Business and Management

Opportunities in business and management span a wide range of functions including strategy, HR, IT, finance, marketing, logistics and sales. Many Oxford graduates enter this sector for a career with prospects of early management responsibility, high salaries and excellent benefits, and the possibility of working globally.

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Given the breadth of roles available within business and management, it makes sense to consider the type of business you want to work in (small tech start-up to major supermarket chain) and the sort of role that appeals to your strengths and interests. Generally speaking, management activities include:

  • Defining objectives, allocating resources, meeting targets and taking responsibility for the outcome.
  • Project work.
  • Recruiting, supervising, motivating and developing staff, to ensure effective teamworking.
  • Effective communication.
  • Controlling finances and managing budgets.
  • Problem-solving and dealing with complaints.
  • Managing change.

The opportunity to enter general management is often seen as a stepping stone that in time can either remain as a standalone function particularly in a manufacturing or retail organisation or to carve a particular professional route in one area. Graduates can be recruited by a variety of industries and sectors such as consumer goods, retail, energy, healthcare, transport and leisure. Management and leadership opportunities aside, job titles across ‘business’ can vary significantly and so deciphering what is involved in the role is crucial; if strategy and problem-solving really appeals look out for business analyst graduate roles and for growing a business (including sales) look out for business development executive roles.

Many organisations offer management positions within specific areas, such as technology, marketing, finance, human resources or distribution, all of which have an element of general management work within them. However a high proportion of graduate schemes offer the chance to try different ‘rotations’ over the course of two years before deciding to specialise. Competition for these schemes can be intense. Many of these opportunities will open in September with deadlines towards the end of Michaelmas term. Students who have gained commercial insight via an internship or position of responsibility during their degree are likely to be at an advantage when applying for rotational graduate schemes or management roles. Demonstrating motivation for the business you apply to is essential, as is showing your ability to work with people and build relationships.

Deadlines for internship schemes, usually aimed at penultimate year students, also tend to be in Michaelmas or early Hilary term. If you want to gain some experience in a company that doesn’t appear to advertise an internship, approach them speculatively for some experience or a shadowing opportunity. While multinational corporations offer a number of internships and graduate roles, it’s worth remembering that the majority of businesses are small or medium sized, in which case research businesses in your local area and find out if you can help out with any office tasks or projects during the vacation.

Looking further ahead, if your aim is to reach the managing director role in an organisation, most large companies will look for someone with experience in more than one management area and in more than one company so be prepared to work in different businesses across the industry.

Skills needed

Employers are looking for a broad range of skills. You will need to demonstrate skills or, if not, potential in the following areas:

  • Commercial awareness, combined with an ability to think strategically and to plan ahead.
  • Awareness of globalisation and cross-cultural issues.
  • Strong leadership
  • Flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances while still meeting targets or deadlines.
  • Good oral (including presentation and public speaking) and written communication.
  • Numeracy and IT skills.
  • Potential to supervise staff, including listening skills, influencing, team-working and good interpersonal skills.
  • Resilience and an ability to handle criticism.
  • Decision-making and problem-solving.
  • Empathy and diplomacy.


Focus on your strengths and what you enjoy. Everybody has something they excel at and like – build on this rather than focusing on what you struggle with.

Amelie Bages, Oxford politics graduate, NHS graduate schemer  and now Head of Mental Health Delivery at NHS England

How to secure experience

Getting some form of management work experience is valuable. The extra insight, the sense of confidence you will feel in your career choice, and the evidence of commitment which it will demonstrate, is useful.

Many of the large global recruiters offer internships in general/commercial management roles: for all these types of vacancies, search CareerConnect.

If you are unable to get into management roles, then think laterally. Getting experience in any role that will improve your communication skills, team-working and organisational skills will be invaluable.

Gaining experience in the retail sector

Securing a job in retail isn’t an easy option! Some of the Head Office roles in particular are as competitive. Getting relevant experience in a retail setting will certainly help with future applications (in some cases it is essential) and will also help you to decide if this is the right path for you. There are plenty of possibilities for this sort of work.

