Your studies will only teach you so much about how businesses operate, and how you fit in to the world of work beyond university. Graduate management schemes offer a chance to put your knowledge to work, often on important projects that will have you working with senior leaders.
Some graduates move straight into permanent roles with the same company; others leverage their graduate scheme experience into positions that suit them and their career goals even better. Either way, a graduate scheme is a great opportunity to start your career with real experience, real insights, and a real sense of confidence to offer future employers. You’ll have plenty of competition for a place in any graduate scheme you consider, but following these tips can help you launch your career on your terms.
Do Your Research
Companies increasingly rely on graduate management schemes to supply motivated, productive, and, yes, cost-effective employees. Your role in the typical graduate scheme will be substantial, and your contributions meaningful. That’s why you should research each company and its graduate scheme as thoroughly as possible before sitting down to write your cover letter. Get to know the company’s values, mission, and strategy, and learn as much as you can about how its graduate scheme contributes to its operations. Your research will make your application sharper and will prepare you for the assessment centres and graduate interviews to come. It will also help you gauge your interest in a long-term career at each company, helping you frame your expectations.
Polish Your Presence
Your first contact with each company will likely take the form of a video interview, but there are ways your personality can shine through to graduate employers. At this stage, employers aren’t looking for long, discursive conversations about you and your suitability for the graduate scheme. They’re simply narrowing their search, identifying the candidates they’ll invite to take the next step. Because of this, the typical video interview for a graduate scheme position will be heavily scripted…and potentially awkward. To make the strongest possible impression, put together a list of likely questions (“Why do you want to work at Such-and-So Ltd?”) and practice giving concise, engaging answers. You’ll appear more competent and confident, and you might just help your interviewers break the tedium of a long day asking the same questions and getting the same stilted answers.
Be the Employee You Hope You’ll Become
Many large graduate schemes will invite the second round of candidates to an assessment centre, where you’ll be expected to demonstrate your skills and temperament in exercises that simulate real business situations. Some assessment centres might emphasise communication; others might focus on teamwork. Some lean toward free-form group exercises, role play, and discussions. Others will feature more individual tasks, including written tests. No matter what you encounter at a given assessment centre, be your authentic self at all times. This is your first real opportunity to see the company’s culture in action, and to get a sense of how comfortable you might be working there. The only way to tell is to relax and carry yourself at each assessment centre exactly the way you would as a permanent employee. If worse comes to worst, you’ll know that you’re a better fit elsewhere.
Interviews Work Both Ways
Final candidates for graduate management schemes are typically invited for face-to-face interviews. By now, you’ve probably read up on interviewing techniques, and before you land a spot on a graduate scheme, you’ll probably read quite a bit more. Don’t forget, though, that you are an interviewer, too. Not all graduate schemes will match your career goals, your skills, or your personality. You deserve to feel comfortable at the company you work for, and face-to-face interviews are perfect opportunities to learn the things your research couldn’t teach you. Prepare a list of questions beforehand, and take notes during your interview on things you’d like to know. Asking pertinent, insightful questions tells interviewers that you’ve done your research and are already engaged with issues the company finds important. At the same time, you’ll help prepare yourself to respond to an offer in a way that advances your interests.
Like any type of job search, applying for graduate schemes can be difficult and even disheartening at times. Be prepared for rejection, and remember that each application is unique. If one company decides not to invite you for a video interview, that’s a reflection on their particular culture, their needs, and the way they have set up their graduate scheme: it’s not a reflection on you. The next company you apply to will be different, and it might just be a much better fit for you, now and in the long run. You’ve got this! Stay confident, stay curious, and stay resilient.