Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Graduate Schemes: beware of the Buyers Exercise!

Nichola Chapman is back and this time with a big warning of what to expect when your assessors give you a buyers exercise. Really great post! 

Before the real pressure of final year at university had kicked in, I found the time to apply for a graduate scheme. If you have applied for one yourself then you’ll know just how long filling in application forms can take - admittedly, it doesn’t help if you over-write the work you had done so far on the application form, as I not-so-cleverly did – but without taking that mishap into account it took me a solid two days to complete it to the best of my ability.

The scheme I applied for was a graduate buyer’s job at an exclusive London department store. The two days spent filling in the application form paid off as I got through to the next stage of the application process; a half-day interview. A week before the day of the interview I was sent an information pack explaining what would be happening on the day. This included: creating and presenting a ten minute presentation on one of four topics provided, a one-hour group interview and a forty-five minute buyers exercise.

By the day of the interview and despite the usual ‘this is an important day’ nerves, I was feeling quietly confident with the presentation I had prepared, not exactly dreading the group interview as I’m a pretty good talker (so I’ve been told!) and a little unsure what to expect from the ‘buyers exercise’. With it being a department store I had envisaged some sort of ‘best sellers’ identifying tasks or a discussion of the company’s product ranges.

The presentation went well and I felt I had given my best during the group interview. Then came the buyers exercise. This was not a ‘spot the best-sellers’ task as I had hoped. It was a maths test. A heavily percentage-based maths test. We were each given a booklet and asked to independently complete the task in 45 minutes – panic quickly set in! I was NOT prepared for this – all knowledge of GCSE maths on percentages was absent from my mind, stored somewhere in the ‘I’m 15, when am I ever going to need to know this?’ part of my brain. Even with the calculator provided, vague guesswork was the best I could offer.

As expected, I did not get through to the final stage of the application process. It’s just as well because the dealing with numbers aspect of a buyer’s job had sunk in since the interview and I was pretty sure that this was not my dream job after all. Still, I think going through the application process was massively worthwhile and beneficial - it taught me that things aren’t always what you expect them to be, even if you think you’re prepared.

Regardless of the type graduate scheme or job you are applying for, this would be my advice when applying…

1) Background Research – know as much as you can about the company you are applying to work at, specifically for retail. They will expect you to know who their target audience is, what products and brands they sell, which products or brands are selling well at the moment and who are their major competitors.

2) Revise your weakness – this is what caught me out! Most business related scheme will require some mathematical knowledge, so if you know your no good with numbers spend a few hours going over some of the basics you think the job might involve. That extra effort might make the difference between getting through to the next stage or not.

3) Don’t be over-confident – if there is a group-interview involved in the application, make sure you contribute but don’t be over-bearing. Almost all businesses require you to work as a team at some stage. Employees want to see that you have both the qualities of a leader and the ability to work with a team. Group interviews are naturally competitive because you are all up against each other so the balance can be difficult, be aware of how long you are talking for and allow others to say their piece without interrupting.

4) Go Local – international and national graduate schemes are naturally the most popular, meaning your chances of getting onto one are limited. The scheme that I applied for received 120 applications and 84 got through to the next stage, the competition was obviously still tough but not as tough as facing 1,000 other applicants! Speak to a careers advisor at you university and ask for advice about smaller, local companies that run graduate schemes. You’ll also have the advantage of knowing the local area better than some of the competition.

5) Leave ‘The Big One’ till last – if you have your sights set on a dream graduate scheme I would advise you apply for a similar scheme that’s less popular first. It’s likely that their application process will be similar and it’s great practice towards getting the one you really want.

If you enjoyed this article find out more about how to get a career in the retail here.