Business and Management

Business and management span many functions including finance, marketing and sales, logistics, strategy, HR, manufacturing and operations, and IT. Entry-level positions can provide early responsibility for leading people, managing  processes and looking after the bottom line. Graduates can also anticipate good salaries, excellent benefits and the possibility to live and work internationally with some organisations. 

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Graduates will find opportunities across many fields and industry sectors, notably fast moving consumer goods (FMCG), retail, public sector, energy and utilities, pharmaceuticals and healthcare, transport and leisure.

Generally speaking, management activities include:

  • Managing people, teams and processes, and taking responsibility for the outcomes.
  • Defining objectives and allocating resources to achieve objectives.
  • Recruiting, supervising, motivating and developing staff, to ensure effective teamworking.
  • Leadership and effective communication.
  • Controlling finances, including setting and managing budgets.
  • Project work and problem-solving, and resolving difficulties and dealing with complaints.
  • Managing change.

Given the breadth of possibilities within business and management, it makes sense to consider:

  1. The business sector(s), products or services that most appeal to you. 
  2. Which roles reflect your strengths and interests.
  3. The type and size of business you want to work in:
    • a major multi-national;
    • a national or regionally strong operator;
    • an SME (small and medium sized enterprises up to 250 people);
    • or even a dynamic start-up.

A Graduate Management Trainee (GMT) programme will usually last for two years or three years. Alongside some core training in business disciplines, new hires are likely to undertake a series of 6-month job rotations that provide hands on experience and a deeper understanding of different business functions and their place within the business. In a broad-based GMT programme, trainees will also have scope to use these rotations to decide where they wish to specialise.

Many companies with well established recruitment and development programmes will recruit into a number of different functional areas. For example, rather than a single generic GMT for all trainees, they will recruit separately into marketing, finance, operations, HR and other disciplines. Graduates should still expect an element of general management training coupled with a series of developmental rotations within their specialisation, and are likely to have the option to take at least one rotation in a complementary field or business area. 

Management and leadership opportunities aside, job titles across ‘business’ can vary significantly. It is important to understand the main facets of any programme that you are applying to, and to decipher the terminology. For example, business analyst roles may include assessing processes and systems, planning, problem-solving and business strategy, while a business development role will focus on driving growth and profitability and is likely to include client-facing and sales elements, whether this is B2B (business-to-business) or B2C (business-to-consumer).

An additional attraction of many business and management programmes is that they also include access, training and support to study for a professional qualification and/or memberships of professional bodies. When researching potential graduate programmes, be sure to check if you can expect support:

  • To study for a Diploma, Masters or other recognised qualification, which can underpin a career in a single organisation or provide a stepping stone to build a career in specialist area or function when moving between organisations.
  • To gain membership or work towards chartered status with a professional or industry body like the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) or the function's Chartered Institute, such as the CIPD [Personnel and Development, for HR professionals]; the CIM [Marketing]; and the CIMA [Management Accounting]). 

Full-time positions for finalists

Full-time positions are usually advertised during the summer before the final academic year starts. Vacancies may open in August or September, and deadlines are likely to fall between October and the end of Michaelmas term. The Oxford University Careers Fair and the Finance and Management Consultancy Careers Fair in Michaelmas term attract firms with business and management trainee opportunities. 

We recommend that students approaching their final year at Oxford begin their job search well ahead of any deadlines, using the summer vacation to research ideas, companies and options, and to take advantage of the advice and services provided by the Careers Service. 

Summer Internships

Applications for summer internships tend to open mid-way through Michaelmas or early Hilary term. Expect the recruitment process to be as rigorous as the one used for full-time hires. 

A summer internship can last 4-12 weeks and offers the chance for interns to gain business experience and showcase their skills in the workplace. Interns can also use their time to evaluate their interest in a sector, the role and the organisation.

Similarly, the organisation will get a much fuller understanding of an intern's ability and motivation. Many companies recruit heavily from their summer internship programmes, with a good summer performance leading to a full-time job offer at the end of the placement. For this reason, many of the most prominent summer internships programmes are only open to penultimate year students (ie. students returning to full time education as a finalist or students committed to a 1-year Masters programme).  

