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Role Definitions

The retail and hospitality industries have many varied and exciting roles to offer: (Job title links to job profile).

Buying

Retail success is based upon having the right product in the right store at the right price. The buying team plays a crucial role in this by developing and delivering a profitable product range, comprising items that customers want to buy at a price they are willing to pay. As a Buyer, you'll evaluate available products and decide which can most profitably be offered to customers. You'll then negotiate the best possible price with suppliers.
Buyers in many organisations also have responsibility for quality control, in-store displays and brand management. To pursue a career in buying you'll need to be a commercially astute, relatively numerate graduate with some shop floor experience. It's also essential that you have a real affinity for the products you buy - whether it be fashion, food, homewares or DIY.

Routes into Buying

Though exact titles may vary slightly from company to company, you will most likely start out as a Buyer's Assistant, a Buyer's Administrator or even a Buyer's Admin Assistant working on a specific product area with a Buying Team. Although Buyers have a lot of say in what actually goes into the stores, you won't be attending top fashion shows at this stage!

What you will be doing

From the start you will be supporting the team by carrying out administrative duties as well as helping to set up and monitor the critical path for each product right from product development to delivery into the warehouse. You may also be required to gather information about the market, looking at competitor and customer activity in order to help influence the buying decisions.
You will learn about the buying process and how to build a balanced and commercial range based on customer purchasing patterns.

Skills required

Ideally you should have a degree related to the product in which you want to specialise (so if you're looking to get into fashion it's helpful to have a related qualification) as well as some retail experience. It is also an advantage to have done some work experience in a head office environment.
Other than that, you will need to demonstrate commercial awareness, good communication and organisational skills, resilience, enthusiasm and be able to work as part of a close-knit, fast paced team.

What now?

Buying is often part of a company's graduate scheme, click here to see which retailers offer this.
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

Merchandising

Merchandisers work alongside Buyers at head office and are the people who hold the departmental purse strings, analysing historical sales and stock information as well as current trends. By forecasting sales and stock requirements, you determine how much a buyer can spend on items for the coming seasons. By analysing market information and statistics, you'll also decide which stores will offer which product lines in order to maximise profitability. You'll be a retail-aware graduate with confident communication skills, very sound numerical abilities and a strong commercial streak.

Routes into Merchandising

Graduates start their careers at either Allocator or Merchandise (Admin) Assistant level. These first stages help you learn the ground rules of the business and all the merchandising principles.

What you will be doing

Your main responsibility will be the analysis of data and assisting the Merchandiser in following the merchandise plans by allocating stock to the stores. You may also be given responsibility for chasing suppliers for delivery of stock to the right place at the right time. As the stock will come from several suppliers, sending out thousands of units at different times this is a very complex, logistical role.

Skills required

It is essential that you have a numerate degree, such as maths, statistics, finance, business studies, etc. Some retail experience is also helpful, but you must be analytical, a good communicator, resilient, computer literate and have strong commercial awareness.

Where do I go from here?

Merchandising roles are often offered through a company’s graduate scheme, click here to see which retailers are offering positions in this function. You may want to look at mail order operations as well as high street firms. When searching for jobs, look out for titles such as stock controller, distributor and allocator as these are all terms for merchandisers.

Visual Merchandising

Visual Merchandisers work in stores to present the merchandise in a manner that is not only attractive but also actively influences customer buying behaviour. Their tasks range from designing window displays to planning the store layout and graphics. This role is a combination of creative design flair and commercial acumen that will inspire customers to buy and help lead them towards selected products.

Routes into Visual Merchandising

There are many routes into Visual Merchandising, not all of them obvious. Some people take qualifications in VM whilst working for their company in another capacity, either at head office or in store. Alternatively, you can join a graduate training scheme or join as a VM Assistant if you already hold a relevant qualification such as visual and/or fashion merchandising, graphic design, fine art etc.

What you will be doing

Joining as a VM Assistant, your job will be to assist the Visual Merchandiser in creating and maintaining an image for a department or even an entire store that increases traffic and increases the appeal of merchandise to customers.

Skills required

You should have a degree in an arts-related subject and be able to demonstrate good creative flair. Retail experience is extremely useful, as you will need to combine your artistic nature with commercial acumen and a knowledge of consumers' shopping patterns. An additional qualification in psychology would be a bonus (although far from a necessity). Otherwise, skills you should possess are: design skills/visual flair, a solid knowledge of the product and a good grasp on industry trends. It is also important that you have good communication and teamwork skills.

Where do I go from here?

You can either apply to a company’s graduate scheme, click here to see which retailers offer graduate level merchandising roles.
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

Design

The job of a Designer is to stay in tune with the latest trends and predict what customers will want to buy up to two seasons in advance. You'll then work closely with the buying team to translate your ideas into actual product ranges. You'll need to monitor the changing face of products through magazines, catwalks, design fairs, films and TV and in other popular culture, as well as closely monitoring competitors both at home and abroad. To get started in this field, you'll need a fashion or textile degree with design content, a designer's 'eye' (with a portfolio to demonstrate it) as well as the commercial acumen to temper your design flair. You should also have gained some retail or head office experience and have spent your placement year proving your drive and desire to work in the industry.

