How to get a graduate job in management
How graduates can start a career in management from day one: we look at the entry routes, the best career sectors to investigate, the skills and experience needed, the starting salaries and more.
Much of the assessment centre will be aimed at gauging your management skills.
Get into management: Routes into management | What management really means | The sectors with the most management jobs | How to apply | Degree subjects wanted | Skills wanted | Work experience wanted | Typical salaries
Many students want to move into a management role after graduation; in fact, many do not mind which career sector they work in, but they know that they want to make the most of their management skills and explore their potential for leadership. But they are also worried that they won’t get hired if they have no management experience. We examine how you can get your career in management started regardless.
There are three main entry-level routes into management:
- Start work as a trainee or assistant manager, either by joining a management trainee scheme (otherwise known as a management graduate scheme) or getting an entry-level job
- Join a graduate leadership development programme, in which graduates may not work in managerial positions straight away but will be given the training and development opportunities to become leaders
- Start out in a non-management role in a career area and work your way up into management.
This is not as stupid a question as it may first appear. There are essentially three categories of management jobs and people can get them confused: people/team management, project management and management of a business function. Generally speaking:
- People and team managers are sometimes known as line managers. Their role is to ensure that the team under their command performs their roles to a high standard and achieves their set business objectives. These managers can be in charge of a particular department or division or they can be in charge of just one or two people. They are what most people think of when they think of ‘their manager’. Most graduates who join a trainee management scheme are trained up to be this sort of manager, responsible for a department or team.
- Project managers are responsible for delivering a project: that is, a piece of work with a defined start and end date rather than an ongoing piece of work. It is possible to apply for jobs as graduate or assistant project manager, but many professionals move into project management after gaining more experience in another role.
- Managers of a particular function are responsible for ensuring a business process is completed (they often have ‘manager’ in their title and yet may not officially manage people or an entire department). 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 seek new business opportunities or, in construction, they may oversee the costs of a project. Graduates who join a graduate leadership scheme are often first and foremost managers of a particular function.
However, there is a lot of overlap between these three categories. People managers often manage projects and/or a business function as part of their roles. Project managers typically find themselves managing the day-to-day work of people in their project team. Managers of a particular business function may, with experience, take on people and project management responsibilities.
Some sectors have more trainee management graduate programmes and graduate manager jobs than others – most notably:
- Healthcare management and the NHS
- Other areas of the public sector, including the Civil Service Fast Stream and, for local government, the National Graduate Development Programme
- Construction and property
- Logistics and the supply chain
- Retail banking and consumer finance (roles can include retail bank branch management or overseeing customer service teams at head office)
- Retail (although some store management vacancies may be fewer and harder to get due to the pandemic)
- Hospitality (although opportunities may be fewer and harder to get in the aftermath of the pandemic).
Graduate leadership development programmes can be found with most large companies that want to develop a ‘pipeline of talent’ – but they are most commonly found within consumer goods companies, pharmaceutical companies and professional services firms.
Good managers see what needs to be done and formulate a plan for how to achieve it.
Most management graduate programmes are offered by the biggest employers, so applying for them involves multiple stages. These 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.
- A telephone or video interview. Some employers have either 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 typically involve you recording and uploading answers, while phone interviews still involve speaking to a recruiter. Read our advice on tackling different types of interview.
- An assessment centre. Much of the assessment centre will be aimed at gauging your management skills. Sometimes this will involve job-related scenarios, such as a role play (for example, how you would tackle an employee who was under-performing). A few companies might invite you into the workplace to see how you would manage ‘on the job’ instead: for example, McDonald’s typically invites you into one of its restaurants to see how you would handle managing a shift. During the pandemic, some employers switched to virtual assessment centres. Go to our assessment centre advice section for more advice on all types of assessment centre and activities.
- A final interview. This may be incorporated into the assessment centre or it may be on a separate day afterwards. It will either be in person or, if social distancing restrictions are in force, via a live video link. Usually it will be with one or more interviewers who are typically managers within the business (and who may be your future boss). Read more on management job interviews and tips for graduates.
Many graduate management programmes accept applications from all degree disciplines. For example, the NHS graduate management training scheme accepts any degree subject and you do not typically need a finance degree to apply for most retail management training schemes. However, some either prefer or require you to have an undergraduate or postgraduate degree related to the sector or in business management. Construction employers typically require a construction-related degree and logistics roles often require or prefer a logistics or business management degree, for instance. Some employers require a 2.1 and set a minimum number of UCAS points, but many don’t.
Our article on the skills graduate managers need dives deep into this subject, but at a glance employers of trainee managers seek the ability to ‘make things happen’. This involves:
- a good understanding of the objectives – the ability to see what needs to be done and to formulate a plan for how to do it
- decisiveness and an aptitude for managing ambiguity – that is, to make a decision on the available facts, even if you do not have all of the information you would like
- the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to build a team and the ability to motivate, influence and inspire team members
- excellent communication and listening skills, which enable you to change your communication style to suit different audiences
- drive and self-motivation
- creative problem solving
- organisation and time management
- commercial awareness (being aware of the commercial implications of your work).
As with any graduate role, getting work experience that is 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.
- Search for management and business internships on TARGETjobs.
- Check out our article on internships to find out what sort of placement you should be applying for.
- Enter the TARGETjobs Undergraduate of the Year competition to win an internship with a big-name employer.
Employers like graduates who can ‘do’ as well as ‘supervise'.
However, there are other ways to develop the management skills that employers seek – even during a pandemic. Take each of the skills listed above and try to find ways of using and stretching those skills. For example:
- taking on a personal fundraising project (such as a sponsored walk) can be a great way to demonstrate that you have the drive to ‘get things done’
- volunteering to help others (and there are ways to do so over the phone or online from home) is a great way to develop your emotional intelligence and the ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds
- getting actively involved with a student society – perhaps by helping to set up an event (virtual or in person) or with its social media – can be a great way to pick up organisation and leadership skills
- undertaking an online business skills course can be a great way of learning commercially useful skills, such as data analysis
- taking on additional responsibilities in your part-time job (if you have one), such as training up new staff, can show your ambition and the ability to lead.
Employers seek graduates who can ‘do’ as well as ‘supervise’, so don’t forget to talk about times when you have done more menial, boring or unpleasant work – we know graduates who haven’t mentioned their cleaning part-time job, for example, but employers love to hear about it because it shows your work ethic.
The salaries offered to trainee managers often vary according to the sector and by location. Take a look at our big article on which careers pay the most to find out how much you could earn in different sectors.