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How I became a graduate management trainee at Lidl

Part-time work at university kept Alex focused on her career plans and showed Lidl she had the work ethic and skills needed for retail management.
Lidl looks to recruit people who are hard-working and driven, and I think my part-time positions showed I was that kind of person.

Ever since I had my part-time job at Costa before university, I've known that retail is the best career route for me. I really liked the fact that I was always busy and I discovered that I worked well in a fast-paced environment, which stood me in good stead for a graduate scheme in retail management.

Balancing studies with part-time work

While I was at university, I worked at an online investigations company. In this role, I analysed data and put together reports based on my findings. Along with my experience at Costa, I think this developed good time management skills – as I divided my time effectively between studying and working. Lidl looks to recruit people who are hard-working and driven, and I think my part-time positions showed I was that kind of person.

Having a job while at university also helped me to get out of the 'university bubble'. When you're at university, you can be tempted to just focus on your degree but it's a good idea to have links outside of your course, as this will help you to maintain perspective.

From career seeker to brand ambassador

Another way I kept a focus on my future career at university was by attending careers events. I found out about Lidl's placement programme during an event the company put on at my university, at the same time as (but separate from) the careers fair. Students who were currently on the placement explained the structure of the programme and answered questions. The scheme really interested me, particularly the opportunity to rotate across different parts of the business and get an understanding of how Lidl worked.

After my placement, I went to more careers events, but this time as a brand ambassador (student representative) for Lidl. I visited careers fairs at different universities to discuss the opportunities Lidl offered. Having spent time on both sides of the careers fair stall, I have a couple of recommendations to help students get the most out of careers events. Firstly, plan your time at an event by finding out the companies attending and deciding which ones to approach. Secondly, try not to be shy; when you're working at an event, you want to meet students and answer their questions, so don't worry about asking them.

Lidl's graduate programme

During my placement year, I particularly liked the way Lidl treated its students. I felt valued as I was given responsibility from the beginning. More experienced colleagues always found time to train me – no matter how busy they were – meaning that I was prepared enough to take on the offered responsibility. Having seen how Lidl appreciates and invests in the development of all its employees, I decided to apply for its graduate programme after university.

While I was applying, I was glad I had been a brand ambassador; I could ask for advice from the people I worked with at events and I'd maintained a level of knowledge about the company, which improved my performance during the interview.

As a graduate on Lidl's retail management programme, you will usually spend six months in store (a rotation known as sales), three months in a warehouse and three months working in supply chain. Then, during the second year, you'll have the chance to choose a route to specialise in and spend a year working in that area. However, as I'd spent time in each department on my placement, I knew that sales interested me the most. I therefore spent the first 18 months of the scheme doing in-depth training in a store. After that, I became a store manager; I'm now responsible for managing a team of over 20 employees.

From red to green

As a store manager with Lidl, time management and organisational skills are crucial; as well as having a clear plan for my own work at the start of every day, I need to make sure my team are completing their tasks on time.

When I first took on the role, I wasn't sure that I was ready. The success of store managers in Lidl is measured against a set of targets and six months into the position I hadn't met any of them. Six months later, however, my senior manager told me I had met all the targets to the highest standard – they'd turned from red to green. In one year, I'd moved from thinking I couldn't manage a store to running one successfully. I've since learned that Lidl encourages its graduates to stretch themselves when it comes to career progression but always makes sure they're ready for it. My manager wouldn't have given me the responsibility if they didn't think I could cope with it. Graduates should remember this; if your manager has faith in you, have faith in yourself!

Networking with other graduates

Lidl recruits just two or three graduates to each of its 13 locations every year, so there aren't many other graduates around day to day. However, the company encourages us to get to know one another and network. One example of this is the events organised for all graduates two or three times a year at a training centre in Leatherhead. On the first day, we're trained in a competency, such as communication. The second day is spent networking; by talking informally, I find I gain useful insights and pieces of advice from other graduates.

Alex Curtis
Job title: 
Graduate management trainee

2011–2013 Was a team leader at Costa Coffee.
2013–2015 Worked for an online investigations company.
2013–2016 Studied for, and graduated with, a BSc in business and economics from Northumbria University.
2015–2016 Completed a placement year with Lidl.
2016–2017 Acted as a Lidl brand ambassador.
2017 Began the retail graduate management programme with Lidl.

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