Many leading UK employers across all sectors run graduate training programmes - discover the benefits of joining a scheme and how to go about securing a place for the next 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 also known - ranging from finance, retail, HR and marketing, to management and law.
As a graduate 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 2021 report revealed that the most generous payers from The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers are investment banks, law firms, consulting firms, oil and energy companies, and retail businesses. These top employers offer salaries of at least £36,800, with investment bankers able to earn £50,000.
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. This means that 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. You'll therefore have to ensure your application stands out from those submitted by other candidates - see applying for jobs.
Which companies run graduate schemes?
With graduate schemes offered across numerous careers and industries, you have plenty of options when it comes to choosing an employer:
- Charity - While rarer in this sector, some organisations still run schemes. Read more about getting a graduate charity job.
- Finance - All the major banks, including Barclays, the Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC, have dedicated finance graduate schemes, with finance specialists in demand across all sectors.
- Healthcare/management - If you're looking to work in the healthcare sector at management level, you could consider the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme. For general management programmes, explore consulting graduate schemes.
- Human resources (HR) - Many large organisations including BP, KPMG and Royal Mail 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. Read about the UK's IT industry and the companies that run sales graduate schemes.
- Law - By following a structured route into the legal profession, you can take advantage of training contracts and vacation schemes.
- Marketing/media - Another popular and far-reaching field, you could work for a major media company such as the BBC, Sky or Virgin Media. There are also general marketing graduate schemes available across all sectors.
- Public services/intelligence - If you're interested in getting a graduate job in public services, you'll find a number of schemes are available through governmental departments, the intelligence services and the armed forces.
- Retail - The UK's biggest retailers, including Aldi, Boots, Next and Marks & Spencer, train their staff through structured retail graduate schemes typically split across various customer-facing and head office roles.
- Transport - British Airways (BA), easyJet and Virgin Atlantic 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.
By attending careers fairs and virtual recruitment events while still at university, you'll get the opportunity to find out about employers you'd be interested in working for and speak to recent graduates about what's involved with a particular scheme.
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?
The first stage normally involves an online job 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.
Many employers also 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.
For information on setting up relevant accounts and how to go about networking with current graduates, see social media and job hunting.
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 ask for a 2:2.
If you get invited to interview, be prepared to discuss your grade with recruiters. You can be positive by highlighting your strength in other areas, and by emphasising work experience or extra-curricular activities that demonstrate you've got the skills employers are looking for. 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, but this does vary as some employers take on new recruits as soon as a vacancy is available.
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 Institute of Student Employers' (ISE) Student Recruitment Survey 2020: Challenge and resilience in the year of Covid-19, the number of graduate jobs has fallen by 12%, with a typical firm receiving 60 applications for every vacancy.
Therefore, due to such fierce competition for places, the dropout rate for these schemes will understandably be low. However, if you do happen to find yourself in this situation, for whatever reason, you have a variety of options open to you.
As you plan your next move, you might wish to revisit choosing a career.