How to Improve Your Chances of
Landing a Place on a Graduate Scheme

See also: Employability Skills for Graduates

Graduate schemes are professional training programs designed by employers to prepare the future leaders of their company. A graduate program is essentially an entry-level job that provides training and mentoring, and also allows you to interact with more areas of the company than traditional jobs.

Graduate schemes have become hugely popular, which makes them some of the most competitive positions available for job seekers. Due to an excess of highly skilled graduates, there are thousands of applicants each year vying for a place on the top graduate schemes.

In this article, we will share with you some advice to improve your chances of landing a place on a graduate scheme. So, whether you are a fresh graduate ready to apply, or a university student preparing for what is to come – we will help you leap to the top of the applicant mountain and reach the summit to secure your place.

Aptitude Tests

Due to the popularity of graduate schemes, many employers are overwhelmed with applicants. This results in employers using methods to make the applicant pool more manageable. The first stage of many graduate schemes is now an online form (your name, education history, etc) and a selection of aptitude assessments.

These online tests are used at the beginning of the assessment process to eliminate the lowest scoring applicants. Thousands of applicants will fail this first stage and never have a chance to meet the employer or undertake any interviews so it's essential that, if you want to improve your chances of landing a graduate scheme, you need to practise aptitude tests. Not only because it will allow you to progress to the next stage, but because the employer will keep a record of your performance and refer to it in later stages.

You could be highlighted as one of the star performers from the assessment stage – this can then help your chances of making it to the final stage. Alternatively, you could be one of the lowest performing candidates from the online tests and face an uphill battle to convince the employers to hire you over the others.

Build up work-experience

Work experience is an essential part of securing one of your first jobs. It can be tricky for many graduates because they haven’t started their career yet: you’ve been spending your time in education and so the amount of work experience you’ve collected could be minimal.

As you’re writing your CV or answering online questions about your experience, it’s easy to think that it’s only worth mentioning experience that is relevant to the role you’re applying for – however this is not true. Many roles across different sectors all make use of the same type of key skills – communication, teamwork, perseverance. These core skills are found in all types of job roles, and even sports. If your work experience is slim, then try to leverage anything you can.

Volunteering is a great way to build up work experience and develop these skills whilst also giving you an extra edge on other candidates. As volunteering is unpaid and is often for good causes, it will shine a light on your character as well as expressing a strong work ethic. There are many establishments that you can volunteer at, and they are usually always open to new volunteers.

With all this work experience you have built up; you can now leverage it in your application to improve your chances of landing one of those lucrative spots on a graduate scheme. You can include the work experience in your CV; mention it in competency interviews; and use it as evidence of how you have certain skills – it’s always more effective to demonstrate how you are hard-working rather than to simply claim you are hard-working.

Research the companies and schemes

It can be tempting to apply to any company offering a graduate scheme in your desired sector, however, the culture between companies can be wildly different. It’s important to confirm that this is a company you would like to work for. Browse their website, read their mission statement, learn about their schemes and initiatives, research their history, and find out what employees and ex-employees think about them. Discover if this is a place where you want to work and why. Once you understand that, you will then be able to passionately explain in interviews why you wish to work there and what you like about their organisation.

The same advice applies to the schemes you are applying for. There are lots of characteristics which make the graduate schemes offered by companies vary: understand the length of the graduate scheme; whether there is a full-time job offered at the end; what departments you will be working in (some schemes have you working various roles in different departments of the business); what training you will have to undertake; whether you will receive any qualifications; the salary offered and whether it changes as you progress through the programme.

Graduate schemes are complex and time consuming to apply for. To save time, it’s important to research all the elements of the scheme and company in detail to understand if it is something you want to do. You don’t want to have spent weeks going through an application process to discover that it’s not something you’re fully interested in. To improve your chances of landing a place on these lucrative graduate schemes, it’s important to spend your time wisely – research the schemes in detail, and only apply to the ones you really want.

Don’t rush applications

It’s easy to think the more jobs you apply for, the better chance you’ll have at securing a job, however this is not the best tactic. You want to take time on applications that are meaningful to you. You obviously don’t want to pin all your hopes on one graduate scheme, but it’s better to spend a few hours on a single application, taking your time, than to rush a couple applications within the same time.

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Further Reading from Skills You Need

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Final words

There is no time like the present to start preparing for your future. Whether you are about to start university, a current undergraduate, or you’ve graduated and are now ready to start applying – take a moment to digest all our advice and start putting it into practise.

Work on developing the skills that are important for all industries – communication, problem-solving, teamwork and self-confidence. Applications require you to present the best version of you. Developing your interview skills will prove invaluable when it comes to showing employers that you are the right candidate for them.

Now that you know how to improve your chances of landing a place on a graduate scheme, which kind of graduate scheme would you like to join?

About the Author

Oliver Savill is the founder of AssessmentDay and Test Partnership. For over 10 years he has been working in the candidate assessment sector. Millions worldwide benefit from the advice and information shared on his websites and testing platforms.