engineering.
  • Vodafone - runs nine graduate programmes covering business sales, business. Technology, digital, consumer, data, HR, finance and external affairs.

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 two-year Tesco retail graduate programme will see you working in different store formats (both small and large) as well as in their distribution centre. You'll have a two-day induction, followed by two weeks in-store familiarisation. You'll then take on increased responsibility and become a team manager within your first six months. 

As a graduate on the finance programme at Asda you'll study towards a Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) qualification while working on complex projects, liaising with cross-functional teams and suggesting innovative solutions. As part of the scheme, you'll rotate across commercial finance, operational finance, controllership, audit and record to report areas, using your analytical skills to inform decisions.

What are the entry requirements?

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 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, Harrods and New Look 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 £44,000, which rises in stages to £81,415 in year five.
  • Lidl pay graduates on their Sales Graduate Management Programme a starting salary of £37,000.
  • Depending on the scheme you're on you'll either get a salary of £28,000 or £37,000 when working for Tesco.

Retail graduate programmes also provide an impressive number of benefits such as the use of company cars, opportunities to experience 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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