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the 14 pros and cons of graduate schemes

Graduate schemes, or graduate jobs, have become increasingly common over the last decade.

graduate schemes pros and cons

You’ve probably heard your university spout praise in abundance for them. You’ve probably noticed your friends filling out application forms so laborious that they make Pride and Prejudice look like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. And no, you don’t get a free toy.

What is a graduate scheme?

A typical graduate scheme will last between three months and three years. You would work across a variety of different departments, and all training will be done on the job. Most schemes lead to a permanent position, and many will offer the chance to achieve a recognised professional qualification, such as ACCA or TCA.

Usually, the role will be in a large corporation, such as a bank or a leading retailer. The starting salaries for these roles are much higher than you would normally expect from a starting role at a smaller company, and as such the benefits package is normally larger. Pension schemes, healthcare, company cars and paid-for professional qualifications are some of the things you would expect to see.

Traditionally, these schemes open early and close early, sometimes as early as October. First stage interviews would start in January, with a verdict being reached in March/April. However, take this guideline with a pinch of salt, asn many graduate schemes recruit throughout the year.

I bet you’re thinking something along the lines of “awesome, I’d better apply for everything going to make sure I get onto one!”

But slow down, hot wheels! If it looks too good to be true, it’s because it is.

Before allotting some time to apply for these roles, you need to weigh up all the pros and cons of these schemes and decide if it’s the right thing for you.


+1: Early earnings potential

As mentioned before, large corporations have the financial clout to offer lucrative packages to young people. Base salaries would normally start in the mid £20k range, but could reach £30k and even go beyond that. Take Aldi’s area management graduate scheme, for example.

graduate schemes pros and cons

The starting salary, for a guy fresh out of university with limited working experience and a 2:1, is £42,000. Over the next four years, that already bulging wallet of yours will expand to the £70,000 mark. SEVENTY THOUSAND POUNDS.

And that’s not all. As part of the package, you’ll receive a FULLY EXPENSED AUDI A4, which has rapidly become one of the most popular perks among graduates. Other perks include private healthcare, a pension scheme, life assurance, 5 weeks holiday AND opportunities to work abroad.

All you have to do is commit to working 50 hours a week, including weekends. That’s quite some package.

+2: Job security

graduate schemes pros and cons

Graduate schemes have a fixed schedule, and with that comes the security of a few years of work. Due to grad schemes only being offered by large companies, lay-offs are less likely in some cases.

This doesn’t mean you can slack, though; there will still be a probationary period where your suitability will be evaluated.

+3: Access to training

The biggie with regards to graduate schemes is the training. This ranges from one-to-one mentoring to gaining a professional qualification.

One graduate scheme that does get consistently fantastic reviews for its training is Barratt Developments. The starting salary isn’t nearly as high as Aldi’s, but it is pretty clear that graduates benefit from getting to know the company directors and the advice and training they receive from all directions. You can read reviews of Barratt Developments here.

Another example of a great training program is Teach First.

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Most companies understand just how hard the Teach First program is to overcome. You spend two years as a trainee teacher in some of the roughest schools in the country. Because you’re a trainee, pay is low: between £16k and £19k. It’s extremely hard work, but the lessons and skills you learn are truly invaluable, and a mentor will be there for you every step of the way. There’s also the opportunity to undertake a Masters in Educational Leadership, and the emotional development is unparalleled.

+4: The chance to work for a big name/prestige

Name recognition is something that appeals to a lot of graduates. It naturally increases the chance of landing different roles in the industry if you have a reputable name on your CV.

The likes of PwC, Accenture and Teach First are all in partnership with each other. If you made it onto the prestigious Teach First program, for example, your chances of becoming an associate at PwC is likely to be higher than that of a regular graduate.

There’s also the reference, which you’ll likely receive from a highly influential figurehead.

It’s a level of prestige that SMEs simply can’t match.

+5: Opportunities to work abroad

graduate schemes pros and cons

*Disclaimer – Work destination unlikely to be Turtle Bay Beach in the US Virgin Islands

With big companies come big opportunities. Almost all large corporations will have offices abroad, and with that comes opportunities to experiences new places and cultures.

