What better way to gain retail industry experience and insight with a retail company than to start with an internship? It allows you to get a feel for a company and learn on the job; plus, it can lead to full-time employment.
So how do you go about finding an internship in the retail industry? The big companies, such as Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer, have internships and graduate schemes – so this could be a great place to start. Their websites all have detailed information or forms to register your information. Recruitment websites like RetailChoice, which specialise in finding you retail jobs, can introduce you to new companies and help you with interview techniques and CVs.
There are many areas you can intern in, not just in-store. Jo Gidley, graduate campaign research manager at Sainsbury’s, who visits university careers fairs every year says: “Students don’t realise what we have to offer. They think it’s just jobs in-store, but we have so many more in the head office, such as in logistics and merchandising.” Both Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s offer internships for 12 months, with Sainsbury’s offering a three-month summer internship to students, and Marks & Spencer offering graduates a three-month internship as part of the Government's Graduate Talent Pool scheme.
In terms of qualifications, most retailers look for students who are studying a relevant degree. Marks & Spencer find that business studies students often like their store roles. Where as those studying other degrees may be better suited to head office jobs. All employers are looking for individuals who also have outside interests whether they are active in the student union at university or had a part time job – it shows commitment and willingness.
Most of all, enthusiasm and being inquisitive about the role will show that you’re keen and interested in a potential career with them, rather than just a job. “We are looking for those that thrive under pressure, someone who isn’t fazed about talking to senior members of staff and happy to take on their own projects,” says Jo Gidley.
Expect to be treated like a normal member of staff when you take on an internship. “The internships are very hands-on and get a feel for what the job would actually be like. What you are given is very critical to the business as a whole,” Says Jo Gidley.
So what does an internship say to a potential employer? Internships look great on CVs, as they are valuable and relevant experience. They show that you are motivated and willing to get hands-on experience, and for you it’s a great way to test out if you actually want to work in that industry or if it’s not quite right for you. And as well as looking great on the CV most retail internships offer payment, too - with salaries of up to £18,000 per rata.
An internship can be the start of a great career – with either the company you are working for or another company. “A lot of our interns go on to apply for our graduate placements – it’s a great way to get their foot in the door and get recognised. At the end of the placement, we always do a review and look at their options. We give them constructive criticism about how it went and what could make it better for them and us,” says Jo Gidley.
So an internship gives you great insight into the real world of working for a retail company – whether it is in store or in another department such as buying or IT in their head office. And as well as being paid, an internship looks great on your CV to future employers as it shows your willing to work hard and eager to gain experience in that industry. So start gaining that experience now.
Elizabeth Villiers, 20, completed an eight-week placement with Sainsbury’s last summer in the buying department. She applied for the placement though their website and was asked in for an interview and had to complete a presentation. She carried out the placement in her summer holiday whilst still at university and was paid £13,000 per rata. It took place at their head office in London and she was able to shadow a member of the buying team and get a general feel of the job – which allowed her to travel to different stores, attend meetings and also get involved in presentations and pitches. “It was such a valuable experience. I wasn’t too sure about where I wanted to go after I finished university, but this gave me such a great insight that I knew it was what I wanted to do when I finished.” Elizabeth enjoyed it so much that she applied to their graduate scheme as a food buyer next year and will be starting after she finishes her university degree.