For those in their final year of university, the decision about what to do next can be one that causes a lot of uncertainty and anxiety. Even graduates who want to dive straight into their careers will often find themselves stuck at a crossroads – should they apply for high profile graduate schemes, or a ‘normal’ graduate job at a smaller company?
Whilst there’s no reason you can’t apply for both types of graduate jobs, it’s important to remember that both paths have their own distinct sets of benefits and drawbacks. It’s worth not only considering what you want to do in terms of actual work, but also the sort of company and environment you’d like to work in.
After all, there’s a big difference between a huge corporate office and a startup just getting off the ground! You’ll likely find that one suits your personality and ambitions far more than the other.
With this in mind, we’re going to take a look at the main differences between graduate jobs and graduate schemes. We’ll break down the pros and cons, and help you to make that difficult decision.
What Are Graduate Schemes?
Strictly speaking, a graduate scheme is just another type of graduate job. However, they often offer a different experience to other jobs. Although businesses of all shapes and sizes seek the fresh talent of graduates, graduate schemes are typically offered by large, well-known, and very successful companies.
The scheme itself will normally be a formalized, fixed term of employment which lasts between one and three years (although there’s often a chance to continue at the same company after completion). You’ll follow a set path with a structured training plan in place.
Let’s take a closer look at the pros and cons of this set-up!
Pros of Graduate Schemes
1. High Starting Salaries
Your career might not be all about the money, but a decent salary can sweeten the deal. Those on graduate schemes enjoy an average annual salary of £27,000, with some salaries far higher than this.
For example, the popular graduate scheme offered by Aldi pays its new regional managers a starting salary of £44,000 per year. What’s more, if you carry on working there, the figure rises to £75,000 after four years– far more than most will be earning at that point! That’s a perk.
2. Training and Development Opportunities
Graduate schemes offer amazing opportunities for personal development, right at the start of your career. With a structured plan in place, you can expect plenty of formal training, giving you more than enough chances to get to grips with your chosen role.
You’ll be learning and developing constantly, and will learn an abundance of new skills in a relatively short amount of time. You could even get the chance to earn a professional qualification. Plus, you’ll often be given a mentor who will guide your personal development through one-to-one sessions.
All these skills will benefit you in the future and look brilliant on your CV. Compared to many jobs where you’ll just learn as you go (often with little real training), this more planned approach means you won’t end up with glaring gaps in your knowledge.
3. Added Prestige
There’s something to be said for having a well-known brand in your CV rather than a tiny company no one’s ever heard of. Future employers will recognize the name, and also the fact that you managed to secure a place on a competitive scheme. This can give you a leg-up further down the line.
4. Opportunities to Travel
Fancy exploring the world? Some graduate schemes offer you the opportunity to do just that. You could be visiting clients and customers in far-flung locales, or you even get the chance to work abroad for a few years on a secondment scheme.
Plus, you’ll be getting paid the whole time so can avoid the bed in a shared hostel dorm in favor of something a bit more luxurious.
5. Additional Perks
Graduate schemes often reward their employees generously. You can expect anything from a snazzy new phone or laptop, right up to a company car. Other benefits could include private health insurance, gym memberships, or free breakfast at work every day (so you’ve got no excuse to skip it!).
Some companies even offer relocation packages to help you with the costs of moving to a new city.
6. Job Security (for Now at Least)
As long as you pass your probation, you’ll have peace of mind knowing that your job is safe for the duration of the scheme. At smaller companies with less capital behind them, this might not be the case – for example, they might unexpectedly be forced to make people redundant if the cash flow dries up. Bigger brands that offer graduate schemes are normally more well-established so this is less of a risk.
Cons of Graduate Schemes
It’s not all plain sailing and graduate schemes certainly aren’t the best option for everyone. Consider if these cons are deal-breakers before you start filling out that fifteen-page application!
1. Very Competitive
Many graduate schemes have been around for years, and are well-known in universities. Combined with the perks mentioned earlier, this means they tend to be flooded with applications.
The competition will be intense and it might be the case that you don’t get on to a graduate scheme at all. But don’t be disheartened by this – each year, only 14% of applicants get accepted. This is why it’s worth considering if it’s the right path for you before you begin the often grueling application process. Speaking of which…
2. Grueling Application Process
If you think a job interview is bad enough, graduate schemes take their application processes to a whole other level. You’ll have to be successful throughout multiple application stages.
Even the initial application form can be incredibly detailed, often including difficult question and answer sections where you’ll be expected to articulate in-depth knowledge of your chosen field. If you overcome this first hurdle, you’ll still have to tackle many more stages which could include:
- Psychometric testing — timed tests that often include numerical and verbal reasoning components, as well as a personality test to determine if you’re a good cultural fit.
