How to become a graduate retail manager: an Aldi insider’s story
targetjobs spoke to Aldi graduate area manager Dominique Taylor to learn about her journey into retail management. Read her story of how she secured her role at Aldi, and the experiences, skills and traits that helped her to be successful.
Retail employers want prospective graduate retail managers to be hungry to learn and excited by the opportunity to lead a team.
Dominique fit the bill when she applied to Aldi’s one-year graduate area manager programme and went on to secure a place. The move was a big career change for Dominique – having studied biology at Manchester University followed by a two-and-a-half-year stint in medical sales – but paid off. She is now in charge of a set of stores in north London.
She shared her experiences with us to help students and graduates considering a retail career increase their chances of successful job applications.
Using university experiences to secure a graduate job
Seeking a range of experiences while at university, such as a placement year, joining societies or working part-time can all help to make you a stronger candidate for retail management.
‘I did a placement year. Being medical based, it wasn’t that related to what I’m doing now, but it gave me some valuable experience that helped when it came to moving into a completely different industry,’ said Dominique. ‘I would recommend that everyone should do a placement year as the experience allowed me to build skills that I now really rely on as an area manager, such as independence and self-management.’
It wasn’t only her placement year that helped to lay a foundation for a career in graduate retail management. Dominique was also on the university netball team and worked part time.
‘Having a busier diary with the extracurricular activities and part-time work gave me experience of being in charge of my own schedule – which has helped towards the job that I’m currently in,’ she added.
- Read our advice on how extracurricular activities at university help your social life and your CV.
It’s important to find the balance between different commitments as a student . And when time-managed, these experiences can help to build the skills that retail mangers need.
The skills needed for retail management
Retail is a fast-paced industry and graduates need to be organised to stay on the ball. For Aldi’s graduates, the pace moves even faster as they train to become area managers in charge of a set of stores. This is unlike a number of other retail schemes where the end goal is to become a store manager.
‘At times the job gets really busy and you have a lot to keep on top of. So being organised means that when this happens, I feel in control and not overwhelmed,’ explained Dominique.
Teamworking skills also rank highly on retail recruiters’ wish lists. Managers must be willing to get stuck in on the shop floor to inspire the whole team to perform to their best, but also be an empathetic source of support when challenges arise.
‘Your team needs to be able to speak to you; it could be an issue in store or something that’s taken place in a member of staff’s personal life – this might not necessarily be in the technical job description,’ she said. ‘But the ability to build a team and a positive work environment is. So, being open and approachable is important; people need to feel like they can come to you if a problem arises.’
- Read this article to learn about the top skills that retail recruiters want .
The Aldi graduate area manager programme application process
Graduate retail management schemes normally consist of several stages: an initial application, online psychometric tests, a group assessment centre that may include more psychometric test and activities such as roleplays, and a final interview.
Aldi’s application process follows this general structure, but with an added ‘Who am I’ video stage where candidates record a short video of themselves.
‘There’s the initial online application and then I did some online tests. I did a written test where I had to answer some set questions and a logical reasoning test. Then there’s a video interview where questions pop up on screen and you have a limited amount of time to answer them,’ Dominique explained. ‘I then interviewed right at the start of the pandemic. So, unlike my colleagues who took part in an assessment centre, for me this was replaced with another interview.’
Retailers, including Aldi, responded to the pandemic in 2020 by modifying recruitment processes in line with social distancing.
Aldi, like many other retailers, now holds its group assessment centre virtually and it entails several activities to challenge your leadership, teamworking and problem-solving abilities.
- Learn more about what to expect and how to succeed at virtual assessment centres .
We asked Dominique which stage she found most challenging, to which she replied, ‘I found the logical test most challenging – it involved looking at shape patterns. It’s something that doesn’t come naturally to me, so I did as many as I could find on the internet beforehand.’
- Learn what graduates need to know about psychometric tests and then try your hand at free practice aptitude tests .
Application processes can be lengthy for management schemes in the retail sector. So, if you’re still at university, give yourself the best chance and start applying as soon as possible.
- Keep on-time and on-track of your retail graduate job hunt with this advice article.
How to be successful in a retail-manager job application
Attributes such as leadership and management are central to graduate retail careers. If you’re preparing for a career in the sector and you’re still at university, to develop these skills, ask yourself: could you become a society committee member? Or could you ask for more responsibility in your job? If you’re on a sports team, perhaps you could become the captain?
‘I think I was successful because I showed the right behaviours that they were looking for. Things like self-motivation, being independent, teamwork and leadership,’ Dominique said. ‘I also showed my passion for not only the role, but the company itself. I really looked into Aldi’s culture and the ethos of the organisation to make sure that I got across how I aligned with these aspects.’
Demonstrating passion means understanding what the retailer’s brand represents. To build this understanding, you need to research the employer.
Start by giving the organisation’s website a thorough read to learn about the history and who their target customers are, for example. You can then go a step further by visiting the retailer’s store in person. This can further your knowledge of the organisation and get a feel for what their store-environment is like.
Being armed with knowledge from your research will help you to answer questions such as ‘Why retail?’ and ‘Why this retailer?’ , which you’re likely to be asked in the application form or at an interview.
- Read this article to learn why studying a retailer’s competition is a top interview tip .
Dominique’s final, but arguably most important piece of advice for success in the application process was: ‘Don’t underestimate the experience that you have. I didn’t have a degree that I deemed relevant, but the skills I gained from my past experiences and my personality did align with retail.’
Retail employers will accept graduates from most disciplines. Some will ask for a minimum 2.2 degree, while other at least a 2.1 . So, even if your degree is from an unrelated discipline, think about the experiences that you had which demonstrated the skills and traits that the job description asks for. You can then use these experiences as examples in the application form or as responses to interview questions.
What are retail management graduate schemes like?
Graduates usually get their boots on the ground in a store early on to gain insight into the different store roles. Then, once management training begins, responsibilities gradually increase as the scheme progresses. The last month of Aldi’s Store Management training has graduates step up and cover a store manager to really put their training to the test.
‘For the first two weeks, you shadow your mentor who is an experienced area manager. Then you go into store training,’ Dominique explained. ‘You start as a store assistant. Then you work as a deputy store manager, then an assistant store manager and then a store manager.’
One of the most challenging aspects of the scheme for Dominique was managing people who had more experience than her.
‘You’re not leading from day one as you start as a store assistant. But it is important to feel confident that you can lead a team. You have a chance to build up those leadership qualities and skills,’ Dominique said. ‘You’re given responsibility for that store and some targets to meet. These could be store-performance focused or people focused – such as improving the customer-shopping experience.’
Following store training at Aldi, graduates go on to undertake area-manager training. In Dominique’s case, she was given two months of mentorship before being placed as a cover manager of an area for a few months.
After this temporary period covering as an area manager, she was given her own area of five stores to manage with 170 members of staff to lead. This was the real deal and it meant that Dominique was now responsible for driving multiple stores forward while also supporting a large team.
At the time of writing, along with overseeing her five stores, Dominque was also in the process of recruiting staff for a sixth store. The level of responsibility is one of the best parts of her job.
‘I’m able to manage my stores as my own business, essentially,’ she explains. ‘Obviously, the business has its goals, but I have the opportunity to decide on the angle my stores take to meet those goals and how I manage the team.’