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The trainee manager scheme and beyond: career progression at McDonald's

Within five years of joining McDonald’s, Jess has managed her own restaurant, gained a foundation degree and started working in HR at its UK head office.
A big piece of advice I’d give to students is to start getting work experience as soon as possible.

After university, I knew that I wanted to join a graduate scheme rather than going straight into a job. I studied history at university and, while I developed transferable skills such as communication and research, I don’t feel this subject really directed me towards a specific career path. At the start of my career search, I looked at a number of major graduate employers and the opportunities they were offering. This is how I encountered McDonald’s trainee management programme.

Applications and advice

The application process for the trainee management programme was intense. The first stage was an online application and a psychometric test, both designed to assess my leadership, decision making and management skills. Completing applications (and especially completing them well) takes a lot of time. From experience, I’d advise taking a disciplined approach to completing applications. Set specific time aside and give it your full attention rather than trying to squeeze it into a spare five minutes!

I’ve had part-time jobs since I was 16, so I had a strong and varied bank of examples I could talk about in applications. Throughout university I worked as a waitress and as a student representative, as well as being the captain of the netball team. A big piece of advice I’d give to students is to start getting work experience as soon as possible. Even just one shift a week will make a difference. A good place to find opportunities is your university’s careers service, as they commonly advertise part-time jobs with the university. Make sure you keep track of the skills you develop: I did this by creating a ‘key competencies’ list, which I kept up to date.

Following the application form, candidates are invited to an assessment centre, which includes individual presentations and a case study exercise. After the assessment centre you’re invited to an ‘on-job evaluation’, where you spend seven hours in a McDonald’s restaurant, experiencing a typical day in the life of a trainee manager. Drawing on my experiences of working in hospitality, I focused on building relationships with customers, the other candidates and the recruiters. I was keen to learn so I also asked a lot of questions, which I think made me stand out from the other applicants. It was a challenging day, but I appreciated that it gave me a realistic expectation of what the job was going to be like.

From trainee to manager at McDonald’s

The on-job evaluation took away some of my apprehension about my first day as a trainee manager, as I had already spent a day working in a restaurant. The majority of my time was spent working on the restaurant floor and learning by being buddied up with my colleagues, which I balanced with more formal training. I learned about McDonald’s structured training paths, all the different roles there are in a restaurant and how to be a shift manager. I didn’t have much experience of management before and it was a lot to learn, but my managers were very supportive and checked in with me frequently.

After completing 20 weeks of training, I became an assistant manager and helped to run operations in a restaurant. At times the work could be stressful; for example, it’s a 24-hour business, so night shifts are required. This might mean that you have to be flexible with your social life from time to time. There’s a real buzz when your restaurant achieves a new record sales day or is recognised for great customer service. I worked hard and took hold of every opportunity, becoming business manager and being given responsibility of my own restaurant after just two-and-a-half years. The highlight of my time at McDonald’s was the re-opening day of my restaurant after its six-week closure for enhancement renovations; a lot of teamwork went into the preparation and it was a great success!

Finding new challenges

After around a year as a business manager, I was ready for my next challenge. With the support and backing of my managers, I decided to apply for the degree in managing business operations. The degree course is run and awarded in conjunction with Manchester Metropolitan University and is offered only to McDonald’s employees. As well as developing my management skills and giving me a new challenge on top of my day-to-day work, I enjoyed being able to go back to university and get back into formal education. It was an opportunity to really push myself and stretch my capabilities.

When I joined the graduate programme, I had an idea that I’d like to progress at McDonald’s and potentially move from operations to the head office. A chance to do just that came sooner than expected, and earlier this year I moved to a role in the HR team. In my current role I am involved in managing the trainee management programme, so have been involved in the recruitment process for graduates. Having been in the same position as them only a handful of years ago, I find myself relating to the candidates and willing them to do well.

From trainee manager to talent acquisition officer: a picture of a McDonald's employee
Jess Wheatley
Job title: 
Talent acquisition officer

2009–2012 Studied for, and graduated with, a BA in history from Newcastle University.
2009–2012 Worked part time as a waitress alongside attending university.
2011–2012 Captained a university netball team and was a student representative for Newcastle University.
2013 Joined McDonald’s trainee manager graduate programme.
2013–2018 Completed the trainee manager programme and progressed through 2nd assistant manager and 1st assistant manager roles, eventually leading a restaurant as a business manager.
2016–2017 Completed the McDonald’s foundation degree in managing business operations, graduating from Manchester Metropolitan University.
2018 Began working as a talent acquisition officer in McDonald’s UK head office.

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