Routes into Design

Design is one of the more complicated areas to employers, whether in-house or an outsourced company, will be reluctant to hire a designer who has no previous experience in the industry, so work experience of any kind will play a key role here.

What you will be doing

Typically, you will begin your career as an assistant – expect to perform basis administration duties such as chasing down fabric samples and making up sample cards, but expect to be doing the filing and making the tea for a while!

Skills required

You should have a degree in an arts-related subject, especially fashion, textiles, knitwear, graphic design, clothing technology or fashion marketing/buying and be able to demonstrate above-average creative flair. You should be able to work well in a team and should be prepared to take on work experience to increase your chances of permanent employment.

Where do I go from here?

As this is an extremely competitive field, any additional qualification will greatly improve your chances to stand out from the pack. You should also make the most of any contacts you have in the industry.
To find out which employers look for design roles in their graduate schemes, click here.
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

Wholesale

An umbrella term encompassing a broad spectrum of roles, wholesale has opportunities in areas such as sales, merchandising and imports and exports. In most cases, the wholesale function will be involved at some stage in the buying cycle, from overseeing the manufacture of goods to the release of products into retail circulation. For most wholesale roles, a relevant fashion or business degree is essential, combined with some sound experience in a wholesale or retail head office environment. However, graduate wholesale sales opportunities are few and far between as these professionals tend to start their career in sales administration.

Technical and Production

Technologists are responsible for ensuring that all products supplied meet the legal requirements and the specifications set out and agreed by the buyers. The requirements for these opportunities vary hugely depending on the type of technical role. For example, graduates entering a technological product environment could come from an engineering or food background, while garment technologists will need a fashion or textile degree. Whatever qualifications you hold, they will need to be underpinned by a weighty industrial placement in a relevant product environment.

Routes into Technical roles

As the name suggests, this is a technical role that would suit someone of an analytical and logical disposition. Their role is to carry out quality control work on products to ensure that they perform to expectations and meet the standards required in both quality and safety.
Depending on which sector they work in, a technologist will also investigate and test new products and the materials used in those products.

What you will be doing

Trainees in technical roles are often responsible for a particular area within the main category. However, this role will vary greatly depending on the size of the company and the industry sector (food, clothing etc).

Skills required

Relevant degrees or the equivalent are essential in this role. Suitable subjects include; chemical and physical sciences, textile technology/science, computing and mathematics, quality management, production/manufacturing engineering or materials science/technology. Some companies may also require practical experience. Other skills you should possess include; technical knowledge and practical skills, the ability to liaise with colleagues of all levels of seniority, the ability to solve problems, computer literacy and organisational skills.

Where do I go from here?

If you haven’t got an appropriate degree, entry is still possible, but you will need other, vocational qualifications and more practical experience than graduates with a scientific/mathematical degree.
Some retailers may offer a chance to progress in a technologist role within their graduate schemes, for more information click here.
Or find technical and production roles on InRetail here. click here.

Marketing and PR

Marketing and PR (Public Relations) involves a wide range of activities that involve both feeding customers' views into the business and promoting products in order to drive sales. For example, you'll gain an in-depth understanding of what customers want by researching consumer markets and conducting customer satisfaction questionnaires. You'll also need to monitor press and magazine coverage for your brand and try to promote your products wherever and whenever you feel appropriate. Marketing is dynamic, exciting and often enjoyably stressful! You will need some retail experience and a good degree to enter this fiercely competitive market.

Routes into Marketing and PR

Because marketing and PR are such competitive sectors, having a degree is becoming increasingly more important, particularly in marketing, communications, business management, PR and information systems. More generalist degrees such as English may be useful too. Positions in Marketing and PR could be either in-house or with an outside agency.

What you will be doing

You must be prepared to hit the ground running in this role, as the department will be working on various projects such as advertising campaigns, writing and sending press releases, preparing photo shoots, sourcing and sending marketing materials and analysing data to ensure the campaigns are a success. You will likely start out as a Marketing Assistant or Executive.

Skills required

Relevant degrees or the equivalent are becoming the norm in this sector, although a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) course may put you in front of the pack. The most important thing that employers will look for, however, is experience. You will need to show commitment and a willingness to invest in your career. You will need to have a strong understanding of the product you are representing and well as a good head for figures if you plan on going into marketing. In PR it is also important that you are a strong team player and it helps to be outgoing and able to talk to anyone.

Where do I go from here?

The best way in is to get some work experience (paid if you’re lucky but this is rare) and if you don't have a relevant qualification you will need to consider which of your skills can be transferred into a Marketing /PR role. Graduate training schemes do feature Marketing and PR roles but places are in high demand so be prepared to fight your corner. For more information click here.
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

Retail and Hospitality Operations

These are the ground staff, who have the most contact with customers and the most control over the everyday running of their branch. This means a lot of satisfaction as you will be on the front line in terms of the day-to-day running of the business but it also means a lot of responsibility and consequently a lot of pressure.