  • Many retailers provide formal, paid work experience placements.
  • Target your local retailers/retail parks for vacation work or use retail specific (online) recruitment agencies to find these opportunities. Bear in mind that you may need to apply 4-5 months in advance for these sorts of opportunities as retailers cannot afford to run the risk of being understaffed at such critical times.
  • Take part in the Oxford Careers Service's Summer Internship Programme and the Micro-Internship Programme. Both offer management management and business insights. 
  • Check out the opportunities that we regularly advertise on CareerConnect.
  • Try some speculative approaches to retailers’ head office HR or graduate teams. If a retailer does not offer a formal scheme for students, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested in either offering some work shadowing or even some paid work for a particular project.
  • Volunteer in your local charity shop or any other setting offering customer service.
  • If you have an idea of a product to sell set up your own online retail shop via etsy or amazon for example.

Extra-curricular commitments develop skills too 

  • Run a mini business that has to turn a profit, such as a theatrical production or a college ball.
  • Make use of The Oxford Foundry, an entrepreneurial centre for Oxford students.
  • Sign up for the Careers Service's Insight into Strategy and Management, to learn core elements of strategy, marketing and management and learn how to build a profit and loss account.
  • Join The Oxford Strategy Challenge for an insight into the challenges faced by businesses and for the opportunity to work with a team to develop a strategy.
  • Become a Campus Ambassador for a large company (many employers advertise these via CareerConnect).
  • Sign up for other relevant student organisations such as the Oxford Strategy Group and Oxford Women in Business.

The main sectors that offer general management roles are:

Public sector

There are increasing opportunities for graduates who want to work in the public sector, the NHS, civil service, local government and the armed forces. The NHS Management Scheme aims to prepare graduates to work as a health service manager in finance, health informatics, HR or general management. The National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP) and the Civil Service Fast Stream are intended for graduates who want to work in UK national and local government.

Graduates interested in the military can apply to join The Army, Royal Navy or Royal Air Force at officer level – the management role within military.

Retail banking and insurance

Retail banking (also known as high street banking) is a good choice for those with managerial plans who would thrive in a fast-paced financial environment. Large retail banks, building societies and supermarkets offering financial services often run graduate schemes and many do not require a background in finance or a related degree programme.

The insurance sector is known for providing generalist graduate programmes, where typically you will be experiencing three or four rotations in different departments (e.g. risk management, underwriting and brokerage), gaining a broad understanding of the sector over a two-year period. At the end of the programme, you will then be able to specialise.

Retail and FMCG sector

This function and sector is experiencing increasing growth, especially online retailers and supermarkets in the current global climate. Going into this sector does not mean you will be shelf-stacking. Rather, you would be helping to manage budgets, international operations, secure supply chains, overseeing pricing and stock control and leading a team. Many global companies, such as Ocado, P&G, Unilever, Tesco and Lidl, run graduate leadership schemes.

Logistics and operations

As a graduate you will be involved in managing a multi-disciplinary team that will range from IT and stock control to distribution. Most opportunities are through a general management trainee scheme and then onto a management role in your preferred area (examples of these specialised areas may be in property, warehouse, distribution, etc.).

Hospitality and leisure

The hospitality and leisure industry is all about the consumer, so if you want a customer-facing management role that requires the ability to think quickly and decisively, then this sector may be for you. Many large hotel groups and hospitality focused companies run general graduate trainee schemes such as:

  • Hilton Hotels and Resorts
  • Marriott International (hotels)
  • Merlin Entertainments (attractions such as Alton Towers and SEA LIFE)
  • Whitbread (includes Costa Coffee and Premier Inn).

If you are considering hospitality and leisure you may also be thinking about management in the events sector. Event management companies that recruit graduates include:

  • Clarion Events
  • London Business Conferences
  • Reed Exhibitions.

See here for more information and advice about event management.

If you are interested in this sector, getting physical experience during the Covid-19 crisis may be a challenge, however you can use this time to engage with virtual hospitality offerings (such as virtual escape rooms, parties, wine tasting and even careers fairs). It will be a good experience to see how agile and entrepreneurial organisations have adjusted to the crisis and how they respond to changing demands. You can approach organisations you like directly for experience or put together your own research project on a particular area of the market.

Where to find vacancies

Careers fairs are a major source of vacancies for those looking at general management. A key fair to attend is the Oxford Careers Fair in Michaelmas term, where you will be able to see a diverse range of recruiters and therefore be able to compare and contrast opportunities. Large international companies offering high-quality training schemes will generally have a high profile during Michaelmas term, with opportunities mostly filled before Easter. Some have deadlines as early as November.

The primary sources of job vacancies are, Milkround, CareerConnectProspectsThe Times Top 100 and the UK 300.  

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and Insight events and many are being recognized for their approach to being inclusive employers. To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability,  gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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