How to get ready for a graduate scheme

Employers will want to know how you deal with obstacles to see how resilient you are

Photograph: iStock

Photograph: iStock


One of the most popular – and indeed fruitful – paths graduates are taking upon leaving education nowadays is the graduate scheme, because it gives them a bird’s eye view of all the different functions within the business before they choose to specialise. Here are 13 tips to get you ready.

1. Think about your options

There are many different sectors out there and many different lines of work within each of those sectors, so think broadly about everything that is out there. What is most suited to you? What are you interested in, and what excites you?

If you have a genuine interest in the field and enjoy what you are doing, you are more likely to succeed. Most schemes accept graduates from any discipline.

2. What are you looking to get out of it?

Jobs mean different things to different people. Apart from basic survival, they offer people a variety of different things, so it’s important to consider what you want from it. Do you want to work abroad? Is a large salary important? Is the reputation of the company or the sector important? Consider your priorities and see if they apply to the scheme or company you are applying for.

3. Ask the experts

Go to careers fairs and talk to graduate recruiters. If you can, talk to someone who took part in the scheme previously. Learn as much as you can about the culture of the company and what the person got out of it. Networking at these events can also be important when it comes to finding the best scheme for you.

4. Apply early

Many graduate schemes are highly sought after and securing a place can be daunting. Companies nowadays are targeting students in first and second year for these programmes. Be aware as early as possible what sort of companies you’re interested in and what might be required for their programmes. Make contact with companies and ask questions to ascertain whether it is a good fit.

5. Prepare

No experience, no problem. When hiring for graduate jobs, employers don’t expect you to have a wealth of experience. The aim is to demonstrate your value as an employee and show employers why hiring you would benefit their company, so don’t panic about experience.

Try to ascertain what the interview process will be. It could be over the phone, via Skype or Zoom, or even sometimes involve blank screen video interviews where applicants have to record automated answers to questions. This can prove difficult for some people, but there is free software available online to practise this technique.

Employers will want to know how you deal with obstacles and rejection in order to get an idea of how resilient you are. 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.

What did you learn about yourself during the lockdown? Did you have to contend with sudden changes in your final-year college programme? What did you learn from this?

Pay close attention to the job posting and what transferable skills you can apply to the role, including volunteer work or summer jobs.

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

Proofread carefully. Demonstrate your attention to detail by thoroughly reviewing your CV for typos, grammatical errors and inconsistencies.

6. Research the company

It will be important to have an idea of the sector the company operates in. What are the key issues and challenges for businesses in that sector? What are the key words or terms that are used in its day-to-day business?

It will also be important to have an idea of the company itself. How does it operate? What are its key markets? What are its overarching strategic goals? All this information is likely available on the company’s website so you should take the time to peruse as much of that as possible before you go for an interview.

7. Be professional

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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. Relax

During the interview, try to relax as much as possible and not let your nerves get to you. When you are in the interview, remember that it’s perfectly acceptable to pause before responding to questions in order to think about your answer. Also, if you’re unsure about a question, ask for clarification.

11. Learn from the experience

Regardless of whether you were successful or not, try to spend some time after your interview thinking about the process and how you handled it. Make some notes on questions or events that may have thrown you so you can work on them for next time.

You could also ask for feedback from the employer in the event you were unsuccessful. Most are happy to provide it, but – be warned – it can be very general.

12. Be the sponge

Once you get in the door, there is a good level of support, training, and development opportunities on these schemes, and you are ensured of a mentor to help you through problems.

Graduates will be rotated around and will get to see different types of roles so try to absorb as much information as possible and you will be far more attractive to your employer as you will have a holistic view of the business.

13. Work with others

Companies are looking to see how you work with other people, so it’s important not to be dictatorial or rude in group situations. It’s vitally important you’re able to listen and take instructions. Schemes will often involve working in big teams so make sure you are bringing your communication skills to it.