Marks & Spencer
Competences and qualifications
While it is not explicitly stated, candidates are expected to have, or be on track for, a 2.1. There is no specific UCAS requirement.
Degree disciplines required
Applicants to the retail management scheme can come from any degree background, but must be good with people and have a sound commercial understanding..
Applicants for all head office schemes are expected to have a related degree, with the exception of the following schemes (which instead require an interest in the sector):
Applicants to the buying scheme should have a fashion-related degree, but other degree disciplines will be considered if you have retail experience. Similarly, applicants to the merchandising schemes should have a retail or business-related degree, but if you have retail experience it isn’t essential.
Skills required for Marks & Spencer graduate schemes
Marks & Spencer assesses candidates against eight different competencies:
- Business leadership: the Marks & Spencer graduate schemes prepare its participants for management roles within the company. As a result, applicants must be able to demonstrate leadership qualities throughout the application process.
- Commercial acumen: applicants must have an awareness of Marks & Spencer’s aim to deliver good value, high quality products while generating growth and profit at the same time.
- Communicating and influencing: This is important in all departments but in the buying department in particular where employees must be able to develop relationships with clients and negotiate good deals that will deliver good value to the customer.
- Decision making: This ties into leadership as graduates will need to be able to make executive decisions when they move into more senior roles within the company.
- Innovation and change: In the retail industry, this could be in the short-term or the long-term. In the short-term, graduates will need to be able to use their creativity to overcome obstacles and in the long-term, graduates will need to make decisions that will make Marks & Spencer a more sustainable retailer in the future.
- Managing ambiguity: In retail this means dealing with uncertainty and being able to deal with a situation where you don’t have all the information you need but have to make a decision anyway. For example, a store manager may be waiting for a delivery between 10am and 5pm and the ambiguity is that he/she doesn’t know when the delivery will arrive. However, the store manager can deal with this ambiguity by staying in contact with the supplier, deciding how many shelves to clear and deciding how many staff to keep on duty for when the delivery arrives.
- People and resource management: For store managers, people management means leading a team of employees as well as deciding how many members of staff are needed in-store. For buyers, resource management means ensuring the store has a variety of stock without having too many of the products that are less in demand.
- Setting direction: For future managers at Marks & Spencer, this means setting priorities for a team and giving guidance. It also ties in with business leadership and people management.
Candidates do not have to demonstrate high levels in all of these competencies. For example, a commercial manager might be expected to display high levels of commercial acumen, people and resource management, and communicating and influence, but to display lower levels of other competencies.
In addition to the competencies, M&S looks at another six technical skills:
- Financial management
- Operational management
- Sales management
- Service management
- Stock management (foods/general merchandise)
- Team management
Again, different positions have different requirements, so the commercial manager may not be expected to show high levels of financial management, but would be expected to have higher levels of the other skills.
With Marks & Spencer, competencies are more like a basis for continuing professional development. Competencies and skills are subjected to a performance review every six months, and employees take actions based on the findings of these appraisals. Find out more about the kinds of training M&S uses in the Graduate Jobs Explained section of this Employer Insight.
There are two stages to the application process:
- online application (which includes uploading a CV) and aptitude tests
- assessment centre.
M&S processes as many as 11,000 applicants in a recruitment season. They offer feedback after the assessment centre stage unsuccessful applicants will be sent a letter with feedback.
Candidates are told whether their application has been successful by the end of March. Retail management schemes start in September or the subsequent April, while head office roles start in September.
Before the application form
Before filling in a form, you are set a questionnaire which aims to help you find out whether your skills and values match those expected of M&S employees. Questions include: ‘Imagine you are the manager of the food department. You arrive one morning to find two staff members off sick and the daily delivery of stock is to be delayed by an hour. What would you do?’
Filling in Marks & Spencer's application form
- Personal details
- Details of your higher education qualifications
- Postgraduate qualifications
- Work experience details
- Upload your CV
- Miscellaneous questions, such as your preferred location and whether you’ve applied before.
- Equal opportunities
- Where you heard about the vacancy
Marks & Spencer online aptitude tests
Applicants must complete three online aptitude tests at the end of the online application form.
The first is a talent screener test, which is untimed, contains 20 questions and will take approximately 20 minutes to complete.
The verbal test contains 30 questions to be answered in 15 minutes.
The numerical test contains 21 questions to be answered in 21 minutes.
Applications for the 2013 graduate intake are now open.
The deadline is 7 December 2012.
Your one-to-one Marks & Spencer interview
Candidates undergo through a half-hour interview at their assessment centre. Previous candidates have suggested that the vast majority of this interview was focussed on competencies, although there were some questions about why the candidate chose Marks & Spencer. The particular competencies highlighted included commercial awareness and team work, but for more examples check out our competencies section.
Candidates are advised to have examples in mind for each of the major competencies, and use different examples. They should take their time and speak clearly. This section has often been set at the end of an assessment day, when candidates were beginning to suffer from mental fatigue. The way to avoid this is to take as many opportunities throughout the day to relax and regain energy.
Some Marks & Spencer graduate interview questions
- Do you have any concerns about working for Marks & Spencer?
- How have you ensured quality in the teams you have worked in?
- Tell me about a decision you have had to make.
- Tell me about a time when you had to work with limited resources, and how you managed that challenge.
- Why have you chosen Marks & Spencer?
- Why have you chosen this particular graduate scheme?
If you have any questions about these, then put a question up in our Questions and Comments forum, accessed via the tab above.
Assessments and tests
Assessment centres between January and March.
What will happen on the day
The assessment day will involve four sections:
- a group exercise
- a report exercise
- a role playing exercise
- a one-to-one interview - further details on this can be found via the Interviews Explained tab, above
Depending on the location and timing of the assessment day, candidates may also be invited to have a meal with current scheme members. This is not assessed, but it is a chance to find out more about the scheme, and potentially get some tips for the day.
Marks & Spencer group exercise
Previous candidates have suggested that there are four candidates and two assessors taking part in this exercise. The topics for discussion can change; previous candidates have reported taking part in mock ‘board meetings’ about the issues facing a business or about new products.
The advice for this section is to be prepared to get stuck in straight away. Confidence and focus are essential, but it is also important to represent the interests of your company. Finally, be prepared to drive the conversation, and keep a track of time.
Marks & Spencer report exercise
Another common exercise is the report, or analysis and presentation. The group is given three quarters of an hour in which to analyse a document and write a report. Meanwhile, the individual candidate needs to be able to make enough notes to make a ten minute presentation on the same topic. Once again, the topics can change, but previous topics have included the layout of a store, or the placement of a new product.
The topics can change, but previous reports have included store layout or new product placement.
This exercise is designed to test the candidate’s written and oral presentation skills, alongside their ability to manage time. Candidates are advised to take short notes throughout the discussion, particularly where their own views are significantly different. They can then take advantage of any natural breaks to order those notes and think about how to illustrate them.
Marks & Spencer role-playing exercise
This is a one-to-one exercise where the candidate typically plays the part of a member of M&S staff while the interviewer plays a different role. Candidates are typically given up to a quarter of an hour to work through supporting documents before they begin the exercise. Candidates should not expect the interviewer to give them an easy ride, and should be prepared to deftly deal with an awkward situation.
Recent candidates have suggested that this has taken the form of a performance appraisal – check out the training section for more details. In these examples the candidate played the part of the store manager, while the interview was the employee undergoing appraisal. However, other situations have also been spoken of, including a member of staff having to deal with a customer.
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