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How to get a graduate job in management

How to get a graduate job in management

Many employers offer trainee management graduate schemes or offer entry-level assistant management jobs.

Getting relevant work experience will put you on the right track for getting hired.

What types of management jobs are there?

Management careers roughly divide into three categories: people management, project management and management of a business function. Generally speaking:

  • People managers are often hired not just to manage people, but to run a department or section of a business. They are responsible for making sure the objectives of that department are achieved. They may be in charge of recruitment, logistics, scheduling, finances, policy or any combination of those things.
  • Project managers are responsible for the delivery of a project: that is, a piece of work with a defined start and end date.
  • Managers of a particular function are responsible for ensuring a business process is completed. For example, risk and compliance managers weigh up risk for the business and make sure that the business is compliant with legislation or guidelines. What commercial managers do exactly will depend on the business – for example, in a sales-driven organisation they may be seeking new business opportunities or, in construction, they may oversee the costs of a project.

However, there is a lot of overlap between these categories. For example, people managers may well manage projects as part of their role and project managers often find themselves managing the day-to-day work of people in their project team. Meanwhile, managers of a particular business function may, with experience, take on people and project management responsibilities.

What are the routes into a management career?

There are two main routes into a management career: you could start out in a role in a specific sector you’re interested in and work your way up, or you can join a management graduate scheme. The route you choose depends on your interests and preferences: do you want to jump right into management or become a specialist first?

If you opt for a graduate programme, you won’t necessarily ‘be in charge of all you survey’ from day one, but you will get a great deal of early responsibility, possibly by starting out managing a small team or section of the business and learning the ropes. Certain industries are more open to graduates walking straight into management roles than others.

It’s mainly large employers that set up management graduate schemes. For these vacancies you can search on TARGETjobs by sector, by role or by employer. In addition to searching for vacancies categorised as ‘business and management’, sign up for newsletters and job alerts for any career sectors that interest you (such as finance) as management roles will appear in there. If you would like to work for a specific company, look at the employer hubs to see what’s there. Keep an eye on the ‘more jobs like this one’ box as you’re browsing.

Don’t allow your preference to work for a set organisation or within a specific industry limit your prospects. A company you’ve never heard of could offer more opportunities than the one you’ve set your heart on working for. Beyond that, a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) could give you a greater day-to-day range of experience than working in a specific department in a large company, and you may progress up the career ladder with greater speed.

What is the application process like for management graduate schemes?

Most management graduate programmes are offered by the biggest employers, so they attract a lot of competition and the process tends to be extended. The stages differ across employers and roles, but many application processes involve:

  • An online application form. Depending on the employer, this might be a very quick form concentrating on your personal and contact details before sending you onto a suite of online ability tests or game-based recruitment exercises (see below) – or it might require you to answer application questions and/or upload a CV and covering letter. Read our advice on answering management scheme application questions and how to write a CV for a graduate management role.
  • Online ability tests or games-based recruitment exercises. These are usually timed and either assess particular abilities (such as your numeracy or inductive reasoning) or how you would react to certain workplace scenarios. Read our advice on tackling online tests and games and access practice tests; taking the Graduate Benchmark trio of tests will also allow you to practise the most common tests, identify your strengths and compare your results to those of others.
  • Telephone or video interview. Some employers have a telephone or video interview next. They will be shorter than a face-to-face interview and will usually involve a few questions about your motivations, experience and skills; video interviews involve you recording and uploading answers, while phone interviews still involve speaking to a recruiter.
  • Assessment centre. Much of the assessment centre will be based on assessing your management skills. Sometimes this will involve job-related scenarios, such as a role play involving people management. In other cases, such as the McDonald’s on-job evaluations, you will be invited to go into the company and run through various tasks.
  • Final interview. This may be incorporated as one of the parts of the assessment centre or it may be on a separate day afterwards. It will be face-to-face with one or more assessors and it will be more in-depth than the telephone or video interview. Read more on management job interviews and tips for graduates.

What skills and degree backgrounds do graduate managers need?

Graduate schemes often require a 2.1 and sometimes a minimum number of UCAS points, but not always. An undergraduate or postgraduate degree in a subject related to business, economics or management  or to the sector in which the employer works is usually beneficial, but again not always a requirement. More important than the degree subject is having the right skills. 

Ian Yeulett is the global head of enterprise sales at Bloomberg L.P. and told a previous edition of our sister publication, the UK 300: ‘I oversee a very large and diverse global salesforce and […] one of the biggest challenges is knowing how far you should go into the detail. To be able to understand what’s really going on, you need the ability to connect with individuals.’  So, above all, having strong interpersonal skills is vital. This includes being able to motivate others and being a great communicator and listener, as well as having emotional intelligence. Without a doubt, managers need to be highly organised with excellent time management, and commercial awareness is certainly sought after by recruiters (because they need to be aware of the bottom line).

How can graduates build the skills managers need?

As with any graduate role, getting work experience that’s related to the sector you’re interested in will put you on the right track for getting hired. Many employers offer formal internships – some will have a clear management focus while others will offer a general insight into the sector.

However, you don’t need to do a management internship to get a job – there are other ways you can build your skills. Seek out opportunities to take on responsibility. For example, you could volunteer for additional duties in your part-time job (such as training new colleagues) or you could take on an aspect of a project in a student society, such as helping to organise an event.

What is it really like to be a graduate manager?

Typical duties differ depending on the sector you choose to work in: a retail manager may spend a lot of time on the shop floor, talking with staff and customers, while a project manager in construction may travel between the construction site and an office, dealing with budgets and schedules.

Training schemes also vary widely from employer to employer. Some will focus on on-the-job-training while others will include formal training sessions. The level of responsibility also depends on the organisation, although there is usually a high level of responsibility from early on in the programmes. With some organisations, you’ll also have the opportunity to gain formal qualifications or get involved in corporate social responsibility projects.

It can be a highly pressured career and, as a trainee, you may need to relocate and work unsociable hours. However, progression can be quick. Bear in mind that completing the graduate scheme doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job afterwards but you may get support with your application.

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