Jobs in Retail are very appealing for graduates, as many companies offer Trainee Manager positions which provide fantastic training in Business Management, Customer Care, Sales and Marketing. Retail jobs can lead to Management positions and provide university leavers with skills which are applicable to many fields.
Retail and Retail Management can be enjoyable careers which offer a variety of challenges for graduates to overcome creatively, and while it helps to have previous retail experience, it is certainly not a necessity. Some degrees are directly relevant to Retail, such as Management, Business or Psychology, but again they are often not required in order to be considered for a role.
How to Get a Job in Retail
Certain skills are always in demand in a people-focused sector such as retail.
Candidates should display the following:
1. Relevant Degree
Management and Business degrees are directly relevant to Retail, as they give candidates an understanding of finances, profit margins, business strategy and the market, while degrees which deal with human behaviour, such as Psychology and Sociology, can help candidates understand group behaviour and the needs of consumers.
Whatever their degree, it is important for graduates to know how to make the best of their academic background. A Business graduate will want to showcase their Commercial Awareness, while a Psychology graduate will want to show how their understanding of human behaviour can influence layout and presentation in order to maximize sales.
2. Retail experience
As with many sectors, experience in the field can go a long way with applications, and with Retail no experience is too small. Knowledge of how shops and other retail establishments operate, and what makes them successful, is a valuable skill. Other types of experience can be beneficial to a candidate's application as well, such as stock management from working in a bar or café, experience working with cash and other revenue, or a customer service position.
3. Product Knowledge
Depending on the company and the position, product knowledge can greatly improve a graduate's employability. For example, a company like Majestic Wine would be much more likely to employ a graduate with experience in the wine industry - whether it be serving wine, or working somewhere along the supply chain. Experience with a company's product and a specialized knowledge of what they trade can be extremely profitable to the running of a shop.
Different companies will want their staff to embody different aspects of the company's branding. A high street clothier would likely want candidates with an eye for fashion, while a sporting goods provider would want someone sporty. A high end décor store may prefer employees with a professional air, while a children's store would likely want someone fun and sociable. Whatever the company, graduates should have an awareness of the store's brand and how they can help promote it.
5. Communication and friendliness
Trainee managers work closely with both customers and staff. Candidates should be approachable, friendly and able to communicate well, as almost all Retail positions involve direct interactions to help customers with purchases or give expert knowledge of the product.
Retail Case Studies
Retail is about having an eye for detail, as small, subtle changes can often make all the difference both to sales and to the customer's experience.
The Employer - Tom Lawrence (Recruitment Advisor - Majestic Wine Warehouse)
Name: Tom Lawrence
Job Title: Recruitment Advisor - Majestic Wine Warehouse
University: University of Hertfordshire
Course: Sport Science & Philosophy
What competencies do you like to see in candidates?
Personality comes into it a great deal. In retail you have to be able to build relationships with customers and work closely in teams. Working with people for nine or ten hours a day means that you have to be motivated, personable and understanding. We are looking for the kind of people that like to get involved and who want to learn new things.
Do you require knowledge about wines to work at Majestic?
We do like candidates to have an interest in wine. It's mainly about looking for that spark that we can develop further. We do have some people that come to us who have already passed the wine qualification that we offer however most people we see enjoy wine but are certainly not experts and that is where our training comes in. When I joined the company I didn't have a huge knowledge of wine, I only knew that I enjoyed certain wines more than others. We are looking for a good base that we can build upon.
What is your initial screening process when making a shortlist of applicants?
When we are shortlisting applicants for interview we are looking for people that jump off the page and who are able to get some personality into the application. It is also important to actually answer the questions and understand what each question is looking for. Finally, you do need to have a full driving license and at least one years driving experience in order to work for Majestic.
Do you find roles oversubscribed?
Yes we do and we are very happy with the number of applications we receive. However, we recruit nationwide throughout the year and good applications are never rejected. We have a talent bank facility where good applications are stored until they are re-activated by the candidate once we are recruiting again in the area that they would like to work.
Do extracurricular activities, work experience and personality increase the quality of a candidates application?
Yes they do. As mentioned previously we look for certain skills and attributes that have been gained from past experiences that we believe will be required in order to have a successful career with us. It's great if a candidate can show us in their application and interview that they understand what we are about and that they have the ability, gained from experience, to be an ambitious and driven Trainee Manager.
Is there any preference on degrees you accept?
No, we welcome any degree discipline. Studying for a degree gives a person valuable transferable skills that can applied in a variety of different ways like being a successful wine retailer. However, we also look for what a candidate has gained from the overall University experience as well as their academic studies.
What would you regard as a good first impression in an interview?
First of all to be on time, well presented and have a firm handshake. Once the interview has started the candidate should be engaging, enthusiastic, confident and be able to maintain good eye contact and smiling never hurts either.
What would you say were key skills to bring to retail sector?
I would say resilience, creativity, a strong work ethic and being a real team player. Retail is also about having an eye for detail as small, subtle changes can often make all the difference both to sales and to the customer's experience.
Why do you think graduates choose to begin their careers with Majestic Wine?
I think it is because we are a successful, growing retailer and this is a management training scheme where you can really go somewhere. We offer excellent progression from Trainee Manager to Store Manager in an average time of two to three years. What we offer is perfect for people who want a practical, hands on career where they will never be bored. Finally, it is a fascinating product that becomes a real passion for most of our staff.
I've done my application, I've accepted the job what then?
At interview you will have told us where you would like to work and this is where flexibility on location comes in as the more locations you are happy to work in the easier it is for us to get you started. Sometimes we have to keep candidates on hold until a vacancy arises in their area but mostly we get successful candidates started very quickly.