The vast majority of graduate level opportunities are in fact found in small or medium sized businesses rather than the large companies that run national recruitment campaigns. In addition to the companies that are seen 'on campus', students should extend their research in an industry sector(s) to uncover some of these smaller companies. If you expect to be 'home' for the long summer vacation, we recommend researching businesses in your local area. If you want experience at a company that doesn’t advertise internships, make a speculative application to ask if they need help with any tasks or projects during the vacation, or to arrange a visit or work shadowing to learn more.

Employers will be looking for an interest in both the role applied for and their field of business. They will also be looking for evidence of a broad set of skills, particularly the core transferable skills such as communication, team-working and self-management which are needed in nearly every role. Expect to be asked to demonstrate ability or potential in some of the following areas:

  • Collaboration and team working.
  • A capacity to lead and potential to supervise staff, including listening skills, influencing, good interpersonal skills.
  • Good oral (including presentation and public speaking) and written communication.
  • Numeracy and IT skills.
  • Ability to manage yourself and your work to deliver high quality work on time, including flexibility to adjust to changing circumstances.
  • Resilience and an ability to handle criticism.
  • Problem-solving, initiative and creativity.
  • 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, Executive Director for Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust and Oxford M.Phil politics 

Use extra-curricular commitments to develop skills 

The broad requirements of 'management roles' means that getting experience of any kind can help you build relevant skills and your confidence. Our briefing on Developing Your Employability Skills outlines many ideas and examples for how to enhance your skills through your extracurricular interests and activities. Suggestions include:  

  • Run a mini business that has to turn a profit, such as a theatrical production or a personal side-hustle buying and selling pre-loved clothes.
  • Apply for a place on our new Future Leaders Innovation Programme (FLIP) which includes formal qualification for the ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management.
  • Sign up for the Careers Service's Insight into Strategy and Management, to learn core elements of strategy, marketing, finance, and leadership 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).
  • Get involved with a relevant student society, such as the Oxford Guild or Oxford Women in Business - better still, join a committee and help to run events and build services for members.
  • Support work in your College or Department on admissions, or work as a peer counsellor, fundraisers or member of a your JCR/MCR or departmental consultative committee.  

Seeking industry or commercial experience 

As mentioned in the previous section, many companies with established graduate recruitment programmes also offer summer internships, and you can apply speculatively to firms that do not offer these opportunities. A few weeks working in an organisation helps you to build both experience and confidence. It can also provide a better understanding of the importance of people and culture in business.

If we consider the retail sector as an example, securing a graduate entry level job is not an easy option. Roles in district management, buying, merchandising and some head office will attract a lot of competition and it will be valuable to have some hands-on experience. Fortunately, there are plenty of possibilities :

  • 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.

So in this sector, some relevant experience in a front of store retail setting will certainly help in future applications. Even a humble backroom job can help you build your personal perspective on the wider business. Working in a distribution centre or warehouse, for example, offers a first-hand insight into how that role contributes to the business as a whole and the day-to-day reality, challenges and problems faced by the firm and its people. For example, you can begin to consider the management challenge of  'if I was in charge, what would I change around here?'

Because transferable skills are so important to general management and business roles, it is also a fact that experience in any setting can be used to improve applications. For example, even if you decide 'retail' is in not the right path for you, you will still have plenty to discuss in future interviews about teamworking, resilience, managing yourself and relationships with people from different backgrounds and so on in any other role or sector. 

General management and business roles can be found in across all kinds of organisations and business sectors. For example, project management, quality assurance and business roles are common in manufacturing companies and engineering firms of all kinds and so it is worthwhile scanning our relevant sector and industry briefings for the areas that interest you most. The ideas listed below are not intended to be comprehensive, but instead aim to provide some ideas to consider which lie outside the most visible sectors and businesses that come 'on campus' at Oxford and where there are many high quality and attractive graduate management programmes. 

