What does it do?

A better question would be: what doesn't it do? In establishing itself as the pre-eminent British supermarket chain, Tesco has moved from selling food into scores of other markets, including clothes, electronics, financial services, selling and renting DVDs, music downloads, and phone and internet services. Its market share in the UK is now estimated to be more than 30 per cent, attracting about an eighth of all money spent in British retailing. It's also now the fourth biggest retailer in the world, already operating in Europe and Asia, and planning a move into the US this year. As with all giant shopping empires, the start was modest. In 1929, Jack Cohen, the son of a Polish-Jewish tailor opened the first Tesco store in North London, selling only food.

Vital statistics

More than 260,000 staff work in nearly 2,000 stores and distribution centres across the UK. Profits have soared in the past decade. They currently stand at £2.2bn, a 17 per cent rise on last year. Turnover is a mouth-watering £38bn.

The office

The head office is in Delamare Road, Cheshunt, in Hertfordshire. Older readers will remember Delamare as the brand-name for Tesco clothing in the 1970s.

Is this you?

A business of this size has a big appetite for new recruits. Around 280 graduates are taken on every year, into 14 different training schemes, most associated with general management, but some aimed at niche areas, such as pharmacy, research and the website.

The recruitment process

Each programme has a different application process and time frame; details at www.tesco.com/careers. In all cases your skills and strengths will be judged against a "competency framework", which probes nine "key behaviours", linked to success in the workplace. Not surprisingly, given this jargon-filled approach, applicants also undergo psychometric testing, and you're advised to practise sample tests, perhaps at university, before submitting yourself to what Tesco's shrinks have dreamt up. Training lasts between 12 and 24 months, according to department, but all recruits experience plenty of different areas of the business. Typical office programmes have a two-week induction, eight weeks in store and two project placements. All trainees spend time in stores, to further understand the customer perspective.

Top dollar?

The minimum starting salary is £21,500, but you get paid more in some areas. Finance and IT roles, for example, start nearer £25,000.

Beam me up Scotty?

Progress can be fast. Graduates can be running a store of 1,000 employees three to five years after their training.

Who's the boss?

Sir Terry Leahy, chief executive since 1997, joined Tesco straight from UMIST in 1979. He grew up on a modest council estate in Liverpool.

Little known fact

The store's name has its origins in one of Jack Cohen's first deals. In 1924, he bought a shipment of tea from a firm called T E Stockwell. He then made labels, using the first three letters of the supplier's name and the first two of his own, to produce TESCO.