‘The only way to learn is by asking questions’

My career path: Stephen McGrath works for the property department at Lidl

Stephen McGrath: “Being given sole responsibility for key projects is a fantastic opportunity to develop those skills and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”

Stephen McGrath: “Being given sole responsibility for key projects is a fantastic opportunity to develop those skills and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”


What/where did you study and when did you graduate?

I studied a BSc in property economics at Dublin Institute of Technology and graduated in October 2017.

What attracted you to the role you now have?

When I initially began searching for employment in my final year of college, the Lidl Graduate Management Development Programme popped up in a number of lists. I was under the impression that, as it’s a retailer, the jobs would be sales-orientated and not suited to someone with my background but when you realise the number of streams or areas of the company that you can apply to, you realise how diverse the business is, and that was my initial attraction to the company.

I did some research on the individual roles within the property department and I felt it was an exciting job where I could learn and gain valuable experience in property and land acquisitions and also in construction. I’ve been with the company for a year now and I’ve had the opportunity to lead and manage major projects for the company – most notable for me being the rebuild of our Fortunestown store in Dublin.

A steep learning curve? Yes! But managerial development is one of the key aspects of the graduate programme and being given sole responsibility for key projects is a fantastic opportunity to develop those skills and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

What did you find most challenging about the working world?

Routine and responsibility. But it’s something you quickly get used to and it becomes normality after a short time. I have to take ownership of how efficiently a project or task is completed and that responsibility, while daunting at first, is rewarding when you see the fruits of your labour.

The programme begins with three fast-paced months of operational training in-store, learning about the core principles of the retail business. The opportunity is there to get experience and responsibility at each level within a store team right up to store manager and district area manager. It’s a great chance to get stuck in and get a real understanding of how the business operates.

While challenging at first, it was a huge benefit to me when I returned to the property department as I understood how changes or decisions that are made within my department can directly affect our sales teams.

Do you have any mentors and if so what is their value to you?

I’m in the lucky position whereby I have two mentors while on the graduate programme. One is a graduate from the previous year’s intake who is available to help ease you into life at the company and put you in the right direction with any questions you might have. The other mentor I am assigned to is a director of the company and this not only puts me in direct contact with highly respected and knowledgeable individuals in the industry, there’s also the invaluable advice and guidance that I’ve received from regular meetings with them throughout the programme.

What is the most valuable thing you have learned since you joined the workforce?

It’s difficult to pinpoint one thing in particular, so three things which I have found equally as valuable are: working efficiently, problem-solving and gaining confidence. Efficiency is what makes Lidl a successful company and it’s a trait that everybody in the workforce is encouraged to develop.

As a project manager within the business, organising your time so you can get maximum output while minimising your workload is key to completing projects successfully and on time. The Fortunestown construction project I mentioned above was a huge task for me and I had to learn to divide my time appropriately. Every day something new appeared in front of me and I got put outside my comfort zone on a regular, if not a daily, basis but it was great and I quickly learned how to deal with unusual situations.

One piece of advice for graduates?

Everybody has started at the beginning at some point in their life so you’re not expected to know absolutely everything from the get-go. The only way to learn is by asking questions and there really isn’t a ‘stupid’ question. You will also make mistakes, that’s inevitable. It’s what you learn from them so that the same mistake doesn’t occur is when your real value comes through and then you’ll have the opportunity to give advice.