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Retail graduate job hunt timeline

Your retail graduate job hunt: keep on-track and on-time

If you’ve got your sights set on a career in the retail sector, follow these key steps for each term to ensure you have all the boxes ticked by the time it comes to interviews and assessment centres.
Time management and organisation are key skills in retail; taking this time to discover the methods that work best for you will help you in your future career.

Preparation is key when it comes to your job hunt; use this article to discover what’s coming up in the weeks and terms ahead of you and to plan your time effectively.

Your autumn term action plan

Non-finalists

  • Keep on top of your academic work – most retail graduate schemes have minimum grade requirements. Some will accept a 2.2, while others (such as Aldi’s graduate area manager programme) only take on graduates with a 2.1.
  • Become actively involved in a university society – choose a society you’re interested in and will enjoy contributing your time to, but also consider how your involvement might be used to support your CV. Contributing ideas, taking the lead on a project and putting yourself forward for a formal position are all ways you could demonstrate those crucial interpersonal skills retail recruiters look for: communication, teamwork and leadership.
  • Start your search for internship or placement opportunities – many retailers offer summer internships and year-long industrial placements; these are a great way to demonstrate your interest in the industry, gain experience and (if you’re unsure) get a better idea of the area of retail that suits you. Deadlines for these vary but often fall in November, December or January.
  • Apply for part-time positions in a store – a sales assistant role will also improve your communication skills and commercial awareness. Use the time to gain knowledge and skills appropriate to the particular area of retail you’d like a graduate position in. If you’d like a role in logistics, for instance, ask questions about how delivery of products is organised and, if possible, try to spend some time in the warehouse.
  • Check out the careers service – the chances are your university’s careers service will have a relationship with some top retailers and will be able to provide you with useful guidance. As well as looking over your CV and holding mock interviews, they might get you into contact with an ex-student who is now an employee for a company you’re interested in and can give you some insider information.

Finalists

  • Visit careers fairs – while it’s rare for universities to hold retail-specific careers events, the big retailers with popular graduate programmes will often attend general events. To make the most of a careers event, you should find out what employers will be there and plan your time so you visit all the retailers you’re interested in. Our article on preparing for careers events should give you some guidance.
  • Spend time on applications – many retail graduate programmes have deadlines between December and February, so decide which employers you’re most interested in and give yourself enough time to produce the best possible applications. Find vacancies for graduate schemes and positions on TARGETjobs here. You might also want to take a look at how the former head of graduate recruitment at Aldi advises graduates to approach applications and assessment centres.
  • Practise tests – during the early stages of the application process for a retail graduate scheme, it’s likely that you’ll be given online tests. Working through practice tests should help you to get used to the format they take and improve your confidence when it comes to the real thing. Find more information on what these tests are and links to practice tests here. Game-based tests are also increasingly popular among retailers, so take a look at our article on how to approach these.

Your winter term action plan

Non-finalists

  • Continue to search for work experience opportunities – some retailers keep their applications for internships open until March, so keep up the search if you haven’t secured a position. Find out what work experience is available and how it could help you here.
  • Grow your network – use your university’s careers service and social media channels to build up your network. Contacts working in the retail industry will give you information you might not find in a job description, such as what the working environment is like at a particular retailer. They may also help to guide you through parts of the recruitment process. Take a look at our section on networking tips.

Finalists

  • Get set for the final stages of the recruitment process – interviews and assessment centres are often held in January and February. Prepare by using the careers section of the company website to know exactly what’s expected of you and to make sure you’re aware of the skills and capabilities listed on the job description – so you can demonstrate these.
  • Work on your commercial awareness – don’t limit your research to the retailers you’re applying to; get your head around their competitors and the movements of the industry as a whole. Visiting retailers’ physical stores as well as their websites will bolster your commercial awareness, as will reading news stories about the retail sector. TARGETjobs has some useful guidance on how to approach store visits.

Your spring term action plan

Non-finalists

  • Improve your social media image – take a look at your LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram profiles to make sure there’s nothing recruiters can find that you don’t want them to see. It might suit you to use certain channels to support your career search (by networking and looking at employers’ profiles) and make the others private. Sharing content relevant to the retail sector will demonstrate your interest to any recruiters looking.

Finalists

  • Keep on the look out for graduate schemes – remember that some programmes are open for applications all year round, so if you haven’t had any luck yet then take a look at the vacancies listed on TARGETjobs.
  • Use university events and socials to network – end-of-year activities might provide opportunities to gain knowledge and contacts among fellow students or employers. A social with your subject’s society could lead to useful conversations with your peers about anyone they might know with experience of a retail graduate scheme or position, for example. If you’re studying fashion design, an end-of-year fashion show might allow you to talk to guest employers and demonstrate your passion for the industry.

Your summer term action plan

Non-finalists

  • Make the most of an internship – if you’ve secured an internship, make the experience count by focusing on three things: finding out what you want to know about the retail sector and job role, gaining in-depth experience and skills that will make your CV impressive (by asking questions and approaching every task/challenge with enthusiasm) and expanding your network with useful contacts.
  • Carry out retail research – the performance of retailers is always in the news, so you should regularly look online for news about the retailers you’re interested in. In the summer, you will see stories about how factors like the weather and school holidays has impacted sales and stores. Note down any trends you see and consider how this might impact the area of retail you’re interested in. If you’re looking to go into merchandising or buying, for example, stories about the products that are particularly popular or declining in sales should improve your commercial awareness.
  • Finalists

  • Keep up the job hunt – don’t be disheartened if you haven’t secured a job; keep applying as some graduate schemes may still be open. In the meantime, gaining any work experience in a retail environment will improve your CV; it might be a good idea to apply for sales assistant positions as well as graduate roles.
  • Use your travels – if you’ve planned to take time off for travelling, use the opportunity to plan your trip and demonstrate your organisation skills. A trip with your friends might be an opportunity for you to show your ability to work cooperatively with others – perhaps you could organise a poll to find the most popular destination. You’ll be able to draw upon this experience during skills-based questions at interviews.
  • Take a break – have you got your retail graduate job lined up? Brilliant. The retail industry makes for a busy working environment, so be sure to fit some well-deserved rest around your summer plans.
  • How TARGETjobs can help you organise your time

    This article should give you a good idea of what to do when and allow you to prepare for the tasks you’ll have to complete in the future. However, you may still feel like balancing your job hunt, your university studies and the rest of your life is a challenge. If it seems a bit full-on, we’ve got some articles to support you in planning your time.

    • Unsure where to start when it comes to applications? We’ve got a handy application planner for you. Or, if you’re really stuck for time, take a look at our advice on putting together last-minute job applications.
    • Struggling to juggle essays and exams with your part-time job? Read our article on balancing study and part-time work.
    • Remember, time management and organisation are key skills for being a strong retail graduate employee. Taking this time to discover the methods that work best for you will help you in your future career.
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