What to Look for in a Graduate Scheme: 10 Top Tips



So you’re in final year and probably thinking about what you will do with your life when you finish next summer. (By the way, it’s true: final year always goes by far too quickly, so it’s definitely a case of the sooner the better!)

Graduate schemes are great entry-level opportunities that are definitely worth considering. It’s a myth that graduate schemes are just for Business students – most of them are open to all subjects.

However, not all grad schemes are created equal. Just like when you were deciding which course and which uni to go to, different employers will offer different types of graduate schemes. Here are the top ten things to look out for when browsing:

  1. Structure
    Grad schemes come in different shapes and sizes. Some are known as ‘rotational’, which means shorter placements in different departments. So you might spend six months in Human Resources, six months in Marketing and then six months in Sales, and so on. This can be a great way of testing out which areas of a business you enjoy working for the most. However, you may want to get stuck into a particular area straight away, in which case a non-rotational grad scheme might be better. Also schemes can vary in length, but usually last one to three years, so you might want to think about how that fits in with your future plans.
  2. Flexibility
    Generally, larger employers offer a fixed structure and timetable, whereas smaller and medium sized organisations might have more flexibility. There are pros and cons to both: larger employers’ schemes might be more ‘tried and tested’ by previous graduates, whereas smaller employers might take your interests into account when mapping out the scheme – so think about what is more appealing to you.
  3. Location
    Do you have a specific location in mind, or can you be flexible? Some graduate schemes are based in one location, but rotational schemes often require you to move around the country. It’s also worth noting that grad schemes are mostly based in larger towns and cities, such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol. Check out the Target Jobs Career Location guide for lists of top employers in certain locations in the UK.
  4. Professional qualifications
    A real perk of some schemes is the opportunity to get additional qualifications, particularly if you pick something like Human Resources or Accounting. These tend to be funded which is a bonus, but of course you would need to commit to further study.
  5. Support and progression
    A key feature of grad schemes is CPD (continuing personal development) i.e. making sure you are learning, developing and progressing in the role. This often means things like training opportunities or having a mentor.
  6. What next?
    It’s worth considering where a grad scheme might take you. Some employers might expect you to stay within the company, but this is often not obligatory. Search for previous completers of the scheme on LinkedIn to see what they are doing now. Have they stayed within the company or have they moved on to pastures new?
  7. Insider perspectives
    The glossy pages of an employer’s graduate brochure or website might showcase some great stories of previous graduates who have done the scheme, but do some wider research to get a better picture. Use Glassdoor’ to check out reviews (TripAdvisor style) of employers. In addition, get networking with current grads on the scheme. Connect with them on LinkedIn and ask questions – or, if possible, talk to company reps at a graduate fair to find out what life is reeeeally like at that organisation.
  8. Number of opportunities
    The number of graduates an employer takes on each year can vary from 1 to 1200. However, this does not mean that only applying to organisations that take on thousands is the best tactic. These organisations tend to have dedicated graduate recruitment teams, which tends to lead to thousands of applications. Don’t let this put you off, but be aware of the competition you might face and make sure your application is top notch.
  9. The application process
    Grad schemes often have a lengthy and detailed recruitment process, which may include application forms, psychometric tests, phone or video interviews, assessment centres and an interview in person. Again, this shouldn’t put you off, but you should be prepared. As always, the advice is ‘quality not quantity’ – identify the grad you’re really interested in, and put all of your effort into making a brilliant application.
  10. Other benefits, including salary and courtesy cars!
    Employers want the best graduates to apply for their schemes. This often means they can offer great benefits, including a good starting salary and other benefits. Aldi is well-known for offering a £42k salary and a fully expensed Audi A4! Niiice!

Find out more about grad schemes on My Career, or book an appointment with a Careers Consultant. Remember, deadlines are often before Christmas, so make sure you look as early as possible in the autumn term.



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