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Where to start

A wide range of job types exist within the retail sector. Specialisations include Marketing, Finance, Product Development, Human Resources, and Logistics. Graduate schemes exist for most of these specialisations, although some brands have just one graduate-specific entry route. Others prefer to recruit graduates directly into specific jobs.

Graduate salaries typically range from £22,000 - £28,000, with benefit packages and bonuses for achieving targets. The biggest cut price supermarket retailers in the UK pay the most (Aldi £44K and Lidl £37K), and have very competitive application processes.

How to know if you’re suited to this sector

Having the right personal temperament is crucial to success in retail. Decisiveness, teamwork and drive will be just as important as good organisational skills and commercial acumen. If you like action, pressure, and the unexpected, then retail might be for you.

Graduate roles involve early responsibility, and your mistakes - and successes – will be highly visible. Perform well, however, and you are likely be fast-tracked to more senior management roles.

Working in retail often requires flexibility in your personal life. Working hours may be anti-social, with some evening and/or weekend working, (although this varies between job roles). For in-store roles, you will usually need to be mobile and willing to work in different parts of the UK as your career develops. On the plus side, however, any skills you acquire will be transferable across the sector, as well as across international borders.

How to get the experience to be credible

Due to the number and variety of retail outlets in the UK and abroad, gaining work experience is relatively easy. Firms are often willing to recruit young people with limited work experience on a part-time or temporary basis.

For this reason, recruiters will usually expect to see some retail experience on your CV. Part of the reason they look for retail experience is the belief that to be a success in retail you must be passionate about their business and delivering customer service.

To get started, register your interest in vacation work in retail on Handshake.

Further study or certification required

Some retail recruitment programmes require a 2.1 degree, but many accept a 2.2. Degree discipline is often less important than a passion for retail and evidence of the competencies required for each vacancy type.

How to find employers or training courses

Find retail companies that interest you. You can then look for entry-level jobs and graduate schemes advertised on the websites. Vacation or short-term work experience opportunities may also appear without warning. These would put you at an advantage if you later plan on applying to graduate positions.

Take a look through the following resources to find jobs, and to get a feel for the industry:

Tips for succeeding in the application or selection process

Most retail recruiters select job candidates using a competency based approach. The employer sets out the competencies (a range of abilities and personal qualities) required and systematically searches for evidence of these in your documentation, interviews, and assessment results.

It is therefore essential to research and understand the competencies they require. Think about examples of occasions when you have used or developed these competencies and be prepared to talk about these experiences in your application and at interviews.

Having a thorough knowledge of your chosen company is a must, as recruiters will test your motivation and commitment with questions about the sector, the firm, and its products.

What Cambridge offers to help with this career

Current vacancies and potential employers, as well as Careers Service events, can be found via Handshake

Contact Cambridge alumni who have worked in this sector

Other things you should know

If you want to become further qualified as you work, some graduate retail programmes offer the opportunity to study for a postgraduate professional qualification, e.g. CIPD for HR, CIMA for finance.