Rags-to-riches stories make for fun movie plots, but they’re hardly realistic. Starting slowly, as a trainee in a graduate scheme, is statistically the best way to begin your career with a highly paid job that leads to even better things.
Compared to jobs secured through direct applications, graduate schemes provide better benefits, including bonuses, pension schemes, private healthcare options, and support for further education. They also typically offer greater opportunities to learn a diverse range of skills and to work in multiple roles, helping you learn how to write a graduate CV more quickly than a traditional career path would allow.
A well-developed graduate scheme lasts for roughly one year, during which you’ll be trained on skills pertinent to your role while gaining practical job experience. A few companies help in providing mentors for their graduates, however, most don’t. There are so many benefits of mentoring for a graduate which is why we can provide free mentoring sessions for those who don’t have access to one.
None of this support is offered entirely out of the goodness of an employer’s corporate heart. You’ll be expected to contribute, even when your assignments don’t speak specifically to your career goals. Not everyone warms to the idea of spending a year as a trainee, and a one-year graduate scheme does mean that you’ll be looking for a longer-term job in the near future. Still, the benefits of graduate schemes tend to greatly outweigh their drawbacks, especially if you play your cards right.
Graduate Schemes in Brief
Graduate recruitment schemes can vary significantly from sector to sector and organisation to organisation, but most have a few things in common. At a minimum, you’ll learn project management, people management, communication skills and negotiation tactics. More established schemes at larger employers typically support your work toward professional qualifications as well. Public institutions, financial services organisations, and accountancy firms, for example, tend to support well-developed graduate schemes geared toward helping participants gain the professional standing they need to build successful careers.
From the organisation’s point of view, graduate schemes are safe, efficient ways to audition especially promising talent. Because of this, they tend to treat participants rather well. You can expect to be assigned a mentor, typically a director or senior manager, to help guide your term as a trainee. Make the most of this relationship: your mentor is there to help ensure that your experience in the scheme helps you build the skills you’ll need to develop your career. Organisations with long-standing graduate recruitment schemes often complement this official mentorship with a ‘work buddy’, typically a younger employee who stayed on with the company after completing the graduate scheme themselves.
Toward the end of the scheme’s term, participants and mentors meet with other managers and executives to negotiate next steps. When participants stay on, they typically do so in junior management roles.
Finding the Right Graduate Scheme
Graduate schemes tend to be offered in more heavily populated cities, where companies are more established and the competition for highly qualified, highly promising graduates is fiercest. If you attended university in a smaller town or city, consider moving to a larger one if that’s what it takes to get on a solid graduate scheme.
At the same time, moving to (or staying in) a larger city means that you’ll face stiffer competition for placement in the best graduate schemes. To set yourself apart from the crowd, remember that your academic accomplishments are only part of the picture. Prospective employers will also value your extracurricular activities, from your interests and hobbies to any volunteer work you perform. Student work experience, of course, counts for quite a bit.
Don’t sell your experience short: any job you’ve held represents an opportunity to demonstrate your time-management and communication skills. Your very success in earning a university degree (or finding yourself on the brink of one) is proof of your ability to balance work, study, and socialising. Not everyone can rise to that challenge, and some schemes will place special emphasis on the soft skills that we all develop in university.
You may be up against 40 or 50 other candidates for a single spot in a graduate scheme, so be sure to treat your graduate interviews like you would any job interview; make sure to clue yourself up on interview tips to land your graduate job. Research each company and develop a solid understanding of how your background prepares you to make a difference there. You might be labelled a trainee, and you might find yourself running an errand or two and making photocopies for others, but to get on the fast track promised by a solid graduate-recruitment scheme, you’ll want the organisation that takes you on to know that you’re serious about pursuing a career there.
Along with a traditional interview, you may be asked to show your stuff in a group-assessment activity or two. Keep your poise in these situations: they tend to be designed to let you demonstrate how well you perform under pressure, and how productively you work with colleagues. You might also be asked to take a psychometric test assessing your suitability for the role in question, but this shouldn’t be too big a challenge. Such tests tend to be largely self-selecting, and if you are suited to a given role, your test results should attest to the fact.
Most importantly, your future employers will want to know that your skills, temperament, and goals align with the broader organisation. A graduate scheme represents a significant investment, and employers will want to know that you can balance a strong sense of self-motivation with the ability to work easily and productively with others. Prepare yourself to address those questions about yourself, and to ask some pertinent questions of your prospective employer, and in time you should find a place in the graduate recruitment scheme that best suits your current needs and future aspirations.