Five tips for getting a graduate job with John Lewis or Waitrose

'Understand why we are a partnership and what being a Partner means.'

The John Lewis Partnership (JLP), which encapsulates both the John Lewis and the Waitrose brands, has the following graduate recruitment process:

  • a number of online tests, including one focusing on candidates’ values and leadership behaviour
  • an application form, which includes specific motivational and scheme-specific questions
  • a video interview
  • an assessment day, which includes group and individual exercises, a presentation and an interview
  • an additional final interview with a director if you're applying for the leadership scheme

TARGETjobs spoke to top John Lewis Partnership recruiters Becky Wareham, resourcing strategy manager; Alison Cadman, resourcing consultant; and Michelle Goodin, resourcing consultant. They told us how you can turn your graduate application and interview performance from good to great.

Stress your leadership skills

Whichever graduate scheme you apply for, JLP recruiters are looking to gauge your future leadership potential. ‘We assess all candidates against a framework of defined leadership behaviours,’ says Becky.

It’s worth checking out 'The Road to Partnership' section of the John Lewis Partnership careers website. It details the principles of leadership for current John Lewis Partnership employees. You can use this information to inform your behaviour at the assessment centre and the answers you give to interview questions – whether they are competency based (‘Describe a time when you demonstrated a particular skill’) or hypothetical (‘What would you do if…?’).

For example, it states that an emerging leader ‘sets vision and direction’. When you give your presentation to assessors and other candidates, then, take the opportunity to show that you can engage and inspire your audience. Audience members are more likely to be engaged if you are enthusiastic about the topic, have a clear structure for what you have to say, and communicate with them. Look at them rather than your notes or slide show. Ask them questions or seek contributions from them, if appropriate.

If asked directly for an example of your leadership, don’t think that you have to give a high-powered example. ‘We are aware that students and graduates are unlikely to have an example of where they’ve led a team of 25 people,’ says Alison. ‘However, we want to give them an opportunity to talk about how they have demonstrated other qualities of leadership. You might have mentored or supported a school pupil, for example.’

Show that you understand what a partnership means culturally and commercially

JLP positions itself as different from most retailers: it is not owned by external shareholders, but by members of the workforce themselves, who are ‘Partners’ in the business rather than employees. Think through the impact that this business model has on their performance in a competitive, retail environment – and how Partners are treated. ‘Applicants need to understand why we are a partnership and what being a Partner means,’ says Michelle. ‘It’s not only about demonstrating our partnership principles and spirit, but understanding the advantages that the partnership gives us in the marketplace.’

Step one: Explore the John Lewis Partnership’s principles, spirit and partnership structure – there is written and video content about these on their website. Then, throughout the recruitment process, prove that you share these values and approaches. In your application and at interview, provide examples of times when you demonstrated them. Examples could be from your part-time jobs, a placement year, involvement in sports and social activities or any voluntary work. Epitomise those traits in your behaviour at the assessment centre.

For example, JLP puts a lot of emphasis on teams working together with mutual respect. It will therefore stand you in good stead at interview if you can talk about times when you maintained good relationships with team members, even when you disagreed about how to achieve an objective. Be respectful to others in assessment centre group exercises.

Step two: Show that you know about the Partnership’s business strategy and the advantages of the Partnership’s culture and ownership structure can give you over rivals. ‘Find out about our expansion plans,’ advises Alison. ‘It impresses in interview if you can say that you’ve read a news article on us, then talk us through the ramifications of the story and ask us further questions about it.’

For example, in August 2015, John Lewis' managing director Andy Street revealed that it aims to overtake Ikea as Britain's biggest home and furniture retailer within the next five years. The goal was announced a week before the opening of a £14m modernisation of the home department in its flagship Oxford Street store. It is possible to argue that, while the Partnership needs to return a dividend for its Partners, the ownership structure allows the management to focus on sustaining a long-term future for the group rather than chasing short-term profits for external shareholders.

Do some proper competitor analysis

Every graduate Partner needs to be aware of what’s happening at the retailer’s rivals. That’s true whether you are in a customer-facing role, such as JLP's leadership scheme, or a more ‘back office’ role, such as those on the JLP technology scheme. You need to research what JLP’s competitors are doing, think through how the Partnership is responding to those actions and how successful that response is.

‘Candidates often identify like-for-like competitors, but think more widely about the type of competition we face,’ says Michelle. ‘For example, they might identify other department stores, but don’t consider online-only competitors.’

You can get further tips on how to analyse retail competitors in our article on TARGETjobs Retail.

Know the scheme inside and out to demonstrate your motivation

JLP really wants to hire people who genuinely want to work for them. To prove this, you need to do your research on the scheme. Start by reading the information on this employer hub and then move through to the recruiters’ website. Also check out the John Lewis Partnership graduate blog.

If you can, talk to current Partners. You may meet them at university careers fairs or be able to connect with them via social media (in particular LinkedIn). Try to get a picture of what it’s really like to work in a particular role: the opportunities and the challenges it presents.

‘It’s important that you demonstrate that you genuinely know what being on the scheme and working in the role will be like,’ says Becky. ‘You should then be able to tell us why you are the best candidate for it.’

When answering questions about your reasons for applying, the best answers are relevant to the scheme that you are applying for. So, for example, if you are asked about how you think you will progress at JLP, don’t just talk about general opportunities within the Partnership: talk specifics. For example, once you have graduated from the technology scheme, which discipline do you think you would you like to specialise in?

Ready for your close-up? Practice makes perfect

If you get through to the video interview stage, questions will appear on the screen for you to answer. However, the JLP recruiters do provide a number of practice questions on the screen for you to have a go at before the real thing. Make use of these.

You’ll see from the examples that most of the questions will centre around your skills and your motivations for applying. In preparation, refresh your memory on JLP's leadership and partnership behaviours and think about how you could link back to them in your answers. Spend some time beforehand practising articulating your reasons for applying or times when you demonstrated a skill such as teamwork or leadership – you could even ask a friend to video you to see how you come across on the screen.

Our 'How to get hired' articles are written by TARGETjobs editors and writers with job candidates in mind, helping you research and understand employers. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.