How big is the retail sector? It’s massive and gargantuan; so big in fact, consumer spending makes up half of the UK's gross domestic product (GDP). As such, the industry is a crucial cog in the national economy, with over 3.3 million people employed in retail in the UK.
As a result, there are wide opportunities to get undergraduate work experience in retail and FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods). All head offices of major retail companies will have roles across a variety of industries, from financial to design, HR to marketing. There really is something for everyone.
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Top Retail & FMCG Placement & Internship Jobs
What is retail?
What is the retail sector? Take a moment and look at the sandals you’ve got on, the clothes you’re wearing, the sandwich you had for lunch - all are products of the retail sector. Practically every product we interact with in our daily lives can be attributed to retailers and consumers.
There is a wide range of roles on offer in retail, such as...
A buyer’s role is to find new and inventive suppliers and negotiate the purchase of their products. Often they will also be responsible for the delivery, whether that be to the store or warehouse.
Merchandisers work behind the scenes, and are responsible for what products and goods are on display on the shop floor in different periods. Their purpose is to maximise value and profits of stock.
Retail managers are in a senior position, responsible for the day-to-day running of the store, or specific departments. They will constantly have their eyes on the day’s sales targets, ensuring high levels of customer service are maintained.
"In 2019, Retail offered one of the most generous graduate salaries, with an average of £35,000. This is up 2.9% since 2017." High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2019
What is FMCG?
The fast-moving consumer goods sector covers all the fun household products you buy in the pharmacy or supermarket. Think Boots and Sainsburys. It’s fast-moving because items are low cost, high volume and fly off the shelves. FMCG are your minty toothpaste, soap, toilet roll, deodorant, bleach, all of your cosmetics and fragrances.
Everything that you use and rely on on a daily basis is a product of this sector.
The FMCG sector is one of the largest in the business world. Unlike many other industries that are service-orientated, FMCG is a highly-profitable sector operating on a global scale.
FMCG companies like Coca-Cola, Nestle and L'Oréal are mainstays of Forbes’ most valuable global brands list, while the Food and Drink Federation says the industry will need tens of thousands more workers by 2024.
Applying for an FMCG internship or placement is a great way to explore this industry.
"The average graduate starting salary on offer in 2019 for those embarking on a career in Consumer Goods was £32,000." High Fliers: The Graduate Market in 2019
What's it like working in Retail & FMCG?
Fast-paced Challenging Environment
As the subheading suggests, the retail and FMCG sectors are fast-paced and challenging environments to work in. Don’t take that as a negative; placement students, interns and graduates face new challenges on a daily basis - so each day is different.
Rewards and Benefits
The retail sector has similar benefits to other key industries, such as health, dentistry and pension. One perk that is exclusive to retail is company discounts. Imagine what you could do with a 35% discount at M&S. Just imagine.
Opportunities to Travel
Most of the companies that offer work experience in this sector have stores and offices across the country. This means you’ll have the opportunity to visit different regions around the UK. Check out this video produced by Unilever about their graduate programme. If you work in head office, you might even be able to travel abroad!
How to get work experience in Retail & FMCG
During retail work experience, whether it’s a placement year or undergraduate internship, you’ll be placed in a position of responsibility, meaning you’ll be able to learn a lot in a short space of time, like how to manage others, deal with pressure and work in a fast-paced environment.
Retail expertise will set you apart from graduates who haven’t got practical experience to draw upon, giving you a better chance of success when applying for graduate positions at some of the UK’s biggest companies, like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer.
An internship in retail will usually happen during the summer months between your first and second year of university, and last anywhere between one and four months. However, an industrial placement in retail will last up to 13 months and takes place between your second and final year of university.
A retail placement student tends to work in one business area, whereas an intern may rotate across the business every few weeks.
Business areas could include store operations, management, buying, merchandising, marketing and more. Typical roles advertised on RateMyPlacement include food product developer, trainee commercial manager, retail operations assistant and business placement programme.
Why is work experience so important?
It’s so, so important to get work experience if you’re looking for a career in the retail or FMCG sector. Retail graduate schemes are highly competitive! You need to have an edge, that ‘something something’ that will make an employer choose you over rival candidates.
