Michelle Mendelson, Recruitment manager for Marks and Spencer in UK and Europe.

Marks and Spencer has one of the largest graduate recruitment schemes, if not the largest, in retail in this country. We have taken in graduate trainees since the 1940s and the scheme has been running for over 20 years.

The scheme is to train people for managerial positions. Although it is not exclusively open to graduates, the vast majority tend to come from university. For example, this year we recruited 330 graduates and 83 school leavers, and the ratio is expected to be similar for 1999/2000.

We believe very strongly that an individual's skills are as important, if not more important, that their degree qualifications. When we are searching for graduates we do not look for people with degrees in specific subjects like business studies or economics, but at all degree subjects. What is important is an individual's ability to provide leadership. We look at organisational skills, enthusiasm and job motivation.

The advantage of going to university is that the individual has three years to develop. During that time they have much more opportunity to demonstrate and fine tune their skills than most school leavers do.

We also find that graduates have more confidence to take decisions and act on them than non-graduates, and their social skills make them more adept at leading teams and motivating staff.