Similarly, there will also be plenty of chances to transfer to a new department, should you feel pigeon-holed into one particular aspect of an industry.

+6: For graduates skilled in IT, there’s plenty to choose from

graduate schemes pros and cons

We recruit in the IT sector, so we know that there is far from a shortage of roles. Similarly, there are plenty of graduate schemes for those gifted enough in sector you probably wouldn’t have thought of.

The likes of Boots, Royal Mail, MI5, Morrisons, Allianz Insurance and many more all seek IT graduates; you’re not just restricted to the big few names like IBM, Microsoft, Deloitte and KPMG.


-1: Who are you?

Chances are, you will never get to meet the people at the top of the pyramid, and they will have no real interest in meeting you. Unfortunately, you could end up feeling like a drop in the ocean, or a little fish in a big pond.

Relationship building could also be a problem. If you’re being rotated from department to department, what chance do you have of truly getting to know anyone? This is a particularly big issue on generic “business management” schemes.

-2: Less hands-on work

At an SME, you’re thrown straight into the work that you’ll be doing for the rest of your career. You’d be given one-to-one training and the opportunity to build relationships with everyone in the company.

On a graduate scheme, you’re more likely to do more shadowing. While the training will be more wholesome, you’d be given little opportunity to get stuck in and fail/succeed for yourself.

-3: Doesn’t cater to all business sectors

Sure, if you want to go into finance, retail or IT, a graduate scheme is great. What about media? Social work? Journalism? All hugely competitive creative industries with a lack of graduate schemes outside the major news publications. It seems that a lot of sectors just don’t suit the graduate scheme structure.

In fact, these sectors will probably require you to go back into study (for example, to get the NCTJ qualification for journalism), only for you to end up in freelance work anyway due to a shortage of trainee contracts (which, by the way, have awful pay)

-4: No guarantee of a job, despite what they tell you

According to Aldi’s graduate careers page, they hire 150-200 area managers every year. Next year, they’ll hire another 150-200 area managers… and the year after that.

They have roughly 550 stores in the UK. To this writer, that reeks of an over-saturation of staff. Where do all these area managers end up?

That’s just one example. We had a call in the office the other day from a guy who was on a graduate scheme which was basically a scrap for a handful of junior positions. Sometimes, more graduates are taken on than positions are available at the end.

-5: Red tape policy

graduate schemes pros and cons

Oh, the red tape policies… basically, the art of splitting hairs for splitting hairs’ sake.

The sheer amount of rules, regulations, litigation and corporate jargon you’re exposed to in big companies is astounding. There will be meeting after meeting after meeting… but don’t be surprised if none of the content of those meetings actually happens because it’s blockaded by layers of pointless bureaucratic legislation.

-6: Pigeon-holed into one department/certain area

graduate schemes pros and cons

There seems to be a general consensus that graduate schemes are either broad but not deep (too much rotation), or too restricting. Unless you specifically request a transfer to another department, you could end up getting stuck.

Due to the hyper-organised nature of large companies, you’ll likely be restricted to a specific department, working on a specific set of tasks. This can cause motivational issues as well if your line of work isn’t interesting.

-7: Competition for places

If you hadn’t already guessed from an extremely laboured recruitment process, graduate job places are hot property. Once you get there, you’re still competing with other graduates for roles and promotions within the organisation.

We don’t want to bring doom and gloom to graduate schemes, but it’s more likely that workplace politics will play a role in a promotion than at an SME. You could find your hard work going unnoticed.

-8: You get treated like a rookie

There are two facets to this. The first is that a number of graduates have complained about the amount of unnecessary training sessions they are forced to do. It seems that some graduate schemes treat you like you know nothing about being a worker.

Secondly, you’re treated as a rookie for longer. Say for example, you are on a two-year graduate scheme; even if you feel like you’re ready for the next step and have proven your worth, you’re a rookie until those two years are up.

Ultimately, the ball falls either side of the fence. Graduate schemes either suit your style, or they don’t. You’ll only find out by exploring as many options as you can though.

Want to know what graduate schemes we’re recruiting for? Get in touch!

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We only want the best for you and are here for you every step of the way.