This post was written by an external contributor. We’re not myopic enough to pretend getting on a graduate scheme is the only way get started in the world of work. Olivia Woodward lists a few alternatives.
Grad scheme season is upon us, leaving final year students across the country anxious wrecks. After crafting applications for prestigious graduate schemes back in October, students are now waiting to see if they’ll progress to the next stage of the (often) arduous process and secure a coveted place on one of the graduate programs of their dreams.
Landing a place on a graduate scheme is an impressive achievement. They’re competitive, often have great salaries, and provide comprehensive training and experience to new graduates entering the working world. But, despite the importance placed on them, they are not the only path to success.
So, if you’re nervously biting your nails waiting to hear if your graduate scheme applications have been successful, here are 4 alternatives to graduate schemes that you could also pursue.
Despite the prevalence of unpaid internships, paid internships do exist. And they can be an excellent starting point for new graduates and students alike
Whether it’s a year-long scheme or a short two-week placement, internships can be a fantastic way to dip your toe in and discover if a career path or industry is for you, all while boosting your CV. Don’t let stories of endless tea rounds and photocopying put you off – plenty of interns go on to secure full-time positions at companies they intern for, and more and more employers are recognising the valuable contributions of young interns and allowing them to take on important tasks during their placements.
Top tip: Don’t accept an unpaid internship or one that only pays minimal expenses. Just because you’re new to the working world doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be paid for your time and skills.
Many students set their sights on graduate schemes with large companies because they want to work for well-known, impressive companies. But whilst large organisations can be great employers and offer fantastic benefits, there’s plenty to be said for securing an entry-level position at a smaller company.
At smaller companies, most people do far more than their job title would suggest. Everyone mucks in together, and you can get the opportunity to work across all areas of a business, no matter your job title or department. This means that you can build up a variety of skills quickly, and potentially work your way up the company faster than you could in a traditional graduate scheme.
Top tip: Smaller companies often have a company-wide camaraderie that can be difficult to replicate at larger organisations. If a sense of belonging is important to you, a smaller company may be for you.
Retail or hospitality work
Many of us go to university specifically to secure a ‘better’ job – to escape the prospect of working in hospitality and retail. But there’s nothing wrong with working in a shop or a pub for a short (or long!) period of time after graduation.
Securing a job in retail or hospitality can allow you to retain independence after graduation and avoid moving back in with your parents while you find a job. It can also teach you valuable skills about hard work, long hours, and working with people. Many of the skills learned working with the public can be transferred to more traditional graduate jobs. Dealing with difficult customers teaches you crisis management. Organising staff rotas teaches you organisation and scheduling. Creating product displays requires creativity and an eye for detail, as well as an understanding of complex buyer habits.
Top tip: Don’t let anyone make you feel lesser for not having a ‘proper’ job. Retail and service workers work hard and provide a valuable service to the public.
Whilst most graduate jobs don’t need a Masters (and many entry-level positions no longer need a degree at all), pursuing a Masters or additional qualification can help you stand out for the crowd, and can also further hone skills you’ve learned during your undergrad. It can also give you a little more time to figure out what you want to do, and can be a lot of fun – after all, what’s better than studying a subject you love?
A Masters can teach you valuable skills that any graduate employer would be glad to see, as well, such as independent research and thorough analytical skills. So, if you’re loving your student life and aren’t ready for it to end, and have a real passion for your subject, consider staying on after you graduate.
Top tip: The government now offers funding for Masters students, which is great news, particularly for marginalised students who might not otherwise be able to stay on in education after the undergrad.
Ultimately, while graduate schemes can kick-start your career, give you a unique insight into how large companies function, and provide you with invaluable and rigorous training and experience, they are not for everyone – and they are not the be all and end all.
If your inbox is painfully devoid of interview offers, or if you’re wondering whether or not you’re suited to a traditional graduate scheme, don’t despair. There are other options – other options that will help you forge a meaningful and satisfying career.