The statistics that we hear about competition onto graduate training schemes can be alarming for students and advisers alike. Last year the AGR calculated that the leading UK employers were receiving an average of 85 applications per job. That’s a lot of applications and, sadly, a lot of students who are going to be disappointed.
We know grad schemes are the most sought after outcome for a great many students but are they necessarily the best? And, if not, do our students know enough about the alternatives that are out there, and how to access them? After all, graduate trainee schemes tend to be concentrated on a specific type of employer (often the very corporate, usually larger companies) and these don’t suit everyone. Neither is it the case that every graduating student is ready to commit to a particular career area yet. Additionally, there exists some very blurred lines between what constitutes an ‘official’ graduate training scheme and what may still be a graduate opportunity.
For these reasons it is important that we continue to inform our students that graduate training schemes are one of a number of options open to them upon graduation. And that they should be exploring all these options before deciding which is the best route, personally, for them to take. As well as being encouraged to attend university careers fairs and employer presentations, they should also make the most of the following:
Recruitment consultancies/job boards
In today’s age, when so many young people are coming out of the education with degree qualifications, it is no surprise that the number of entry level positions that ask for ‘graduate calibre’ applicants has increased. And recruitment consultants hold the key to a huge number of these opportunities. Graduates should understand that, whilst they may not be ‘official’ graduate training schemes, this route too can lead to a rapid promotion, salary rises and an investment in training and development. Many undergraduates will be familiar with some of the high street recruitment chains due to their visibility, but are they aware that niche agencies/boards exist for graduates specifically, or for particular industry areas? In my experience, often not.
There is something very attractive to employers about a person who has used their own initiative to seek out potential opportunities and contact employers directly. Resourcefulness is, after all, a crucial skill in the workplace. And whilst larger companies may have very formal routes of applying for vacancies, it is often a lot less formal within, for example, SMEs and start-up firms. Undergraduates who are looking for alternatives to graduate trainee schemes should be encouraged to spend time researching these employers are drawing up lists of who to target.
Students should make the most of all personal networks that they have. The phrase “but I want to do it all myself” may sound commendable but is actually rather naïve in a world where networks continue to matter throughout one’s career journey. Students should be aware that networking is not cheating – it is making the best of personal circumstances. And if they don’t have direct access to these influential people, well, this is where social media steps in. LinkedIn and Twitter can be great ways of making contact with recruiters and employers and finding out about vacancies that my exist.
Contrary to the opinion that this is a choice for people who can’t secure permanent work, there are huge advantages to spending some time in the temping market. Testing out different industries and roles and finding out about the particular working culture that suits you best can mean that, when you are ready to access the permanent job market, you are more likely to get it right first time. Not forgetting the fact that temporary jobs themselves can give way to all kinds of permanent opportunities once you’ve make your mark with an employer.
It is understandable that graduate training schemes are still viewed as the gold mark of success and, as such, they will be an appropriate target for many on completion of their degrees. But that isn’t to say that they are the most appropriate choice for everyone, nor that alternatives don’t hold value. As professionals we need to make sure that graduates are aware of the full breadth of options open to them and know how to access them.