A graduate scheme is a 1-3 years structured training programme offered by many large employers to develop their future leaders. As a graduate trainee, you’ll gain hands-on experience and responsibility from day one, and undertake a number of projects to get you up to speed. You may focus on one specific job role, or split your time amongst a rotation of placements, which could involve working across various business functions, teams and possibly locations. 

You’ll also earn a reasonable sum - High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2023 report revealed that the top employers offered salaries of at least £35,000, with investment bankers able to earn £55,000. This can be compared to an average salary upon graduation of £20,000 in the UK in 2017/18. 

Graduate schemes are popular with many industries including accounting and finance, charity and not-for-profit, construction, consulting, energy and utilities, engineering and manufacturing, government, healthcare, hospitality and tourism, HR, IT, law, logistics and transport, marketing, media and advertising, retail and scientific research and development. 

How do I find out about graduate schemes?

There are a number of ways in which you can hear about the graduate schemes available to you.

If you're still at university, one of the easiest ways to find out who’s hiring is to attend a graduate recruitment fair. At a recruitment fair, many of the companies that are hiring will attend and it’s a great opportunity to find out more about a company, understand their hiring process, and find out whether there would be an opportunity that would suit you.

Your careers service can also give you advice and guidance on how to apply if you have an industry or job role in mind. 

You could also call upon your friends and family as they might know someone in the industry, who can be useful to you and can give you the lowdown on what companies are hiring.

If you have companies in mind that you want to work for, a good place to start is to follow them on social media, as when they have an opening you’ll be the first to know and can apply asap.

How to apply for a graduate scheme?

Graduate schemes often have set application dates to look out for - if you miss them you won’t get an opportunity to apply again until the following year. This means that you should do your research carefully and early - the summer before graduation wouldn’t even be too early here as some companies recruit in the Autumn term. Furthermore, some companies fill their places on an ongoing basis and close as soon as they're filled, which puts the pressure on you to get your act together even more!

Normally, the first stage of the graduate recruitment scheme will involve an online job application, which will ask you about your employability skills, why you want to work for that company in the role you’ve chosen and why you are suited to that position. 

They might also ask you to undertake a number of psychometric tests before being invited to interview. 

Your first interview might be over the phone or online, before being asked to attend an assessment day, which might include group exercises, in-tray exercises, presentations and interviews. 

Many employers use social media to share helpful and informal advice with candidates about all stages of the selection process, so remember to get set up as a graduate on LinkedIn and continue to update and check your account.

It’s likely that the scheme will then commence in the Summer or early Autumn (giving you some time off for that much-needed holiday), however some have rolling start dates throughout the year. 

Bright Network has a page with all the graduate scheme deadlines listed. 

Graduate scheme prerequisites

When taking on a graduate scheme you’ll be required to have some knowledge and experience. You’ll need good employability skills, such as teamwork, verbal communication, and organisation skills and you might also need more specific skills, such as the ability to use a specific computer programme or a certain programming language. Some graduate schemes will require you to have a  degree in a specific subject, whilst others may be open to graduates of all subjects. It’s likely that you’ll also need to have or be working towards a 2.1, although some schemes are more flexible. 

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