A great way of getting your foot in the door with a number of well-known organisations, retail graduate schemes offer early responsibility, relatively high starting salaries and more often than not a job on completion

There are plenty of retail graduate schemes to choose from and the good news is that more 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 buying, data science, George fashion and finance.
  • Boots - different programmes covering commercial, digital, finance, global brands - brand commercial, global brands - brand marketing, HR, procurement and supply chain.
  • Dunelm - Graduate Leadership Programmes in a variety of areas.
  • Harrods - schemes in distribution and IT.
  • Lidl - graduate programmes in regional property, sales graduate management, logistics graduate management, buying graduate management, operational audit and promotional activity.
  • Marks & Spencer - graduate schemes include the Enterprise Programme, as well as specialist programmes in store management, merchandising, buying, food technology, design and menswear design.
  • Morrisons - ten schemes each focusing on a particular business area. Programmes are available in retail, manufacturing, logistics, buying, people management, finance, technology and digital, corporate, supply chain and Nutmeg.
  • New Look - fast-track graduate schemes are offered in three key areas - finance, IT and e-commerce.
  • Ocado - run a number of schemes spanning functions such as business management, finance, logistics concept design, operations management 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 ten graduate programmes covering technology, business, HR, finance, business sales, consumer, data, commercial, customer operations and external affairs.
  • WHSmith - 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 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.

Working in London, the 12 to 18-month Marks & Spencer graduate scheme in design will see you working as a graduate assistant designer in clothing. Working alongside design teams in womenswear you'll carry out in-depth research, investigate new trends and materials, produce technical specifications and make your mark on ranges that could hit the stores. You'll also get the chance to visit the M&S supply base to see how clothes are made.

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 Aldi, Boots, Harrods and WHSmith, 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 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.

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 £79,040 in year five.
  • Lidl pay graduates on their Buying 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 £32,000 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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