Undergraduate work experience is that something something. Not only is a placement or internship a great addition to your CV, it’s proven to increase your chances of getting a graduate job.
"58% of undergraduates who worked with companies in the retail and FMCG sector returned as graduates!" RateMyPlacement's Guide to Placements, Internships and Insights, 2019
Duration: 5-13 months
For: 2nd years
When to apply: Sep-May
Placement schemes have a few different names - you might hear them called a sandwich year, industrial placements or ‘a year in industry’. No matter what, they’re all the same, and take place in between your second and final year of university.
A retail placement student spends a full year at an organisation, usually in the buying or merchandising team. You could even work for a retail brand but within their finance, HR or management teams.
Internships in Retail and FMCG
Duration: 4-16 weeks
For: One and all
When to apply: Sep-March
Almost all internships take place during the summer months, so you might see them advertised as ‘summer internships’. An intern will work on a short term basis, between one and four months, getting professional experience and knowledge of the inner workings of the retail industry.
Employers hire interns to unearth talented undergraduates and familiarise them with their company culture, values and employees.
Duration: 1-10 days
For: Primarily 1st years
When to apply: Sep-Mar
Insight days are the shortest term work experience available to students. These schemes are designed for first year students, (to give them an ‘insight’ into a company), but they are open to all undergraduates.
The vast majority of insights take place in April during the Easter holidays. Vacancies will start appearing on RateMyPlacement early in 2024, so have your CV ready as soon as it hits the new year.
What is a retail graduate job?
Retail graduate jobs are aimed at university students who have just finished their undergraduate degree and are looking for their first permanent, full-time role in the industry. They allow you to:
Master your craft
Develop soft and hard skills
Build solid workplace relationships.
You may have experienced the retail sector through a placement, internship or weekend job serving customers on the shop floor. You may have not. Either way, a retail graduate job will get you stuck in from the get-go, selling items and ensuring the business hits all its sales objectives.
Are retail graduate jobs paid?
They sure are! The national average salary for a retail graduate job is £25,000 a year. But this depends on your experience, employer and location. Make sure you read the job description fully before applying to save yourself some nasty shocks.
Remember, the more experience you gain, the higher up the pay ladder you’ll climb. Stick it out until the end and you could take home a mahoosive £55,000 a year!
Looking for a role in the retail sector? Take your pick among some of our Best Employers.
How long do retail graduate jobs last?
Retail graduate jobs last as long as you want them to. That’s the great thing about them. If you love your role and can’t imagine a day without hanging out in the store room with your colleagues, you might stay on.
If not (and you fancy a change of scenery, industry or even people), you’ll move on.
What’s the difference between a retail graduate job and a retail graduate scheme?
You’ve probably heard the terms graduate job and graduate scheme flung around a fair bit. Especially if you’re in your final year of university and thinking about the next steps in your career. While they sound similar, grad schemes and grad jobs are very different from each other.
Permanent VS temporary
Temporary (with the potential of becoming permanent if you prove yourself on-the-job)
Multiple department rotations, from buying, merchandising, human resources and events management to get a feel of how the wider business operates.
You’ll start on a permanent contract
Working in a specific team and role
Contributing ideas and hitting sales targets to help the company grow.
Full training programme
Working alongside a mentor to achieve specific learning targets.
Minimal training given
Work with a manager to meet business goals.
Competitive application process
Psychometric tests, assessment centres and two (or more) interviews.
Simpler application process
All you need is a graduate CV, cover letter and interview.
Applications open between September and November
Assessment centres in January.
Employers will post a role when needed.
How to apply
Applying for a placement, internship or insight in the retail and FMCG sector is similar to applying for a graduate job (or any job for that matter).
You will begin with an online application form - the questions will focus on your skills, experience, and why you want the job. At the bottom of the form, you’ll attach your CV for a placement and a placement cover letter.
Next up (if your CV is a winner) is the phone or video interview. There might be ten other candidates still in the process so employers use phone interviews to find the best.
The best (which hopefully will be you) will be invited to face-to-face interviews and an assessment centre. Assessment centres usually take place in a company’s offices, and last 3-4 hours. A typical assessment centre will include group tasks, psychometric tests and presentation.
After this, the employer will have a good idea who is the best fit for the role.