On average how long does it take to progress from trainee to assistant manager?
Most new Trainee Managers will become an Assistant Manager within one to two years time but this very much depends on the individual. As internal promotions go to the best candidate for the job you can progress very quickly or slowly depending on your attitude. You will also need to have passed the Wines and Spirits Educational Trust's Level 3 award (full training provided) in order to be promoted.
How would you describe the culture within your organisation?
People work together at Majestic to achieve a common goal of broadening a customers wine experience. People bring a passion to work and share this with our customers putting the customer first. Teams work hard for each other and produce results based on their input. It's an organisation that rewards those efforts and celebrates success.
The Employee - William Smith (Trainee Manager - Majestic Wine Warehouse)
Name: William Smith
Job Title: Trainee Manager - Majestic Wine Warehouse
University: University of Exeter
Course: Politics & Italian
Graduation Year: 2012
What methods did you use when applying for graduate jobs?
I took the approach of following an interest and trying to find a scheme or employer that would match that. In the case of Majestic Wine, I had previously worked a harvest in Tuscany, so I had a real interest in wine. I thought: here's a company that can further my retail knowledge, my business knowledge and develop an interest of mine.
What made you choose the Majestic Wine's graduate scheme? What was it about them in particular that attracted you?
It was the training to be honest; the fact that you get really good training in Retail Management but also wine, both tasting and production. Secondly my parents shopped at Majestic and always raved about the service, range and the staff and when I looked into it further I really liked what I found out so I thought this is a great place to cut my teeth in the retail world, get business experience and learn more about wine along the way.
Why do you think you were successful in getting the job?
The fact that I had experience from a harvest was not important but it did help to demonstrate my interest in wine, which is important. I also demonstrated, using past experience as examples, that I was prepared to get my hands dirty and get stuck in. I think researching the company well and meeting people on the shop floor definitely helped too.
How much do you think your degree played a part in your success?
My degree has almost nothing to do with what I'm doing now. It's much more important that the applicant is able to demonstrate they've got an interest in wine, that they are hard working and can get on with people. Having worked hard for a good degree is never going to hurt but other elements are more important.
How was your knowledge of wine when you started at Majestic Wine?
I thought I had decent wine knowledge. However, the amount I learnt in my first week at Majestic was incredible. As soon as you start working at Majestic you're learning. Putting business and retail to one side for the moment, you're learning about wines from all over the world, from production to tasting and everything in between.
Could you explain what a 'normal' day is like?
I go to open the store at about 9:45 am. When you open the store you need to get the tasting counter ready and stocked with wines for customers to taste. You have to make sure all the marketing standards are up to scratch and everything is looking presentable.
When the customers start to arrive, I deal with their needs, talk to them and give them advice. I try to help them in any way I can. At various points throughout the week you'll get deliveries from the depot and from our suppliers. You have to merchandise all that stock efficiently. This is the physically demanding part of the job but it does save on gym membership!
As a company we do our own deliveries and Trainee Managers, depending on the store, can be sent out in the van quite often. It is a really important part of what Majestic do as it's one of the things that helps to differentiate Majestic from other companies. It's our in-store staff that do all the internet and phone-order deliveries so it feels more personal. There is a lot of variety in this job and getting out in the van is one aspect of this, I find it breaks up the day nicely and you get to know your customer base better.
Is the scheme what you expected it to be?
You are thrown in at the deep end to an extent because as soon as you're in store you are a member of staff. Customers don't know that you are new so they'll come up to you asking your opinion about a certain wine or with a different query and you have to help them as best you can. I wasn't expecting to learn as much as I did or as quickly as I did. With this full emersion you can't help but gain knowledge. Also, everyday you've got the opportunity to taste really lovely, exciting wines and this is an important and interesting aspect of your training.
Do you feel that you have gained transferable retail skills that could be applied elsewhere?
It's not just the retail skills it's also the people skills but in a retail environment. I think they are definitely transferable; being helpful, learning how to listen to customers and deliver an outstanding experience. There is a certain kind of listening when it comes to customer service that you need to perfect. It's about knowing what to do to best satisfy the needs of the customer and I think this is completely transferable.
What's the best experience you've had whilst working for Majestic Wine?
When I was working in my first store there was one incredible customer with an amazing wine collection and lots of different vintages of special wines. He regularly came into the store to buy or talk about wine and would sometimes invite the team to his house for tastings to share in his passion. You do build relationships with lots of interesting people.
What do you think you've struggled with most, while at Majestic?
At first it was getting used to the retail working hours. You do have a fairly long day finishing at either 7pm or 8pm most days and we also tend to work most weekends as this is the busiest time of the week. I've always found that it's worth it though because I genuinely don't mind going to work. Although my role involves lots of hard work I do find it enjoyable.
What one piece of advice would you give to fresh graduates starting their job hunt?
I would have gone to more careers fairs and spent more time with the university careers service. I also think it is important not to limit yourself. You might find a job that suits you really well that has nothing to do with what you studied. I think a degree is something that proves that you can complete a high intensity task over a number of years. It also shows you have commitment, initiative and self motivation. Finally competition for graduate roles is very fierce at the moment and so you have to be able to get stuck in and put in the hard graft that is necessary to succeed.
And finally, on a scale of 1-5, how would you rate the Majestic Wine Graduate Scheme?
I would rate it as a 5 without question. It has exceeded my expectations. I have done more at Majestic in less than a year than I would have thought possible. I've learnt more, I've enjoyed myself more, I've tested myself more and I certainly don't have any regrets.
If you want to find out more about graduate jobs with Majestic Wine, please take a look at their minisite.