Hoping to land a grad scheme? Follow this advice from the professionals

Graduate programmes are a good opportunity to gain valuable skills and experience

Research the companies you have applied for. Photograph: iStock

Research the companies you have applied for. Photograph: iStock

 

The latest gradireland.com careers fair will see more than 100 employers from accounting, professional services, the civil and public service, engineering, fast-moving consumer goods, human resources, technology, law, not-for-profits and charities, science and medical research, and marketing and communications.

Graduate recruitment programmes are a good opportunity to gain skills and experience while getting a strong start in the working world.

Ruairi Kavanagh, editor of gradireland.com, says these programmes can have an edge over graduate entry jobs. “They are two- or three-year structured programmes where you rotate through various departments and get a bird’s-eye, holistic view of their operations in Ireland or internationally – or both. They support you with further study, especially in accounting firms, and they support your learning. They offer stability and good terms as well as introductions within [your] industry.”

Kavanagh advises graduates to plan early and do their research. “Find out the outlook and trends, set up Google alerts for jobs in the sector and keep yourself informed. Can you get in touch with them in relation to virtual or in-person internships? Choose the right company: we suggest never to make a choice based solely on money but to find a path that gives you some kind of development and support, in a workplace where you can relate, talk to colleagues and be happy.”

Big four

Sarah Madigan is the early careers manager with PwC, one of the “big four” professional services firms. PwC recruits around 350 graduates every year and applications are open now (pwc.ie/mygraduatelife).

“The best thing students can do to get prepared for starting their graduate scheme is to think about what is important to them in a job and where they want their career to take them,” she says. “Think about the culture of where you would like to work and what is important to you in a new employer. On a practical level, build on your employability skills, attend skills sessions held by employers around interview hints and tips and give yourself plenty of time to complete your application and apply to your chosen employer.”

What will make one candidate stand out over another?

“Employers are drawn to graduates who know what they’re about,” says Kavanagh. “Show them your skills, knowledge and experience. Plan for any video interviews. Graduates prefer face-to-face interviews but if you are doing an automated interview, make sure you are prepared – there is advice on Grad Ireland for how to do this.”

Employers want to see a graduate’s employability skills, says Madigan. “PwC hires graduates from all degree disciplines. We are always looking for enthusiastic and adaptable people. We don’t expect graduates to have a huge wealth of experience, it is more about demonstrating your skills and relevant experiences. Highlight how the skills that you have learned throughout your time in university and any of your extracurricular activities can be adapted to the working world. These employability skills include examples such as your technology skills, teamwork, communications and innovative thinking. We have an employability guide that is really helpful for showing you how to make these skills transferable and how every aspect of your life to date has given you employability skills.”

Important skill

For PwC, adaptability is key. “More so over the past 18 months, where the way we do things may change or need to be altered in a matter of moments,” says Madigan. “[This is about] being able to think on your feet and adapt to lots of different situations without compromising on standards. Producing high-quality work is an important skill for any student thinking about joining a graduate program.”

Kavanagh suggests that job-seeking graduates talk to as many people as possible. “If you can, talk to the people who work at the company about what it’s like. Grad Ireland has an online library of people explaining what they do and the skills they need.”

It is always really helpful to use your network and speak to as many people as you can about the role, says Madigan. “Attend any talks the firm is hosting, speak to the staff at your university careers fair and reach out to your network contacts on LinkedIn who may work there. It’s really important that you add all relevant information to your application. Another really useful tool is your careers office; they are there to support you and your career choices and are always a great source of information and guidance.”

Be mindful when applying for graduate roles, says Madigan. “Only apply for roles that you are actually interested in and you can see yourself working in. The age-old comment on attention to detail and typos and grammatical errors is still very important and something to really look out for. Preparation is key, so make sure you know your interview times, the format of the interview and any extra requirements as part of the interview. Read the instruction emails you get really carefully and don’t be afraid to ask any questions.”

QUICK GUIDE

1. Be prepared: Identify what type of work are you interested in. Match your interests with related companies and sectors.

2.Talk to the experts: Attend careers fairs. Talk to graduate recruiters and someone who has already participated in a scheme.

3.Check the dates: Make a list of application dates and plan accordingly.

4. Groundwork: Research the companies you have applied for. Understand their core business, how they are positioned in the market and what direction they are going in.

5. Audit your skills: Review your final two years in college and be prepared to be asked about your course and how you dealt with lockdown. What transferable skills did you develop/use during this time.

6. Apply: Prepare a CV before you apply. Many firms have an online application process. Some will allow you to upload your CV but even if they do not, having a detailed list of your achievements and experience to hand while filling out online questionnaires can be useful.

7. Practise: Establish how the interviews will take place – will they be in person, over Zoom or via another platform? Practice mock interviews; try recording yourself.

8. Relax: Dress appropriately for the interview. Be positive – keep eye contact, smile and try to remain relaxed. Feel free to ask questions and show that you are interested in the role.

9. Review: Take some notes after the interview highlighting where you thought you did well and perhaps not so well. Don’t dwell too much on this but in the event your interview was unsuccessful, it could be useful to know what areas you need to work on for next time.

10. Learn: If you are successful, avail of whatever training opportunities are made available to you. There is every chance that you will be rotated throughout different parts of the business, and it is important that you learn from each of them, that you are enthusiastic and that you communicate well with colleagues.