How to get ready for a graduate scheme

Tips for graduates looking to make structured start to their careers

While the concept of the job for life may be a thing of the past, getting yourself on a graduate scheme is one way to give yourself a great chance of remaining with a particular company for the long haul.

However, these are highly sought after schemes, and for good reason. “The beauty of them is they give the graduate a great bird’s eye view of all the different functions within the business across the board,” says Ibec head of education policy Claire McGee.

“In a lot of cases graduates will be rotated around and will get to see different types of roles. Employers and businesses these days are looking for people who can grow with them. You may be with one organisation for quite a long time, taking on different roles.

“Companies that have these programmes also invest quite heavily in further learning and development of these individuals to give them the experience they need to really succeed.”


Ruairi Kavanagh, editor of gradIreland, describes the schemes as "one of the best ways" to make a "structured start" to your career. "You are going into an environment that is especially designed for graduates," he says.

“You are ensured of a good level of support, training, and development opportunities. You are ensured of a mentor or some sort of buddy scheme to help you through problems.

“You can rotate to different departments and gain experience at different functions. There is even some international rotation. That makes you very attractive then to that employer because you have a holistic grasp of their business.

“However, the schemes are highly structured and can be quite rigid, because they are designed to produce a pipeline of talent that is expected to lead these firms in the medium to long-term.”

Application processes

The only other snag is securing a place. As Kavanagh says, application processes can be “very daunting”, but there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance.

“Applications can involve blank screen video interviews where you have to record automated answers to questions, which can knock people off straight away, no matter how confident they are,” he says. “Practice those. There is free software online.

“Companies are also looking to see how you work with other people. Don’t dictate in group situations. It’s vitally important you’re able to listen and take instructions.

“These schemes will often involve working in big teams – massive teams in some cases – so make sure you are bringing your communication skills to it.

“You could also have a technical interview where you have stand up and write a piece of code in front of people, which is very daunting again. But these are things you can practice.

“Research the company. They don’t want someone who is going to go in and try to re-engineer their business, but you can go in and say you saw such and such, and have an awareness of what’s happening in the sector.”

A key skill employers are looking for is resilience, and how you bounce back from a difficult situation or bad news

Mike McDonagh, managing director of Hays Recruitment, agrees that it is important to know your stuff about the company you are applying for a place at.

“Look at people who have gone in before you and what they had in their profiles and what they did in the couple of years before they graduated college,” he says. “But also bring your own personality and individual traits to interviews.

“Think critically about yourself and how you showcase yourself in interviews. Look at who was on the scheme before and think about what sort of background they came from and what skills they had.”


McGee advises to start the process as early as possible. “Companies nowadays are targeting students in first and second year for these programmes,” she says. “Be aware as early as possible what sort of companies you’re interested in and what might be required for their programmes.

“Start a process of informally recording any time you had a difficulty with a project you were working on, so you can recall that process in an interview or on an application form. Get yourself into the habit of reflection.

“A key skill employers are looking for is resilience, and how you bounce back from a difficult situation or bad news. There are ups and downs to business. Remember occasions when you met some kind of resistance and how you brought people around.

“Make sure your contact information is professional, that your email address makes sense and that your phone number is correct. Make sure your social media profile is appropriate and is relevant to the types of values you want an employer to see.”

Ruth Leonard, senior director at recruitment website Indeed, says graduates without experience need not worry. "Employers don't expect you to have a wealth of experience," she says.

“The aim is to demonstrate your value as an employee and show employers why hiring you would benefit their company. Pay close attention to the job posting and what transferable skills you can apply to the role, including volunteer work or summer jobs.

“We commissioned research a couple of years back that showed the majority of candidates do not include volunteering experience on their CV, and yet, the majority of employers value it.

“Include relevant college work. Although you may have little to no work experience, relevant coursework can be included on your CV to showcase your skills. Writing, teamwork and presentation skills are just some of the workplace skills you can learn and refine in college.”

Leonard also cautions that graduates ought to proofread their CVs and applications carefully. “Demonstrate your attention to detail by thoroughly reviewing your CV for typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies,” she says.

“Consider asking a friend to look over the document before you submit it to an employer. Each time you update your CV, make sure to give it another review.

“Be confident. Employers want to know you’re proud of your achievements and confident in your skills. Make sure this comes through in your CV by highlighting all your best and most relevant strengths and accomplishments.

“Also, keep it concise. Recruiters often have several applications to review and can spend less than a minute reading your application. Your CV should be powerful but brief. It should be easy for the recruiter to quickly understand how your history and experience align with the job they’re offering.”

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson

Colin Gleeson is an Irish Times reporter