Many large retail employers run graduate training schemes, which can open doors to a variety of careers. Discover what's involved and how to apply

Graduate schemes are structured programmes that combine work with training. They're usually offered by large companies 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 range of large, well-known retail organisations offer graduate schemes, from clothing retail companies and supermarkets to home wear retailers and department stores.

Programmes are available in a variety of areas including digital, management, buying, finance, merchandising and logistics and supply chain.

Organisations that run retail graduate schemes include:

  • Aldi - provides an intensive year-long area manager graduate 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. You'll be involved in analysing data and evolving the online experience of customers.
  • Asda - Asda Graduates is a two-year scheme, which aims to provide experience in all aspects of the business.
  • Boots - offers six different programmes covering global commercial, finance, technology, retail management, supply chain and operations.
  • Dunelm - Graduates can join one of four schemes - Commercial (buying, merchandising and marketing), People, service and retail operations, E-commerce or IT.
  • Fenwick - The programme focuses on creating retail managers and buyers and can be taken at three of Fenwick's stores - Brent Cross and Bentalls, Kingston and Newcastle.
  • 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.
  • Lidl - the supermarket chain offers three separate graduate programmes - the Graduate Management Development programme, Junior Buying Manager programme and the Graduate Trainee Area Manager programme.
  • Marks & Spencer - 11 graduate schemes cover a variety of retail disciplines including retail management, marketing, merchandising, design, buying, supply chain and logistics, digital, retail operations, business management, product technology and food buying.
  • 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 eight different schemes each focusing on a particular business area. Programmes are available in retail, manufacturing, logistics, buying, finance, IT and technology and corporate and people management.
  • New Look - fast-track graduate schemes are offered in three key areas - finance, IT and Ecommerce.
  • Next - this high-street retailer offers trainee schemes in both buying and merchandising.
  • Tesco - ten programmes are on offer, each covering a core business area. Schemes are available in distribution, finance, food, general merchandise, marketing, online, stores, supply chain, technology product and programme manager and technology software engineer.
  • WHSmith - provides a rotational, year-long graduate programme, which aims to give trainees a grounding in all aspects of the business.

Search for graduate jobs in retail.

What do retail graduate schemes involve?

This depends on the company you work for and the scheme that you join.

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 with 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 graduate scheme prepares you to become a graduate trainee area manager by taking you on a journey from store operations, logistics and supply chain through to property and people management. Throughout your training, you'll cover an extensive range of topics including human resource management, health and safety, trading law, organisation and routine, store standards, and cost controls.

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.

As part of the two-year Asda graduate scheme you'll spend the first six months in store. How you spend the next 18 months depends on which business area you choose, either operations or commercial.

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 the majority of schemes, such as those run by Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and WHSmith you'll need a 2:1 undergraduate degree but many retail employers including Asda, Arcadia, Morrisons and Fenwick will also accept those with a 2:2.

Other requirements may include a specific number of UCAS points, 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 and Arcadia recruit all year round, while others like Tesco, Dunelm and Marks & Spencer have set application deadlines.

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 creative ideas
  • 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.

How much will I be paid?

Salaries on retail graduate schemes vary widely. For example:

Aldi offer the highest graduate starting salary at £44,000, which rises in stages to £73,450 after four years in the role.

  • At Lidl you'll start on £40,000.
  • Tesco pay graduates on their schemes a salary of £28,000
  • Marks & Spencer pay their graduates £23,500 (although this varies slightly depending on what scheme you choose).

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. 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) and transport and logistics (if you've completed a supply chain or logistics scheme).

Find out more