Graduate managers work in a wide range of environments: the life of a manager working in construction will be very different from a manager working for a large supermarket chain. Obviously, the typical duties differ depending on where you are working but generally you can expect to attend a lot of meetings, both internal and with clients and customers. It is likely to involve an element of people management.
Your typical day will vary, depending on the sector you are working in; however, as a manager you will be supervising others to ensure an objective is achieved within a fixed timeframe and budget. There may be some, or a lot, of hands-on work too.
Graduate training schemes vary widely from employer to employer, but all should provide you with the skills, knowledge and training you need to become a successful manager.
Training usually consists of on-the-job training (where perhaps you will be coached and overseen by your manager) and more formal, classroom-based training sessions. The formal, classroom-based training could be related to your particular management function (for example, ensuring operations remain compliant with legislation and policy) or it could be focused on your soft skills (such as time management tips or on handling conflict).
Most employers will pair you up with a ‘buddy’, who is typically a year or so ahead on the scheme, and also offer you a senior-level professional as a mentor. Sometimes you’re paired with a mentor by HR, but sometimes you are expected to approach professionals yourself.
How does this work in practice? McDonald’s uses an intensive in-store 20-week training course where trainees learn about commercial skills in areas such as finance, HR and leadership, while also being paired with a buddy to learn day-to-day operations. The Royal Mail graduate management training programme has been known to hold formal training sessions in a central location for its recruits from all over the country.
Tip for graduate management job seekers: Investigate the training offered by employers when choosing where to apply. It is important to find the right blend of learning that works for you if you want to progress, but it can also be a good answer to the application or interview question ‘Why have you applied to us?’ and good material for questions to ask your interviewer.
Some management training schemes will support you through a formal qualification, whether an academic postgraduate degree or a professional qualification through an industry body. For example, McDonald’s offers promising trainees the opportunity to work towards a foundation degree in business operations, while the NHS management graduate schemes lead to a postgraduate certificate in healthcare leadership, as well as specific qualifications depending on the specialism chosen, such as a Chartered Institute of Public Financial Accounting professional qualification for graduates on the finance management training scheme.
Other training schemes will end in a management-focused professional qualification; two of the most popular ones are from the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) and the Association for Project Management (APM).
Later on in your career, your employer might support you through further postgraduate qualifications: for example, a masters in business administration (MBA) but this is aimed at professionals who have a few years of work experience under their belts.
Graduates in management roles also have the chance to become chartered through the Chartered Management Institute (CMI). You can join this professional body on a student membership while studying for these professional qualifications.
Precisely what your trainee management programme will involve depends on your individual employer, but it is not unusual for it to involve rotations around different teams or functions within the business. For example, in 2018–2019 the graduate management trainees at Lidl UK underwent three rotations: in sales/store management, logistics, and supply chain.
Depending on business needs, you may need to relocate to different offices or sites to complete rotations.
A number of schemes also see graduates working on a corporate social responsibility (CSR) project or other types of fundraising; while joining in isn’t mandatory, it is a good way to network with a wider range of colleagues as well as an opportunity to give something back to the community. For example, BT has a graduate community called GradNet that facilitates community projects as well as social events.
The starting salaries for graduate managers are relative to the sector that the role is in. The following salary round-ups should be able to give you insights into your potential earnings as a graduate manager in certain sectors:
- Salaries in construction management and construction project management
- Salaries in hospitality management
- Salaries in retail management
There is a high level of responsibility early on and graduate managers often tell TARGETjobs that they like the opportunity they have to make an impact. Schemes often have their graduate trainees working as deputy or assistant managers. Progression can be quick; this is particularly true in the retail sector, where graduates can be running a department within a few months and be running their own multimillion pound store in two to three years. Managers who have come up through the Aldi area management scheme, for example, have been responsible for three to five stores after their training programme.
What challenges could you face on your graduate management scheme?
Management is often a highly pressured career with a need to hit targets and ensure projects are completed on time. The job can involve long and unsociable hours – if there’s a project due or deadline that needs to be met then it’s up to you to ensure that it is delivered on time. However, good organisational skills will help you achieve a better work/life balance.
Some schemes require relocation. For example, in the past Tesco has only recruited graduates who are flexible about their location. If you’re working in construction management you may need to spend periods away from home to be near the site and be willing to work weekends and late nights.
You will have to work and become comfortable with concepts you may have no prior knowledge of, particularly if you didn’t study business or management. You might, for example, be working to keep stakeholders happy or to manage their expectations. A stakeholder is someone who has an interest in a particular project, so this isn’t just employees and investors. It can also include clients and the local community.
Some schemes will come with a guaranteed role at the end of your training, but with others you will be expected to apply for a specific vacancy with that company once your training scheme has ended. If that is the case, you will usually be offered help and support while you are completing your application.