How to get a graduate job in retail

Getting a graduate job in the retail sector: where to find the jobs, types of employer, and how work experience can help.
Finger touching retail screen

Retailing, in its broadest sense, is defined as the means by which goods and services are provided to consumers in exchange for payment. This means that retail is a wide sector with a range of career openings for graduates.

How to find a job: meeting retail employers on campus

There are several ways of finding graduate jobs in the retail sector, many without leaving your campus.

Campus events

Employers visit campuses throughout the academic year. Check with your Careers Service for a schedule of events.

The milkround

Retail organisations may recruit through the milkround system. Some companies will make presentations, often followed by an informal gathering. Attending these events will enable you to find out about companies’ activities, cultures, policies and recruitment practices. Employers generally hold first interviews on campus.

Recruitment fairs

Recruitment fairs usually have jobs on offer for the right candidates. These events offer you a great opportunity to talk to current employees who may often be recent graduates. Bring your CV along to present to employers recruiting on the day. Check the Events page for details of fairs coming up.

Careers seminars/guest lectures

If your college has organised these events for you it is worthwhile bringing your CV along to give to the speakers. These are excellent opportunities to network with people in industry and to make valuable contacts.

Where you might work

Keep an open mind about the type of retailer you might work for, as there is a huge range of potential employers within the retail sector. Retail goods are normally sold to customers through three main selling channels:

Predominantly food stores

These include:

  • Hypermarkets and supermarkets, for example, owned by predominantly food multiples such as Tesco, Asda or symbol groups (independently owned but operating under a symbol name) such as Spar, Costcutter and SuperValu.
  • Convenience stores: small, characterised by convenient urban/suburban locations, generally with extended opening hours, and used mainly for ‘top-up’ shopping (may also be symbols).
  • Independent stores: include specialists such as greengrocers, bakers, fish shops and delicatessens, as well as large family-owned general grocery stores which are typically owner managed and may be symbols.
  • Discounters: sell a range of goods and offer substantial discounts over other retailers (may be supermarkets).

Predominantly non-food stores

These include:

  • Department stores: typically large city centre shops, generally multi-storey, offering a range of products.
  • Boutiques: typically small, single outlets offering a specialist range of clothing and/or other merchandise.
  • Multiples: supermarket-size outlets selling mainly clothing and footwear, but occasionally other items. These shops tend to be at the lower end of the clothing market in price terms, whereas department stores are in the middle to upper price ranges.
  • Factory outlets: sell the products of a factory, typically branded goods such as clothing.
  • Retail banking: generally classified as part of financial services but included here as a potential career because of its specific retail focus.

Non-store retailing

This includes: online selling, telephone selling, catalogue mail order, door-to-door sales, TV shopping and vending machines. This area is becoming blurred with store retailing as store retailers now engage in non-store selling via the internet (‘e-tailing’), either delivering goods or allowing clients to pick up in store.

How work experience can help your job application

A key factor in your entry point to employment on graduation, both in terms of position gained and starting salary, is the amount of relevant work experience you have gained before and during college. Sales assistant in any area of retail is a good first position if you want to get a broad view of the sector.

It pays to invest some time early on in finding out what type of experience the top recruiters will be seeking. The biggest advantage goes to those who have used part-time work, holiday work and placements/internships to gain wider and more senior positions in their chosen field as they moved upwards through their college programme.