The application process for retail graduate schemes
Retail employers are very forward-looking and tend to be at the forefront of the latest recruitment trends and technology. The first stage of the process tends to be an online application form, which could include questions such as 'Why retail?' or 'Why do you want to be a buyer/merchandiser/fashion designer etc?'. Get help on how to answer these questions here. You may also need to send in your CV. Read our article on how to write a great graduate retail CV to help you get started.
After this, it’s very likely that you will be asked to complete a video interview so read our article on what to expect from retail video interviews for lots of tips. The final stage is usually an assessment day. For more information and help, read our article on standing out at retail assessment centres. It's not uncommon for retail recruiters to start inviting candidates to interviews and assessment centres before application deadline falls, so it's worth starting to prep for these stages of the recruitment process now.
How to get a graduate job in retail
Graduates looking for a career in retail can go into retail management, supply chain and logistics, merchandising, buying, ecommerce, product technology and fashion design. More often than not, students of all degree disciplines can apply for jobs in most of these areas, although some employers will ask for specific degrees and a related degree is practically essential for a career in fashion design.
Retailers often prioritise personal qualities and skills over strict academic requirements; while some employers ask for a 2.1, more employers in the retail sector accept 2.2s than in other sectors. Find out which retailers accept 2.2s here.
Graduate jobs vs schemes
If you want to go into retail management, there are plenty of graduate schemes available with large retailers such as John Lewis and Aldi. They typically run for 12 to 18 months. You'll take on significant responsibility at an early stage and you'll often progress through the management ladder fairly quickly.
Large retailers also offer graduate schemes in buying, ecommerce, finance, merchandising and supply chain and logistics. The majority of these schemes have a structured progression route; a logistics graduate, for example, will eventually take on a management role while the next step for a buying graduate is to become an assistant buyer. Many retailers give their finance graduates the chance to work towards a professional qualification, usually with the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA).
There aren't as many graduate schemes in fashion design, product technology and food technology and visual merchandising so the majority of graduates get into these careers through entry-level jobs.
What is it like to work in retail?
Working in retail goes beyond the shop floor and most roles are very target-driven. Don't be surprised if you're thrown in the deep end and given a lot of responsibility early on.
Retail management graduates split their time between the back office, the warehouse and the shop floor and, as you progress, you might find yourself travelling between several stores in one region. You'll be on the front line, looking after a team of people and interacting with customers. You will most likely work shifts and longer hours may be required at times. Flexibility on job location and a willingness to relocate is often a must.
Buyers, merchandisers, fashion designers, product technologists and ecommerce and finance professionals tend to work in a head office, usually in London or other big cities. You're likely to work standard nine-to-five office hours but travel may be necessary to meet with suppliers, visit a store or even attend a fashion show.
If you'd like to know what kind of salary you could be earning in retail, check out our retail salary breakdown, which lists graduate starting salaries at different retailers.
Top skills to get a job in retail
The skills you'll need will vary slightly depending on the role but most retail jobs require the following:
- Customer service - one thing that retailers all have in common is that their customers are their number one priority. You'll need to show that you can deliver an excellent customer experience
- Communication and people skills- whether your job is based at the retailer's head office, in a store or in a warehouse, you'll need to talk to a range of people including customers, colleagues, managers and suppliers. You'll need to be confident, friendly and able to adapt your style to suit who you're talking to
- Leadership - this is especially essential for retail management graduates but it important for every job in retail. Retailers want to see that you could be a future leader so you'll need to be able to make decisions, build em relationships and motivate and respect your fellow team members
- Teamwork - all retail jobs involve working as part of a team. You'll need to have, and promote, a good team spirit
- Commercial awareness - you'll need to contribute to a business' success. To do this, an understanding of the retailer, the climate it's operating in, the challenges it faces, its competitors and what they're doing is key
- Analytical skills - these are vital for many jobs but especially in merchandising, where you'll need to interpret the statistics you have to make decisions about what products to stock, how much stock to place in different stores and whether a product should be restocked
For more information, read our article on the skills retail recruiters want. If you're particularly interested in a career as a buyer, we spoke to two buyers at T K Maxx to find out what skills you'll need to get a job in buying.
What degrees do retailers prefer?
You can get a job in retail with any degree subject. However, some degrees may be advantageous or even necessary for some jobs:
- Buying - fashion retailers ideally want you to have a fashion-related degree
- Ecommerce - many employers will accept all degree backgrounds but some will want a degree in a relevant discipline such as IT or computer science
- Fashion design - this is a competitive area so a degree in textiles, art, fashion design or similar is practically essential
- Finance - a business, finance or maths-related degree may help but employers accept applications from all degree backgrounds
- Merchandising - some employers may ask for a merchandising or a numerate, analytical or business-related degree
- Product technology and food technology - most employers will require a relevant degree such as chemistry, food science/technology, textiles, product technology or materials science
- Supply chain and logistics - most retailers do not specify a degree subject but a logistics, business or engineering degree may be preferred
- Visual merchandising - you'll need a degree in a design, art or textiles related subject