How to apply for a graduate scheme
The full lowdown on where to look for graduate schemes, when to apply and how to give yourself the best chance of success with the application process.
Applying for graduate schemes is something we'd recommend any student consider if they're in their final year at uni.
Not only are grad schemes a great way to kick off your career, but salaries tend to be really generous – particularly when you're still going to be learning on the job. Being paid to learn is certainly a refreshing change from 3+ years of paying £9,000 tuition fees, right?
We've already given you the lowdown on what graduate training schemes are all about as well as various company deadlines to be aware of. If you're convinced they're the right path for you, it's time to get started on the application process.
What's on this page:
Before you do anything – think about the sort of scheme and company you'd like to work for. There's a graduate scheme out there for pretty much everyone – it's just a case of finding the right one that suits you.
Remember that applications take time, so do yourself a favour and don't fall into the trap of sending off hundreds of applications to schemes you barely know anything about in the hope that something good comes your way.
Employers are not receptive to generic applications: like all of us, they want to feel special, and that's one of the secrets to getting any job. Your intention is to show a genuine interest in the company, and it'll become clear very quickly to whoever is reading your application whether or not this is the case.
The key to success with graduate schemes is picking out a carefully considered few that really appeal to you, and spending your time getting your application just right.
And where to start with your research? Here's our recommendations!
Right here on Save the Student
Our graduate scheme directory is a great place to get a good idea of the different companies offering training programs.
Not only will this directory give you a nice overview of the opportunities up for grabs, but we also have a list of graduate scheme deadlines that include information pages on companies and links to application pages for additional info.
This is the best place to start (although admittedly we might be a bit biased on this one!).
Register with a specialist recruiter
We'd recommend getting hooked up with a specialist graduate recruiter like Graduate Recruitment Bureau, particularly if you feel like you could do with a bit of guidance.
Graduate recruitment companies will throw carefully matched opportunities your way, but also be available to help you with the whole application process free of charge.
This includes helping you get your CV up to scratch, filling out application forms and handling interviews and assessments to the best of your ability.
Graduate recruitment websites
Beyond agencies like GRB, there are a whole host of websites and companies out there listing the latest graduate career opportunities.
Remember that graduate recruitment is big business, so you need to be smart on this one. There's a serious risk of data overload including hundreds of ‘job alerts' in your inbox each week if you're not really selective about what you're looking for.
It might be a good idea to set up a new folder in your email inbox to filter graduate opportunities if you feel overwhelmed, or even set yourself up an entirely new email address just for job applications so you keep everything separate.
Company sites and social media pages
If you've got a particular employer in mind, make sure you're regularly checking their website for any vacancy posts or announcements.
Follow your top picks on LinkedIn and Twitter, like them on Facebook and sign up to any newsletters they might have. This will keep your finger on the pulse in terms of upcoming opportunities, and you'd be surprised by how frequently companies post on social before anywhere else.
If you have an idea about the kind of career you want to forge, make sure you check dedicated websites and trade magazines in that sector. The CIPD site might be handy if you're looking at HR jobs, for example.
To get a feel for your industry and what's going on behind the scenes, we'd recommend keeping an eye on the Association of Graduate Recruiters, which is very much in the know when it comes to graduate careers, so you can use this to your advantage.
Your university careers service
There's a good chance that your uni will have dedicated notice boards or a careers website to advertise graduate schemes.
Most will also have a fully fledged university careers service, offering free advice and support to students and graduates, so take full advantage of them (because many don't!).
Blindly scouring the internet can sometimes be like looking for a needle in a haystack. If someone's going to make it easier for you, grab the opportunity with both hands.
You might find out about businesses that you'd never even heard of, or would never otherwise think of working for but is actually really suited to what you want. Keep your eyes and ears open around campus!
The most important thing when it comes to searching for graduate jobs is be proactive, but also have a strategy in place to save you wasting valuable time – you still have your studies and potentially a part-time job to juggle too!
To state the painfully obvious: you should be applying between the application open date and deadline! Missing a deadline is the most easily avoidable hiccup, which is what makes it so infuriatingly annoying when it happens!
Make sure you work out well in advance when employers open the application process and when they will close it. We've got a full list of graduate scheme deadlines here.
It's worth knowing it's also not so rare for recruiters to close the application window early if they get inundated with responses. Therefore, we strongly recommend playing it safe and getting your application in as soon as possible to avoid disappointment.
As a general rule, the application window for most graduate schemes is open from early October to February. If you've missed the boat, you might want to wait another year or look for a regular graduate job instead. However, some schemes are open to applicants all year round – find out who.
Successful applicants will typically start in their new job the following September after graduation.
Prepare, prepare, prepare
When it comes to applying for graduate schemes, preparation really is key. Leaving your application until the last-minute and sending off a rushed effort isn't a good position to be in, and it will be obvious to employers that this has been the case.
There are a couple of things you can do way before your first application: First of all, have an up-to-date CV. Some recruiters and employers will ask you to fill in their own application form rather than submit a CV, but it's always wise to have one ready. You might also find that some sections of your CV are easily transferable and highly relevant to certain sections of the application, so you can copy/paste and edit to suit the question at hand.
If you need a few tips and templates to get the perfect CV, check our guide to writing the perfect CV. Even if you think yours looks great as it is, there's always room for improvement, and getting this part right will be a good pivot point for answering many of the questions you'll be asked.
Next, keep a little notebook or word document full of your achievements – however big or small. It might seem a bit silly, but it's easy to forget about that great project you worked on during the Christmas holidays, the website you started, or the freelance work you did online.
These are things that might not fit or be worthy for your CV, but having something to refer back to when you're preparing for an interview is definitely a smart move.
What to expect from the application process
The recruitment process is likely to involve several stages, so it can require a fair bit of patience as well as hard work from you at this stage.
The specifics will obviously differ from one employer to the next, but there are a few things you can expect to be asked to do as you progress through the stages.
- Submit your initial application (long before the deadline) – This may include a CV and covering letter, plus general questions about your skills and experience. Make sure you tailor your documents and responses for the specific role.
- Complete psychometric testing – This will usually be in the form of maths and english tests which you complete online in your own time. (More advice here).
- Have a phone or Skype interview – This will generally be a one-to-one conversation with a recruiter, typically lasting around half an hour. Have notes at the ready! More advice here and here).
- Attend a face-to-face interview. You'll usually have to travel to the recruiter's offices, and meet with a panel of interviewers. Again, depending on how many applicants there are, this stage could possibly take place over Skype rather then in person. Competency based and job specific questions are common at this stage. (More advice here).
- Attend an assessment centre. This stage of the process tends to involve several exercises throughout a day, including group discussion, teamwork and leadership activities, a presentation, and further interviews. You'll be surrounded by lots of other candidates at this stage, but don't let this intimidate you. Graduates currently taking part in the scheme may also be involved in organising the exercises, so this is a great opportunity to ask lots of questions. They'll know first hand what it's like to be on the programme, and may even be able to offer a few tips. (More advice here).
When you should expect to hear back
There are hundreds of applicants competing for each place on grad schemes, meaning it could be several weeks or even months until you find out whether you've progressed to the next stage or been successful. So unfortunately you'll just need to be patient!
Having said that, don't rest on your laurels! Keep up with your applications to maximise your chances of being placed.
Graduate schemes with the big employers will always be extremely competitive. Carefully choosing which ones to apply for, and really making the effort to prepare and personalise your application is crucial to ensure you stand out from the crowd.
Remember it's always worth keeping an eye opportunities on the graduate job market as well as gunning for a place on training schemes. Good luck!