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Graduate Jobs
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Graduate schemes versus graduate jobs: what's the difference?

If you’re currently at University, it’s likely that somewhere along the line you will have been pressed on whether you’re planning to apply for graduate schemes, grad jobs or entry level roles after you leave. With the world of work being somewhat alien to you at this point, we wouldn’t blame you for not knowing the difference yet.

Although all of these routes can lead to strong and fulfilling careers, it helps to understand their application processes, structures and progression opportunities ahead of your graduate job search. We’ll break down each one of them for you below:

What is a graduate scheme?

Graduate schemes are structured training programmes specifically held for University graduates by employers. They tend to last between one to three years but can continue up to six for some specialisms, including law.
Typically, a graduate will be recruited into a company within a specific division - such as marketing, banking, business or HR - but will rotate between different departments in the company in order to gain a better understanding of how a business operates. Many schemes involve the use of in-house graduate training but with the added bonus of external training.

Graduate schemes in 2019 are generally awarded to those applicants who have gained a 2:1 or higher in their degree - however, employers are becoming increasingly flexible with this criteria as well as others.

Graduate programme application processes can be pretty lengthy and there are limited spaces offered within each company - so if you’re thinking about taking this career route you’ll benefit from starting your search while you’re still at University. You’ll normally begin with an online application directly to the employer. The following stages usually involve phone and/or face-to-face interviews, assessments and/or psychometric tests. This might sound quite work intensive but the benefits of completing one are infinite. Bear in mind that grad schemes often have an application window that expires.

The setup of graduate schemes allows grads to develop a high level of understanding for their relevant industry, gain first-hand experience in their trade while also building upon key skills that will help them to progress. Graduate programmes are also highly competitive, so not only will you have access to specialist training within high profile companies, but you’ll also help distinguish yourself against others in the future.

Employers are known to pay graduates on their grad schemes exceptionally well. Many of the top graduate schemes offer a starting salary of more than £40,000 per annum.

What is a graduate job?

Many people get confused by the difference between an entry level job and a graduate job. Both titles tend to refer to roles that a professional can carry out as their first or second job in the industry. Graduate jobs, however, require candidates to have an honours degree in order to carry out the role successfully.

While graduate scheme places tend to run for a set period and have a fixed window for when you can apply to them, graduate jobs are available all year round. Employers will normally offer a limited number of places to their programmes but they may still hire graduates for other positions available within the business that are not on the scheme. Start-ups and SMEs, however, tend to only recruit for regular graduate hires rather.

While graduate jobs tend to be less structured than a scheme, you may still be partial to training opportunities (depending on what your employer offers) and it's likely you’ll have a manager to mentor you. The work you do can be more flexible and you’ll probably find the work fairly hands-on. Therefore, you’ll still get valuable experience and be able to build upon key industry skills as well as further develop your soft skills.

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Find graduate jobs by region

Where you live after University will depend entirely on your priorities. If you're keen for a lower cost of living, Derby is known to be the cheapest place to live in the UK. Alternatively, cosmopolitan city London is often a popular choice for graduates post-University.

Whichever location you choose, we can provide you with the opportunities. Explore what's available right now through our interactive map below.

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Careers advice

When do graduate schemes open for 2019?
For graduate schemes 2019, you should aim to apply any time after you’ve finished your second year at University - from June onwards. The deadlines are normally set for November and December (depending on the employer.) Be kind to yourself, and don’t leave your application to the last minute! Some companies may close their window ahead of the deadline if they’re already full. However, if this happens you can always apply the following year once you've graduated.

After application, you may not find out if you are being moved forward to the interview stage as quickly as you might do when applying to a graduate job. This is because most companies will wait until the application window is closed and then start screening and filtering candidates (normally during February). Assessments will begin in and around March and once these are completed, offers will be made to the strongest and most fitting graduate scheme applicants.
When is the best time to apply to graduate jobs?
Unlike graduate schemes, companies recruit talented grads continuously throughout the year. However, you may find that there are seasonal hiring peaks (May to July and September to November.) Normally, a company will seek to fill a position they’re recruiting for within six weeks of advertising it.
How many years after graduating can you apply for graduate jobs?
It's a common misconception that graduate schemes and jobs are only for people who have had not yet had a full-time position. Many grads find they’re unsure about their career options and so if you try your hand at one profession, or secure a job purely to bide time while you consider other industries, it’s still okay to apply for these graduate positions. If anything, the experience may stand you in good stead when making an application.

Age is also no longer a barrier when applying to graduate jobs as many employers have become increasingly committed to equal opportunities.
How to get a graduate job with no experience
By no means is your degree the only thing on your CV that recruiters look at, so you should familiarise yourself with your skill set in preparation for applications and interviews. Some companies aren’t willing to take a chance on applicants, but many are, so don't despair if you haven't gained any experience yet. Recruiters are trained to recognise potential when they see it.

