Many leading UK employers across all industries run graduate training programmes, so discover the benefits of these schemes and how you can land a place for next year's intake

What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is a structured training programme run by an employer to develop future leaders of their organisation.

These graduate programmes, which usually last between one and two years (although they can be longer), are often available in a number of specialisms - or streams as they're known - ranging from finance, retail, HR and marketing, to management and law.

As a trainee, you'll benefit from being handed responsibility from the outset, an opportunity to gain hands-on experience and develop a broad understanding of your chosen profession, as well as receiving support in building key skills.

High Fliers' The Graduate Market in 2019 report revealed that the most generous payers this year - from The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers - are investment banks, law firms, consulting firms, oil and energy companies, and retailers.

Also, at least a sixth of places on the top graduate schemes now offer starting salaries of more than £40,000, with nine of the UK's best known graduate recruiters paying wages of at least £45,000 for their 2019 intake.

In return for the financial rewards, graduates are expected to adhere to the business needs of the employer. The scheme may be focused on a job role or split into time-specific placements, and this could involve working across various business functions, teams and possibly locations - so a large degree of flexibility is required.

Schemes are generally oversubscribed each year, with places limited - especially those offered by high profile companies in major industries - so you'll have to ensure your application stands out from those submitted by the other candidates.

Which companies run graduate schemes?

With graduate schemes offered across numerous careers and job sectors, you have plenty of options when it comes to choosing an employer:

  • Finance - All the major banks, including Barclays, the Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC, have dedicated finance graduate schemes, with finance specialists also in demand across all sectors.
  • Healthcare/management - If you're looking to work in the healthcare sector at management level, discover more about the NHS graduate scheme. You can also explore graduate careers in consulting.
  • Human resources (HR) - Many large organisations including BP, KPMG and Tesco require graduates to work in their busy personnel departments. See HR graduate schemes.
  • Information technology (IT)/sales - Graduate training programmes are also run by IT and telecommunications companies such as Google, Microsoft, BT and EE in technical and sales based roles. Explore IT graduate jobs and related sales graduate schemes.
  • Marketing/media - Another popular and far-reaching field, you could work for broadcasters such as the BBC, Sky and Virgin Media on one of their marketing graduate schemes.
  • Retail - The UK's biggest retailers, including Boots, Next, John Lewis and Marks & Spencer, train their staff through structured retail graduate schemes typically split across various customer-facing and head office roles, including logistics and supply chain, management, and merchandising.
  • Transport - British Airways (BA) and easyJet seek graduates for their commercial, finance and IT-related airline graduate schemes, as well as offering commercial pilot training. You could also consider road and railway careers.

Where can I find out more about employer programmes?

If you've an interest in working for a specific company, in addition to visiting its website you can also follow it on social media. By engaging with the recruiter through popular channels such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram, you can get a good idea of its culture and values.

Dee Clarke, head of Amazon's campus recruiting team, explains how students can attend careers fairs while still at university and speak to those who've chosen a career with the company and discover more about what it's like to work there.

When do graduate schemes open?

In most cases, you'll be able to apply from the end of your second year (June-onwards), with graduate scheme deadlines usually set for the November or December of that year. However, it's advisable to apply as early as possible, as some organisations fill places on an ongoing basis and close as soon as they're full.

How do I apply?

To gain a place on a graduate scheme, you'll first have to make it through the extensive and typically lengthy screening processes used to select graduates.

The first stage normally involves an online application, but guidance relating to CVs and cover letters may still come in handy. After this, it's worth delving into interview questions, assessment centres and psychometric tests.

Victoria Humphries, head of emerging talent at Nationwide Building Society, advises you to prepare for psychometric tests by practising - so you identify your strengths and weaknesses beforehand.

Also, many employers now use social media to share helpful and informal advice with candidates about all stages of the selection process.

For example, at the NHS, this ranges from current trainees giving tips on how they prepared for their assessment centre, to alumni sharing general advice on interviews and the graduate team offering pointers on passing online tests.

See social media and job hunting for tips on setting up relevant accounts and how to go about networking with current graduates on the schemes you're interested in.

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

While graduate programmes generally expect applicants to have a 2:1 or higher, some employers may be more flexible - for example, the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme and all of MBDA's graduate programmes.

If you get invited to interview, be prepared to discuss your grade with employers. You can be positive by highlighting your strength in other areas, and by emphasising work experience or extra-curricular activities that demonstrate you've the right skills and motivation. To prepare, you can also run through example questions and answers.

When do graduate schemes start?

Start dates for these programmes are usually set for the August or September following graduation.

Will I be offered a permanent job?

It's quite common for graduates to be offered a permanent role upon completion of the scheme, but this is by no means the case with all employers. Therefore, you'll need to check the programme you're applying for to find out where you'll stand afterwards.

What if I don't like my graduate scheme?

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters' (now known as the Institute of Student Employers) Development Survey 2017, a fifth of graduates don't make it past the first year of their graduate programme.

If you happen to find yourself in this situation, for whatever reason, there are a number of options open to you. From feedback received, a quarter of those who left within the first three years of employment with an organisation did so to change careers, with almost a fifth moving on for a better salary, and less than a sixth not happy with their rate of progression.

As you plan your next move, you might wish to revisit choosing a career.

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