Ten skills you need to get a management trainee job

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:41

For graduate management jobs, having the right skills on your CV is just as important as having a degree. We look at the management skills you need to demonstrate in your job applications and why they matter.

A list of the key trainee management skills.

If you’re keen to get a management trainee job, you’ll need more than a good degree – you’ll also need the skills that managers use every day on the job. These will ensure you can make an impact quickly.

After all, management is a fast-paced world and a competitive one. Recruiters need to select the candidates with skills that will ultimately make them a good manager, and they will look for evidence of this in your application. Including examples of relevant achievements will show that you’ve not only researched what trainee managers do but also that you have the skills to step into the role.

We analysed the management trainee jobs on targetjobs to focus on the top skills that recruiters ask for – and that you need to build to make a great application. We’ve also provided some management skill examples and outlined why they’re important for a trainee manager job.

The good news is you may well already have many of the skills we’ve outlined. But if you’re worried that you don’t, think about your course, work experience, extracurricular activities and other aspects of your life for evidence of your abilities. You might be surprised: you don’t need to have been in a sports team to have built teamworking skills, for example. You could have developed them through working alongside other part-time bar staff or contributing to group projects.

The skills you need for a graduate management job

1. Communication skills

According to the recruiters on targetjobs, the most important skill for management trainees is excellent communication, both written and spoken. You’ll need to be able to show you can express your ideas clearly and succinctly, and that your communication is clear and accurate.

Why? Because, as a management trainee, you’ll need to give colleagues clear information about their duties and keep records of team activity. This needs to be accurate and clear so others can follow it. Plus, if you’re contributing ideas to discussions, you need to be able to convey them simply and convincingly.

2. Teamworking and interpersonal skills

It’s essential to be able to work alongside others when you’re a management trainee. Much of the role involves learning on the job from colleagues, and to make the most of this opportunity you’ll need to form strong professional relationships with people at all levels. Emotional skills such as empathy and self-awareness will help you do this: it’s much easier to trust a colleague who listens carefully and monitors situations before speaking.

In time, the ability to work effectively alongside others will make you a more effective manager, too. For example, good relationships with colleagues will help you access their expertise, and being able to empathise will ensure you’re able to support your team members.

3. The ability to learn quickly

Firms hire graduates because they’ve already shown they can learn, but being able to learn quickly is a different skill. As a management trainee, you have a short time not just to learn a lot but also to put your learning into practice. That means it’s essential you can assimilate information, ask questions if you’re not clear, and apply it to your work.

4. Adaptability

If you’ve studied a business or management degree, you may have come across the acronym VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. This refers to the state of constant change in which organisations now operate. As a manager, you’ll need to be comfortable with this, and be able to respond quickly and calmly to unexpected situations.

During your time as a management trainee, you’re likely to learn how to plan for these situations, so it’s important that you can show in your CV that you won’t be fazed by unpredictability.

5. Customer service skills

Many management trainee roles are in customer-facing industries such as retail where it’s essential to be able to listen to customers carefully and address their needs. But there are plenty of graduate management roles in other sectors too, and you’ll need to be able to put yourself in your shoes of the people you serve and focus on meeting their expectations.

6. Commercial awareness

Commercial awareness is about understanding the priorities of an organisation and the environment it operates in. It involves knowing about a company’s products and services, how it makes money and how your role contributes to this. You also need to know who the organisation’s competitors are and how they operate, and what factors influence how customers relate to your organisation.

Management trainees need to know this so they can make plans that focus on the needs of the business and its customers. You can start building commercial awareness before you start work by researching organisations carefully, including their products, competitors and values.

7. Attention to detail

Many of the recruiters on targetjobs state that attention to detail is an essential skill for their graduate managers. This isn’t surprising: after all, details matter when they relate to company finances or people’s livelihoods.

The best ways to demonstrate attention to detail in your CV or application are to match your personal capabilities to those the organisation needs and, once you’ve finished, to proofread the document thoroughly. Look for duplicated and missing words, make sure you’ve got the name of the company correct and ensure you’ve filled in the right sections. Don’t forget to check that you’ve followed any instruction given before you click ‘Submit’.

8. Analytical skills

A number of recruiters on targetjobs highlighted the need for graduate management trainees to be able to analyse and interpret data. You may not have had the chance to build this skill during your studies, but it’s a vital one for management trainees as the role involves making decisions by analysing information – for example, ordering stock by looking at trends in previous weeks’ sales.

If you don’t feel confident using data, consider doing a short online course or a MOOC (massive open online course) to practise. You could also look for a position of responsibility in a university society (such as a treasurer or social media manager role) or voluntary work to build skills.

9. Problem-solving skills

Problems arise in even the most exciting jobs, and recruiters need to know that you’ll be able to handle them confidently. Some of the other skills and attributes needed come into play when it comes to solving problems: for example, good interpersonal skills will help you call on expert guidance and commercial awareness will help you focus on priorities. However, problem solving often boils down to keeping calm and breaking the situation down into manageable parts.

If you’re invited to an interview or assessment centre, you may be able to explain how you resolve difficult situations. Make sure you have some examples ready – ideally ones from your course, a job or work experience rather than your personal life.

10. Leadership skills

We were surprised that this didn’t feature higher in our list given its importance in the role of a graduate trainee. Recruiters may recognise that there have been fewer opportunities to build this skill in recent years.

Nonetheless, it remains an important skill for graduate management trainees as they need to motivate teams, and support and develop team members.

Next steps: sell your skills in your application

We’ve put together plenty of guidance on making a great graduate job application. Take a look at the following articles for your next steps:

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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