Guide to graduate schemes

From the ins and outs of applications and deadlines, the kind of salary you can expect and how to turn your graduate scheme into a full-time job, this guide will take you through everything you need to know.


What exactly is a graduate scheme?

Something you might not know, a graduate scheme is a slightly different breed to a graduate job. A graduate scheme is a graduate training programme within a company which will last a set amount of time – normally one to two years. They’ll introduce you to the company, often by placing you in various different departments or by asking you to complete some assessments along the way. There’s a high possibility that this will lead on to a full time job within the organisation, but it isn’t guaranteed.

A graduate scheme is a graduate training programme within a company which will last a set amount of time. In comparison, a graduate job is exactly what it says on the tin – a normal job.

In comparison, a graduate job is exactly what it says on the tin – a normal job, often continuing indefinitely, and you’ll be thrown straight into your role from the get-go. Most major companies will run a graduate scheme, and as your first job role, a graduate scheme is an ideal way to get your foot in the door. But that doesn’t mean they’re not competitive – because they are. And you have to be quick off the mark to bag the best places.


When should I start applying to graduate schemes?

Applications for graduate schemes normally open in September/October, with recruitment season ending around January. So this is the four to five month period in which you need to keep your eyes peeled and get those applications in. And don’t forget, these are for graduate schemes starting the following September.

Top tip

Get in there early. Now, don’t get us wrong, panic applying to every single opportunity at the very start of September isn’t going to do you any good. But there are plenty of reasons for applying sooner rather than later.

Some of the most competitive schemes close applications early, knowing full well that only the most well-organised and on-the-ball students will be prepared in time. Also, the last thing you want to be doing is trying to fill out lengthy application forms while writing essays, so try and get the bulk of your applying done before deadlines hit.

Learn the lingo

A lot of graduate schemes will say that their applications are ‘open’ or ‘ongoing’. This normally doesn’t mean that they will wait until all applications have been received before choosing their ideal candidate, it actually means it’s first come first served. They’ll review applications as and when they receive them, and if they find the right person, they’ll give them the job, so make sure you get in there early.


The graduate scheme application process

Now this can vary widely from company to company, and there’s not time to go into it in depth now. We have plenty of top tips on CVs, cover letters, assessment centres and interviews to help you out. But there are a few keys things you should know:

    • Not what you normally hear, I know, but recycling is sometimes bad. Make sure you tailor your CV, cover letter and application form to each individual role; any copy and pasting will be spotted a mile off.

    • It can sometimes take literally months before you hear anything back from an employer, even if it’s just confirmation that they’ve received your application. It’s frustrating but there’s not much you can do about it, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear anything – and don’t rush into accepting a job offer you’re not happy with.


How many graduate schemes should I apply for?

There’s no right answer to this question. Of course, the more jobs you apply for, you would assume, the greater your chances are of getting accepted somewhere. And while this is true to a certain extent, don’t forget that quality always trumps quantity.

Use graduate recruitment services like Debut to target employers that you’re most interested in. There’s no point in applying for companies that you’re not that bothered about – remember you’re going to be dedicating a good chunk of your time to this role, so it needs to be something you’re passionate about. And recruiters will be able to tell in your application if you’re just not that into what they’re offering.

It’s worth choosing your top roles and creating a calendar with their deadlines on so you don’t end up rushing applications last minute. For your absolute dream grad schemes, schedule in a full day to work on your CV and application to really up your chances of success.

Use a table like the one below to keep track:

CompanyJob roleDeadlineApplication complete?Confirmation received?Next steps
Auto IT ServicesGraduate software engineerOngoingYesYesTelephone interview 14/10/17
YTJ ConsultantsIT Service Management AnalystOngoingYesYesAssessment centre on 21/11/17
Script Lock ServicesSoftware DeveloperOngoing Yes

Use graduate recruitment services like Debut to target employers that you’re most interested in.


What are graduate employers looking for?

There’s no denying that a lot of graduate schemes are competitive, and are looking for the best of the best. Therefore, you really need to tick all the boxes if you’re going to impress.

Read our guide on how to nail a job application and you’ll be off to a great head start, and don’t forget to get those CVs and cover letters in top shape too.

There are plenty of employers who are happy with a degree at any grade, as long as you have plenty of experience and skills to back your application up.

You can read our in depth guide on the top skills recruiters are looking for, but for now, here’s a quick check list of top skills you should be aiming to demonstrate in your application:

  • Strong communication skills
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Project management
  • Problem solving
  • Attention to detail and meticulous research skills
  • Social media and tech savvy

Can I get on a graduate scheme with a 2:2?

The short answer is, yes. Although a lot of big employers are looking for a 2:1, the whole myth that a 2:2 will get you nowhere is completely untrue. There are plenty of employers who are happy with a degree at any grade, as long as you have plenty of experience and skills to back your application up.

No matter what sector you’re going into, companies from the NHS, to EY, to Network Rail will accept applications with a 2:2, so don’t panic. You might just have to spend more time doing work experience or an exciting extracurricular project to help you stand out against other candidates.


What are the benefits of a graduate scheme?

The benefits of a grad scheme are pretty obvious, but there are also a couple of downsides you should be aware of too. Signing up to a graduate scheme is a big decision and you’ll be making a major commitment to a company, so it’s not a choice you should take lightly. Just be prepared, do your research and you’ll be fine.

It will help you get your foot in the door of a company and industry.They’re very competitive – you have to be prepared to put the time and effort into your applications.
There’s the potential for full time employment.You’re likely to be based in a large organisation where you’ll have to work your way up.
You’ll get some useful training that will prepare you for your future career.Many graduate schemes expect you to be flexible on location, so be prepared to move.
You’ll be able to network, build contacts and get a cracking reference.Graduate schemes are known to put you through your paces – expect long hours.
You’re likely to receive a healthy starting salary.

How long are graduate schemes?

A typical graduate scheme will last around one year to 18 months, although some can go to three or four years. They’re usually seen as a route into a long term career within the company though, so if you work hard and impress your employers, you could well be on your way to a more permanent role.


How much will I be paid on a graduate scheme?

Salaries will vary widely between sectors, but the average graduate starting salary is £23,000. Certain industries might offer substantially less or substantially more than this though, just make sure you check it out beforehand so you can budget for rent and living costs – especially if it involves making the big move to London.


What happens if I don’t get on a graduate scheme?

If you don’t manage to secure a place on a graduate scheme this year, then don’t panic. You can easily take some time out before applying again next year, or you could take a gap year to boost your CV. While some graduate schemes specify that you must be a final year student or ‘recent’ graduate, others aren’t too concerned if your graduation was a few years ago, so keep applying.

Don’t forget that graduate schemes aren’t the be all and end all of post-university life. Try applying for some standard graduate jobs instead, or internships which are a great way of getting in with a company and often lead to full-time employment. Just remember that graduate schemes are incredibly competitive, so don’t be disheartened if you don’t get that place of your dreams.

Just don’t forget to ask for feedback along the way so you can learn from your mistakes – there’s no point in reapplying twelve months later only to do the exact same thing. If employers don’t give you any feedback, especially after a face-to-face interview, don’t be afraid to ask. If you put the effort into the application, you deserve to know how you did. Our #FightForFeedback campaign is lobbying the government to make it a legal requirement for all employers to provide feedback after a face-to-face interview, so get on board!

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