You need a genuine enthusiasm for the product, whether it’s linen bedding or women’s clothing.
Tejal studied business economics at the University of Leicester and then did a masters in international business at Aston University. She completed the merchandising graduate scheme with Next and had been working in merchandising for eight years when we spoke to her.
Tejal says: ‘At assessment centres, the recruiters observe how candidates interact; they’re looking for people who think outside the box. They’re looking at their demeanour, drive and how they interact with each other as well as how they interpret the data they’re given. If the pandemic means you'll be undertaking your assessment centre through a screen, recruiters will still be looking for how you communicate and work with candidates. For more on virtual assessment centres, take a look at our article.
‘Merchandisers need to have drive, resilience and self-motivation because you determine how quickly you pass through the training process. You also need numerical skills; a large part of the job is analysing the figures we’ve been given. Leadership potential and strategic thinking are also really sought after by retail recruiters. Above all, you don’t want to be someone who sits back and lets others take the lead; it’s important to show that you’re happy to take charge or voice an opinion.’
Tejal says: ‘Graduates can enter merchandising from any background. There are degrees out there that specialise in merchandising but it’s not a necessity. That being said, having a numerical degree may be an advantage. You need an affinity for working with numbers and analysis but that could be demonstrated through any number of degrees. I did some economics in my undergraduate course and that does play a part in the job I do; it helps me understand the broader aspects of the economy and how it relates to what I’m doing in merchandising.’
Click here for more on the skills, qualifications and experience you need for a graduate job in merchandising.
Tejal says: ‘For me, applying for jobs was quite daunting – it can be an information overload. I went to careers centres and fairs and read up on the literature but, in retrospect, I could have done more research into Next’s competitors on the high street and opportunities and threats in the retail market. I don’t think you can ever be over-prepared.
‘Research what the job entails and make sure you know what you want from it. The process you go through as a trainee may be more monotonous than you might think because you’re learning and training and travel is rare but I’ve loved the opportunities that have opened to me on and since my graduate scheme. You should find out as much as you can about what it will be like to work as a graduate in merchandising before you apply.’
Tejal says: ‘I wanted to travel as part of my career and, as a merchandiser, I travel internationally a couple of times a year. But it’s important to know that it isn’t common for graduates to travel initially; you learn the ropes first and the travel comes later. In fact, not every merchandiser will travel if they don’t need to. There’s no denying, however, you will be dealing with suppliers across the globe so going out there, checking the stock and building relationships face to face is helpful.
‘Before I started, I didn’t expect to be getting so closely involved in the products. Merchandising isn’t only about numbers and figures; you can look at colours and fabrics and give your opinions too. Now I’m doing the job I can see why having a genuine enthusiasm for the product, whether it’s linen bedding or women’s clothing, is a necessary attribute.’
What does a graduate job in merchandising involve?
Tejal says: ‘When you start, you’ll be shown the lifecycle of the product from the initial design concept to the finished item being delivered in stores. You’ll liaise with different departments, work with your team to set the programme and be introduced to suppliers. You will be looking at sales analysis and tracking stock as it’s shipped from various countries to warehouses. So when you’re applying for merchandising jobs, emphasise your interpersonal, numerical and analytical skills and highlight the times when you’ve worked with customers or in a commercial setting.
‘At Next, we have a life-size store in our headquarters. The retail marketing teams dress the shop and then send out photos and marketing demos to our stores so the staff members there know how we want things presented to the customer. The trainee merchandiser might be responsible for ordering and tracking those samples so being highly organised is vital too.
‘Initially, you’ll work very closely with an assistant merchandiser, who is on the next rung up after the trainee scheme. There are always elements of the tasks that are delegated out but the assistant merchandiser is there to support the trainees’ development. How much responsibility you get is based on how much drive you show.’