Graduate Day


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Our first graduate day of 2016 was held last week on the 2nd February and – as ever – we really put our 4 carefully selected grads through their paces!

After a brainstorming session pre-2016, we decided to add some new elements to our already robust AQUAretail graduate sessions – as they entered their 11th year. This newness included maths testing candidates ahead of them attending the day (this helped us weed out the numerical from the non – a complete ‘must have’ for a merchandising role), asking candidates to present a SWOT analysis on a store of their choice and finally – introducing a commercial trade exercise that is completely merchandising specific.

For us, watching ‘Little Acorns’ (to quote Mary’s mum) grow into Big Oak Trees is more rewarding than any commercial motivation. We like to feel that by running these quarterly graduate sessions, we not only help excellent graduates get themselves into an industry they feel really passionate about; we also offer an entirely different graduate selection process to our competitors.

The day itself – held at a design hotel in Covent Garden – ran smoothly and (without blowing our own trumpets) the feedback from our 4 grads at the end of the session was excellent! We have held days where we have up to 20 grads in a room at any one time – and 2 sessions in a day – but do prefer a group of half a dozen or so, where we can really get to know the characters better.

We began the session by talking about what previous attendees have gone on to achieve, including Gemma at Topshop, Hannah at Kurt Geiger and Amy at Monsoon – we are so proud to think how many merchandisers out there started their searches on one of our Grad Days.

We then held an exercise around the whiteboard where we brainstormed what the role of a merchandiser is, and of course what the buying role is too (as it’s not possible to discuss one without the other). We talked over the responsibilities on a day-to-day basis, and the function they serve in the overall process, in addition to going over an “essential checklist” of the kind of terminology and lingo we associate with a B&M office. We also discussed the personality traits of both buyers and merchandisers, and the behaviours expected of both.

One of our favourite components of the day is always the Career Ladder, where we see the eyes of our grads light up with pound signs. We talk over the progression they can expect, how long they’d be in each role for, and – most excitingly – what they’ll be earning after 5,10,15 and 20 years in the role. Hearing about real life examples really helps bring the career to life, and fixes their eyes on the prize.

We were lucky enough to have a special visitor in the form of Catherine Crute, who is the Merchandising Manager at Fred Perry. Catherine has helped with a Grad Day in the past, and really enjoyed it so was happy to be invited as a “guest speaker” to this one. She totally stole the show when talking over her experience in the industry. She told them about her career path, the benefits of working in small retailers v large business, how her career benefitted from a stint abroad, and what advice she’d give them as they’re starting out. Thank you Catherine!

The day then moved on to Interview Advice, and we talked about how to prepare for interviewing. This covers topics such as knowing the industry, researching the business thoroughly, preparing a SWOT analysis (and having everyone present what they’d prepared ahead of the day, so we could see their confidence levels), interview tips such as popular questions to expect….even what to wear.

We wrapped up the session with a Monday Exercise, prepared for us by James Clark (he’s a Senior Lecturer at LCF, and author of a fantastic book called “Fashion Merchandising”). The exercise had our grads analysing data and drawing conclusions from their observations – a really good “true life” insight into the life of a merchandiser. While the group completed their exercise, we took the opportunity to have a 1-2-1 interview with each of them. This allows us to have a proper, private, conversation with everybody and understand what their ideal job looks like, where they would like to work, and which of our current opportunities appeals to them.

To conclude – a big thanks to Kasey, Adriana, Alex and Rosa for attending this time around – your SWOTs were excellent, your passion evident and we look forward to assisting you with your merchandising journey! And for any graduates reading this who want to be considered for our next session in May – drop us a line and have a chat with us now. After all, your exams, dissertation and graduation are just around the corner!

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Catherine Crute (left) inspiring our Grads

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Lucy talking through Interview Tips and Prep

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