Public sector

The public sector embraces an enormous variety of organisations and roles and there are many options for graduates who want to work in the public sector. Alongside specialist roles  (e.g., economist, researcher or communications professional) there are general management programmes offering substantial early levels of responsibility, and which often include either professional memberships or support to take management qualifications or a relevant MA or MSc.

See our briefing for Government and Public Services for fuller details of programmes like:

  • the NHS Management Scheme, preparing graduates to work as a health service manager in finance, health informatics, HR or general management;
  • the National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP),  for graduates who want to work in local government;
  • the Unlocked Graduates (Prison Service), Police Now (Metropolitan Police); Think Ahead and Frontline Programmes (Social Services).  

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

Due to intense competition, these two sectors tend to be exciting and dynamic places for graduates to build a career. As commercial businesses with a central focus on meeting customer expectations, graduate roles frequently involve leading and managing teams as well as managing budgets, planning logistics and securing supply chains, making purchasing decision,  leading marketing and in-store merchandising, pricing, stock control and more.

The Retail sector includes big brand name supermarkets, from Tesco to Aldi and Lidl, to stalwarts of the high street retailing, and specialist retailers. There are also big online players including Amazon and Ocado. Roles beyond managing stores and whole districts include purchasing, merchandising, operations and logistics, as well as core services like HR, marketing, finance, estates and general management.  

FMCG - Fast Moving Consumer Goods - refers to the companies that put the brands on the shelf, whether it is food giants like Nestle, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Mars, Unilever or Kraft-Heinz or other brand sectors, led by hugely successful firms such as Procter and Gamble (PnG); L'Oreal; Reckitt Benkiser or GSK Consumer Healthcare. 

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; and Reed Exhibitions. Follow the link for for more information on careers in event management.

If you are interested in this sector, getting experience through summer jobs or even helping out in the College bar is a start, or take your student activities up a notch by getting involved in the leadership of a college ball. Consider other hospitality options for your vacations (such as virtual escape rooms, wine tasting and even careers fairs) or a summer job in a resort, a cruise ship or pop-up food stall at a local festival or event. Approach organisations you like directly for experience or putting together a research project on a particular area of the market to understand what drives the business.

Building your career over time 

Looking further ahead, if your aim is to reach the top of an organisation, for example as a managing director or other member of the C-suite (ie. Board level, which includes CEO; Chief Finance Officer; Chief Operating Officer etc), there are many possible paths.

Most large companies will look for someone with experience in more than one management discipline. This is reflected in the use of different job rotations for new graduates, and you should also anticipate times later in your career where you may need or want to move laterally to broaden your expertise and knowledge rather than always expecting your development to involve  'upward promotion'.

Some companies make a virtue of growing their talent and aim to fill senior positions exclusively by internal promotion, so be sure to tune yourself in to the organisation's (or sector's) ethos and culture. That said, many graduates will find that well-timed moves between companies can accelerate progression and career growth, and it is not uncommon for graduates to purposefully move companies after 2 or 3 years ' experience. 

Where to find vacancies

Large international companies offering high-quality graduate management schemes will generally have a high profile nationally during late summer and Michaelmas term, but they may not actively target Oxford for 'on campus recruitment'. Start researching your ideas and potential target companies early, preferably before the Oxford academic year starts as deadlines can be as early as October and November. Use companies' career pages, follow them on social media and register for alerts and updates to make sure you here about events and information sessions and opportunities as they are published.  

The careers fairs at Oxford are a major opportunity to meet a diverse range of companies, their recruiters and recent graduate recruits in order to compare and contrast opportunities. In particular, make time to attend the Oxford Careers Fair at the very beginning of Michaelmas term each year.

In addition to using the vacancies lists on Oxford's CareerConnect, use the national graduate careers websites as a primary source of job vacancies. Websites like Targetjobs; Milkround​​, ​Prospects and Gradcracker carry 1000s of opportunities and sites like The Times Top 100 and the UK 300 can help you quickly understand the range and variety of the largest companies that recruit to graduate programmes. See the links listed below in the External Resources section.

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 that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers.

Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

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 visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act  and the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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