- Phone or Skype interviews
- Video interviews — these are different from an online video interview, as there won’t be someone talking to you on the other end. Instead, you’ll have to record yourself answering a series of timed questions that will pop up on the screen.
- Group assessment days — these often include team building activities, presentations, group discussions, or role-playing scenarios.
- Initial individual interview
- Final interview
All these steps can take many months, so make sure you’re willing to commit the time and effort it will take. The initial application window can also be quite narrow, meaning you’ll have to keep an eye on any approaching deadlines.
3. Very Corporate Environment
This won’t be a con for everyone, but some people find they hate the corporate feel of a large company. You can end up feeling like just another face amongst hundreds or even thousands of other employees, and this can be especially uncomfortable for a newbie.
After years of wearing what you want at university, you’ll also have to adjust to wearing formal attire every day.
Plus, in big businesses, it can be really difficult to avoid getting involved in workplace politics – particularly when there’s often intense competition for promotions. There can also be lots of frustrating bureaucracy and resistance to change.
If this doesn’t sound like your scene, it might be worth going with your gut instinct.
4. Long Hours
If you’re the sort of person who values work-life balance, grad schemes might not be for you. There’s often pressure to work long, tiring hours well beyond 5 pm, and at times you might have to work weekends.
For this article, graduate jobs are any jobs aimed at graduates that don’t have the ‘graduate scheme’ structure. Whilst graduate schemes often hire a whole cohort of graduates, a smaller employer might only need one or two graduates at a time. These ‘normal’ graduate jobs will be available year-round (unlike the short application window you often get with grad schemes) and many more graduates end up taking a job like this. After all, there’s always someone looking to hire.
Pros of Graduate Jobs
1. Smaller, Closer Teams
If you don’t like the idea of being lost in a corporate environment, a job at a startup or SME could be perfect for you. You’ll be working with fewer people and you can get to know more people across the business. This often means a friendlier, warmer workplace that feels truly inclusive.
2. Available Across All Sectors
Graduate schemes are all well and good, but they’re often limited to quite specific sectors. Most of them are either in finance, IT, or retail. If your ambitions don’t line up with these sectors, opting for a normal graduate job means you’ll have many more options available to you. It’s not worth beginning a graduate scheme in an industry you hate just for the money!
3. More Hands-on Experience
You probably won’t get as much training at an SME, as they’ll have less time and resources to devote to it. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you’re the sort of person who likes to get stuck into a job straight away. Learning on the job allows you to develop your skills in a practical setting, which can sometimes be more effective than being taught in a training session.
4. You’ll Have a Noticeable Impact on a Business
The smaller the business, the bigger your impact. It can be nice to see the results of your work and how your contribution is helping the business grow. Plus, smaller businesses tend to have less regimented policies and systems and so are more open to new ways of doing things. You won’t just feel like another cog in the machine, which can happen at huge companies.
5. More Flexible Roles
Graduate schemes offer a fixed career path, often focusing on a specific area of the business. However, smaller businesses often have less staff and so need their employees to get involved in lots of different areas. If you value variety and flexibility, this can be a bonus. You certainly won’t get bored!
Cons of Graduate Jobs
1. Lower Pay
You can expect a more modest starting salary at a smaller business. You won’t get the ‘premium’ rate that graduate schemes offer. In the UK, the average starting salary for recent graduates is only around £20,000 per year. This is around £7000 a year less than what’s normally offered for graduate schemes.
2. Fewer and Less Structured Training Opportunities
Training at an SME or startup is normally more informal. This doesn’t matter so much if you have a manager that focuses on your personal development.
If you don’t, a lack of formal training can mean you don’t learn much at a particular job, and leave it with much the same skills you started with. Many businesses undervalue training, and this is something you should screen for when attending job interviews.
3. Less Structured Career Progression
At larger companies, there are usually very clear career paths in place. You’ll be able to see exactly how you’ll rise to a more senior position within the business. For very small companies, promotions may be few and far between, meaning the only way to progress is to move jobs.
4. Greater Job Instability
This won’t always be the case, especially for more established SMEs. However, taking a job at a start-up or brand new business can be risky. There’s a much greater chance that the business will fail in its early stages, with a shocking 90% of start-ups collapsing. That’s a pretty big chance that you’ll ultimately end up left without a job and salary.
To conclude, if you’re looking for a high flying and lucrative corporate career, and you don’t mind some stress along the way, a graduate scheme could be perfect for you.
But if you’re looking for a job where you get to know everyone in a more relaxed environment and see your tangible impact on the business, definitely consider applying for a regular graduate job!