What you will be doing

Roles in operations include everything from part time shop-floor workers and hotel, gym or resort receptionists to management level positions.
In a more senior roles you will take responsibility for all stock, profit and loss, and staff, along with any other issues that affect the day-to-day running of the store. You will still deal with customers on a daily basis therefore you will need to enjoy doing so! These are very responsible roles, as you'll often be expected to run an outlet as if it was your own business, which is great when things are going well but can require tenacity and resilience.

Skills required

Careers in retail and hospitality operations suit talented all-rounders who love to sell, who enjoy managing and working with people and who are not afraid to lead a commercial business. You don't need to be a graduate to enter retail management; it's your drive, commitment and retail flair that really count.

Where do I go from here?

If you joined the company on a part-time basis to see you through your studies, it is possible to work your way up the ladder. Alternatively, if you apply to join a graduate training scheme, you will usually be fast-tracked to a management position. For more information click here.

Distribution

Distribution (also known as supply chain or logistics) is all about delivering the right goods to the right place at the right time. You will be responsible for maximising profit through supply management - too much stock and you'll increase costs through wastage, too little and you risk losing profit as demand outstrips supply.

Routes into Distribution

In distribution, a degree will often increase your chances of success in securing an entry-level job in this field, this is not always the case. Traditionally, entry without a degree or an equivalent qualification has been fairly common, but this is likely to change as more degrees, HNDs and postgraduate qualifications become available in this sector and raise the bar for entry-level requirements. Degrees which might help to improve your chances include: business/management or business with languages/economics, science and geography, information systems/computing and transport/distribution/logistics.

What you will be doing

Entry-level roles are often focussed on goods distribution, assisting to manage storage centres or specific customer contracts. As you progress, you will usually move into general management of larger units or further specialised roles. Senior positions involve business development and overseeing the management of an organisation's other resources such as labour, information, capital and facilities, and other business functions. More senior roles are likely to involve travel and research overseas.

Skills required

You need to be numerate, analytical and enjoy working with figures and solving problems.
As the distribution function is an integral part of the business, you'll need to be able to communicate effectively at all levels in order to deliver the best results.

Where do I go from here?

Larger retailers often have graduate training schemes that allow graduates to experience a range of roles covered by logistics and distribution.
For more information click here
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

Human Resources

The recruitment, development and retention of employees is a crucial factor in the overall performance of any business. The HR profession covers training and development, recruitment, pay and benefits, career development and the overall corporate care of employees. The roles will usually involve liaising with people at all levels throughout the business, as well as supporting management teams on the full range of HR issues, so you'll need to be a credible, persuasive communicator. To be really successful in this field, a genuine interest in people is essential.

Routes into HR

There are many ways of getting into the HR sector. As well as the many graduate recruitment schemes offered by retailers, entry-level HR and personnel roles are often advertised, usually requiring good degrees and relevant skills, discussed below. Work experience and internships are often useful to gain experience, but are not very common. It is possible to gain experience through temporary work in administrative roles or by sending speculative applications to larger companies.

What you will be doing

Starting out, you will work in a junior role, often referred to as an "officer", for example HR officer, personnel/office manager, training and development officer, employee relations officer etc. You will work closely with all departments in assisting line managers to implement policies and procedures, promote equality and diversity, recruit staff, perform payroll duties and maintain records relating to staff.

Skills required

Clearly people skills are of utmost importance in this role, but you will also need excellent communication/interpersonal skills, organisational and IT skills and the ability to work under pressure and to targets. An understanding of how organisations operate and some and some administration experience is also useful.

Where do I go from here?

Larger retailers often have graduate training schemes that allow graduates to experience a range of roles covered by HR and recruitment, for more information click here.
Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.

IT/Information Systems

These roles are all about harnessing developing technology and using it to help the business achieve its commercial objectives. You might be creating databases, programming new systems, keeping the networks active or rolling-out a new system for the entire business. Whatever your speciality, you'll need to work closely with all departments to deliver and support IT solutions that help the business satisfy their customers.

Routes into IT/Information Systems

Although this area is open to all graduates with relevant experience and ICT skills, a degree or equivalent in information technology is preferable. Qualifications in business management with computer science, software engineering, information science or computing will give you a distinct advantage. You may eve find that a postgraduate qualification is necessary to put you ahead of the pack.

What you will be doing

Even if you have a degree and experience in ICT, you are extremely unlikely to enter the sector at management level. Therefore you will start out by supporting the systems/IT team and must be comfortable working with people at all levels of the organisation. This will involve all manner of systems and ICT needs across the business and your day-to-day tasks will vary widely given the size and nature of the business.

Skills required

You'll need to offer a suitable IT qualification, have - or be eager to develop - a business-focused perspective and enjoy logical problem solving. You should also be able to work in a team and have good organisational skills to manage heavy workload.

Where do I go from here?

As competition is fierce for these roles, an internship might be the best place to start in order to gain experience. Alternatively, if you think that you can prove that you have enough experience and the relevant skills, some larger retailers have graduate recruitment schemes with IT/Information Systems positions available. Click here to find out more. Alternatively, if you believe you have the skills required, click here to search InRetail for entry-level jobs.