Graduate Scheme or Graduate Job?

Submitted by Cathy Hodgson on Fri, 02/11/2022 - 18:04


I recently supported a student who was entering her final year of study at Arden. She was bright and conscientious and was eager to look beyond the final year of her studies – to look ahead to the career she was about to start. We considered her possible next steps, and it soon became clear that the options fell into two main categories. There were graduate schemes, and there were graduate jobs.


Even for a student nearing the home straight of their studies, this can be a difficult distinction to grasp. What exactly is the difference between a graduate scheme and a graduate job? As Arden’s Careers Consultant, I am more than happy to tell you.


One major difference between a graduate job and a graduate scheme is in their underlying structure. A graduate scheme is a highly structured training programme that is designed to cultivate the next generation of leaders in a specific organisation or sector. The key thing to bear in mind is that many of these schemes are open to graduates of any degree discipline.


This opens the doors to whole world of opportunities – remember that having a degree does not just mean that you are good at your subject, it shows that you have applied yourself in earnest to a difficult task for a long period of time. It shows you can solve problems and work both independently and collaboratively. It shows, in short, that you know how to learn. My first piece of advice is this – do not write yourself off. If you see a graduate scheme in an area you’re passionate about, but are concerned that is not directly related to your studies, apply for it anyway. You have nothing to lose by trying.


Once you’ve got your foot in the door, you’ll find that most graduate schemes are typically between one to three years. They have a strong professional structure and are generally aimed at helping you progress to a more senior role in the end. You can think of them as essentially ‘Professional Postgrad Degrees’ – there is a strong emphasis on responsibility and learning the relevant skills. Whatever your degree subject, you will find that the skills you learned in your studies – especially critical thinking, clear writing, and the ability to assess problems from multiple perspectives – will be invaluable. You’ll also find that the soft skills you learn in academia – communications skills, time management, prioritisation of your workload, and the ability to perform under pressure – will also help you here.


Postgraduate schemes are available in a wide variety of sectors – everyone is always on the lookout for top talent! Many companies offer postgraduate schemes specialising in human resources, marketing, technology, finance, and logistics. There are also graduate schemes in the public sector for teaching, social work, and prison officer roles. It all depends on what you personally want to specialise in.


As already mentioned, postgraduate schemes put a strong emphasis on responsibility from the outset. You will be given the opportunity to gain hands-on experience, which will deepen and broaden your understanding of your chosen profession. You will also receive support from an experienced expert in the field, and many schemes also offer postgraduate or professional qualifications. At all times you should feel challenged but supported. Remember – the graduate scheme is an opportunity for you to decide what career path is right for you, so don’t feel obligated to stay with the same company forever! A major advantage of graduate schemes is that they allow you to learn what roles and companies you are best suited to.


It probably won’t surprise you to learn that the application process for most graduate schemes is very competitive. The process can involve four or five steps and may include interviews and aptitude tests. This can be daunting – especially for a new graduate – and that is what the Arden Careers and Employability Team is here for. We can help you navigate tricky interviews and ensure that your application makes the most of your considerable talents. We can also help you to demystify the entry requirements and timescales inherent to graduate schemes, so don’t hesitate to get in touch!


Now that we’ve covered graduate schemes, it’s time to address the second half of the equation – graduate jobs. ‘Graduate job’ is a much more wide-ranging term than ‘graduate scheme,’ and one that the University of Warwick helpfully define as any position that requires the successful candidate to hold a degree. In other words, any job that needs the knowledge and skills that a degree provides in order to be done properly. Graduate jobs are aimed at high-performing graduates who are motivated to progress in their careers. They may also offer training and support, but the emphasis – as you might guess from the name – is on the job itself. They are less clearly structured than graduate schemes, and this can be an advantage – especially if you already have a clear idea of what career you want to pursue. Remember that one excellent graduate can have a huge impact on the future of an organisation, especially if it is a small to medium sized enterprise.


The application process for graduate jobs is also competitive, and you may be in competition with people from similar academic backgrounds to you. Since, as we have already mentioned, the operative word in ‘graduate job’ is ‘job,’ you should focus your application on what unique skills and insight you can bring to the task at hand. Most graduate jobs involve several rounds of interviews, and you may need to present a response to a task or suggest a solution to a given problem. Recruiters for graduate jobs value creativity and originality of thought (as do your lecturers!) so don’t be afraid to stand out!


So, what are the next steps? Well, if you’re in your second or final year at Arden – and starting to look beyond your final dissertation – the Arden Careers and Employability team are here to help you. We strongly recommend you look into graduate schemes and graduate jobs equally – you never know what opportunities you might find. You can track employability opportunities and sign up for job alerts through the careers section of iLearn. The Careers and Employability team also offer workshops on everything from interview techniques to understanding assessment centres, and we strongly recommend you drop into these.


The first step in any career is the hardest, and we understand that coming to the end of a degree can be daunting. Whatever career ladder you choose, we are here to give you the first leg-up.