Most graduates dread the day when they find themselves wandering the budget supermarket aisles seeking out cheap fortified wine but for Francesca Haynes, 27, it's a dream come true.
Haynes' academic CV is an impressive one. From York originally, she has a BA in Asia Pacific studies with politics, an MA in Chinese and an MSc in management – but she still does her shopping at Aldi.
Haynes is an area manager on the Aldi graduate scheme, responsible for eight stores, which will be increasing to nine in February. She came across the scheme in her final year at university. "I was specifically interested in a management role," she says, "and Aldi stood out as it was combined with retail – an area I have worked in since I was 14."
The German supermarket, which was established in 1948 in the town of Essen, operates about 7,500 individual stores worldwide. The first Aldi store in the UK opened in Birmingham in 1990 and there are now more than 400 in the UK. Formerly suffering from a reputation as being cheap and cheesy, it was the butt of many "cut-price-wine" jokes. But the supermarket has achieved kudos in the UK by stealth and is now the shop of choice for budget-aware recessionistas. It won Grocer Of The Year and Discounter Of The Year at the 2009 Grocer Gold Awards, the Oscars of the retail sector and wiped out its competitors at the 2009 British Frozen Food Federation awards, with seven awards in five categories. The economic downturn has sent more and more pleasantly surprised customers scurrying its way and its reputation as an employer is beginning to outstrip its rivals.
Haynes loves the leadership and team integration that the Aldi scheme offers and turned down a different role with a leading global company. "Because Aldi has demonstrated such high levels of business success I knew it was the right place to develop a career with longevity," she says. One of the other things that attracts graduates to the Aldi scheme is the responsibility. "From your first day you really feel you're making a difference to the company," says Haynes.
Her day is never typical: she will usually visit some of the stores and catch up with the staff before going on a store walk with the managers to assess the quality of the products. There is the obligatory paperwork and overseeing group interviews. "Being involved in everything is very important to me, from talking to head office to recruiting our new staff," she says. "The people I work with are what makes my job so fulfilling, and I like to be involved in any additions we make to the team."
Aldi has increased its graduate intake for 2009-10 and is looking to recruit 130 graduates for its area manager training scheme. But it's no cakewalk, says Dan Ronald, regional managing director responsible for graduate recruitment. "Our expectations may be high but so is the level of job satisfaction."
Aldi is looking for graduates with an upper second class degree and with the energy, drive and enthusiasm to seize high levels of responsibility from day one. "They need to make an impact immediately," says Ronald.
The successful Aldi area manager is someone with influential personal qualities that allow them to bring the best out of their teams and motivate others to increased success, he adds.
In 2009 the Aldi scheme had more than 200 applicants per place and it is not hard to see why. The scheme offers a starting salary of £40,000, rising in increments to £60,000 after three years, together with an Audi A4 company car, a pension, life assurance, health cover and 25 days' holiday."
In addition, says Ronald, within a year of joining, a successful candidate should be managing a group of stores and be responsible for the financial decision-making, retail planning and people leadership.
Aldi now recruits all its senior management through its graduate scheme simply, says Ronald, because the business philosophy is to have the highest-calibre individuals and reward them above the market rate. In a market where any graduate job's a bonus, that isn't half bad.
The Aldi appeal
Starting salary: £40,000 (rising to £60,000 after three years)
Twenty-five days' holiday