The first point of action if you have no experience is to apply to and complete an internship. This will see you working within a company and gaining first-hand experience in the industry. You should focus on developing key skills as well as soft skills as this is what recruiters will be keeping their eyes peeled for.

Core transferable skills to develop before applying to jobs include:

  • Research skills: this requires searching, locating and extracting information from primarily and/or secondary resources before organising and presenting the most valuable information to your employer or client. The findings of this activity can be used to shape key business decisions.

  • Communication: being able to write and speak clearly is a skill that is highly sought after by employers. This can be verbal communication, such as being able to articulate a problem or solution to someone in a clear manner, as well as written communication. Being at University, it’s likely you will be required to write emails and so practice using grammar correctly and proofreading emails before sending them. People must be able to clearly understand the meaning behind your sentences.

  • Initiative: this skill involves being able to make decisions and take actions that make sense without being asked. Having initiative is a brilliant skill to possess. The more experience and confidence you gain, the better your initiative will be. There's a big difference between taking a risk and showing initiative. Showing initiative often entails doing something you might be asked to do anyway but doing it before it’s been requested. It also involves a bit of lateral thinking. Having a sound knowledge of your sector will increase your confidence in using your initiative. Work experience is also a great way to develop this skill.

  • Teamwork: being able to work efficiently with other people, without conflict, to produce results that are greater than the sum of their parts. Most jobs involve working with other people, whether that’s every day or once a week. A willingness to listen to other people's suggestions and to act on them is essential to facilitating a good working environment, and if you are a constant source of friction, you will quickly find yourself being let go. A good way to develop teamwork skills is to do short bursts of work experience at different places – you'll be forced to meet new people on a regular basis, which will quickly develop your ability to operate efficiently within a team.

  • Flexibility: being adaptable to change. Working in a team also requires the ability to be flexible. You should be open to suggestions and other people’s wants and wishes. You need to be able to consider and try new ways of operating, whether that involves working different hours or following new work processes. You can develop this skill by putting more trust in other people and forcing yourself to try something new on a regular basis. A flexible manager will be the best manager you ever have, and a flexible employee will be extremely useful to a company.

  • Organisation: taking a logical, controlled, thought-out approach to tasks. Being organised essentially means knowing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing. In practice, it means making sure you get your working life in order. Properly filed paperwork, appropriate levels of tidiness and cleanliness, not forgetting scheduled appointments all contribute towards projecting a professional, organised employee. The best way to develop this skill is actually by getting organised! If you spend a weekend getting things in order, you’ll refresh your motivation for keeping things that way.

If you feel you need to develop a particular skill then make efforts to do so. For instance, join a computer class to help develop your computer literacy skills, or join a group that encourages community participation to practice working in a team. Work experience is a great help here and will often develop many of these skills at once, and simply gaining confidence will do a great deal for you as well.
How to get a graduate job
Getting a graduate job will at the very least entail an application - either via an application form with set questions or a CV and cover letter submission - followed by an interview. Some businesses will require that you be interviewed more than once for the position. This is normally to allow different stakeholders in the business to meet with you or it may be because they want to talk to you about your experience and career ambitions in more depth.

Depending on the role you’ve applied to, you may also be required to carry out an assessment or test. But we’re jumping ahead here - let’s start with what your first step should be in your graduate job search.

Firstly, you’ll want to ensure that your online presence is appropriate - specifically, we’re referring to your social media accounts. Consider the fact that any employer is likely to conduct a quick search on you before even inviting you in for an interview. If you know that they’re going to find a lovely Facebook profile picture of you chugging beer out of a stiletto... you may want to consider a new one. It’s also worth setting all of your social media pages to private.

Next, you’ll want to update your CV and cover letter. Even if your CV feels a bit bare at this stage in your career, it’s worth including part-time jobs and University projects that can demonstrate your use of soft skills. If you’re stuck on where to begin here, why not download one of our CV and Cover Letter Templates within the student account?

Next, you’ll want to search for the industries you’re interested in. Try saving jobs first before applying. This way, you’ll be able to thoroughly consider your written application and tailor it to the specific job requirements. Quick tip, recruiters love this!

It’s also worth checking out the company page before you make an application because its a quick way of understanding their work culture.

If the employer has shortlisted you as a candidate for the position, you’ll be invited to an interview with the hiring manager or recruiter. Ensure you’ve researched the company in depth and have understood the role properly. If anything feels unclear about either of these things, you can use the interview to ask questions. The next stage will either be a second interview and/or assessment.

Log in to your student account to download our guide to interviews and assessment centres.
Who are the times top 100 graduate employers this year?
The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers does exactly what it says on the tin. It reveals the top graduate employers in the UK and is based upon the answers of more than 19,000 graduates who have only recently left university. The question asked is: "Which employer do you think offers the best opportunities for graduates?".

This isn’t limited to the top graduate scheme employers, but rather employers that recruit graduates in general.

More Graduate careers advice