Finding graduate schemes confusing?

Written by Natalie Walsh, Careers Consultant at The Careers Service

Have you been looking at career options recently? Perhaps browsing the recruitment ads?  Then you’ll have noticed the many, many graduate schemes currently being advertised.  In fact, it can sometimes feel like they’re the only option to consider. 

But… what happens if you’re not finding schemes for the type of work you’re interested in? Or don’t feel you really know what a grad scheme is.  If you feel stressed or confused and getting some mixed messages about what you should be doing now in terms of looking for jobs, don’t worry we’re here to clear up a few of those questions!

What is a Graduate Scheme/Programme?

Short answer is, it’s a job.

Longer answer, it’s a job that’s set in a one or two year, structured programme of development to give you the skills and experience to build a career in that organisation or sector.  You’ll get paid and, for most schemes, there’s a longer term job at the end of the programme if you’ve done well. 

Still got questions about what a grad scheme is? Prospects have got lots more information for you.

Where are the schemes for me?

Now this is the big question. The key issue here is that graduate schemes don’t exist in all career sectors.  Graduate recruitment isn’t a one-size-fits-all process. Different sectors and organisations will use a variety of recruitment and training methods depending on what works well for them.  

Did you know that, on average, only 12-15% of employed graduates go on to a grad scheme? That surprises many people, especially when it feels like you’re being told you must apply for grad schemes or that they’re the very best career option out there.

So, depending on the area you want to work in, you’ll either see loads of grad schemes or feel like there are none for you (and if you feel like there are none, keep reading!) The majority of grad schemes are typically found in areas such as finance, business, IT, engineering and management. Think these areas are of interest to you, or just want to browse the grad schemes on offer? Check out the links on this page to get you started.

There aren’t any for me!

Want to work in the charity/not-for-profit sector? Maybe you’re interested in creative and media careers? Exploring working in politics? Passionate about environmental opportunities? These are just a few sectors where graduate schemes either don’t exist, or maybe there’s just one or two in very specific areas.  It doesn’t mean there are no jobs or opportunities, it just means the routes in are different.  If you’re not finding graduate schemes in the areas you’re interested in, don’t panic.  Check out the sectors you’re interested in HERE and find out more about the options and routes in.  Look at other sector specific opportunities HERE (before you do, make sure to read the below info on timings of applications!)   Or come and have a chat with the Careers Consultants who know about the careers you’d like to consider,  and can help you identify when and where to find the opportunities that are right for you.

Some sectors, such as media, creative and areas of charity/not-for-profit work, might not use the same recruitment methods that some sectors who target graduates will. We call these hidden jobs. Take a look through our Job Search Guide to make sure you’re aware of all the different strategies you can use to find those opportunities.

Do I have to apply now?

So many students seem to be getting the message they must apply for  jobs right now or there will be no opportunities left. This causes so much worry and stress, so let’s see if we can clarify things a bit!

If you’ve decided grad schemes are right for you then yes, most of them are open and accepting applications now.  This is partly due to the fact they’ll get many applications to work through, and then often have different stages of tests, assessments and interviews to move those applicants through. These things take a lot of time and resources, so recruitment needs to start early in the academic.

If graduate schemes aren’t for you, other opportunities open at different times of the year. The links given above will also let you explore other grad opportunities (and it’s never too early to start browsing).  If you still feel you’re not seeing options that are right for you, it’s likely they start their recruitment a bit later.  We typically see most graduate jobs that aren’t part of a scheme, open after Christmas with numbers of vacancies starting to peak around April-May-June.  

If Grad Schemes aren’t for me, what can I do right now?

When it feels like everyone else is putting in applications, but the jobs you want mean you can’t get started doing the same, it can be stressful and frustrating.  So, what can you be doing right now? Start your research! Browse relevant adverts even if you’re not applying. Research the skills and qualities valued in the type of work you want to do.  You may identify extra experience that would be valuable to gain in order to strengthen your future applications. It can also help you identify roles and organisations you want to target when they do start recruiting, helping you use your time effectively.

Do I have to do a Grad Scheme if they exist in my area of interest?

Just because graduate schemes exist for the job you want to do, it’s unlikely they’re the only route into working in that overall sector. They might be the only route into a specific company, if that’s their preferred recruitment/development strategy though. Contact the graduate recruiters for the specific scheme and they should be able to tell you if the company has other routes in. 

HR and marketing are just two examples of career sectors where there are multiple routes in. Depending on the organisation you can explore routes including grad development schemes, grad jobs and graduate internships, as possible ways to get employed in these areas. Again, exploring your sector or having a chat with a Careers Consultant can help make sure you know what your options are.

Are Graduate Schemes ‘better’ than Graduate Jobs?

In a word, no. They’re not automatically better for your career just because it’s a graduate scheme. You need to consider what will make the opportunity you choose right for you.  Of course they can be great opportunities if you really want to work in a sector they exist in and you feel that structured development approach suits you.  However, getting onto a graduate scheme you aren’t really interested in, just to be on a grad scheme, is unlikely to be as beneficial to your career as finding a job that suits your interests and offers the type of training and development you really need and want.  Graduate level vacancies that aren’t part of a specific programme still offer training and development opportunities (they’ve got to teach you how to do the job, right?) but it’ll likely be in a format and structure  that works more effectively for that role and employer.

Can I apply for more than one type of opportunity?

Absolutely! Spotted a grad scheme you want to apply for now? Spotted more than one? Let’s get you started with those applications.  And if you find something else advertised at a different time, apply for that too. The only limit on the number and type of applications you submit should be how much time you have to do them well.  There’s no exact number but it’s generally better to submit fewer applications you’d done as strongly as possible, than to rush through several just to get them all in. 

Come and have a chat with Careers if you’d like help planning your applications.

Thanks, but I still need some help

Oh, how us Careers folk love to chat. Come on in for a quick query, a bit of advice or to get your questions answered in more detail. Even if you feel like you don’t know what you want to do, or even what you want to ask, I promise we can suggest lots of useful ways to help get you started.

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