An Insight into UK Graduate Schemes

In this article you will find 8 things you need to know about Graduate Schemes in UK.

Parents: if university is an option, then pay attention even if your child is still at Key Stage 3.

Students: university costs are phenomenal, make sure your investment is worthwhile.

1. Salaries and Career Paths

The jobs found within Graduate Schemes typically command better salaries than other jobs in the same economic sector. Additionally those who go into these designated graduate jobs tend to have better career opportunities. These schemes usually provide clearly mapped out career paths backed by sponsored training towards lucrative professional qualifications as well as a breadth of robust experience. Basically, all things being equal, clinching a good graduate role from the start on one’s career will provide an edge.

2. A lot of Graduate Jobs are offered before graduation

It is not uncommon for those who have done their homework very well to be offered a conditional role before they complete their degree. Such offers tend to be just before the start of the candidate’s final year in university. The usual path is that the candidate has worked as an intern or undertaken a placement with the organisation at the end of their penultimate university year. Following the internship or placement, conditional offers are made to the best candidates of the programme. The typical condition for graduate schemes is completion of the degree with upper second class (2:1) honours at a minimum. Effectively these candidates do not queue in the job market following graduation as long as they have achieved a 2:1 or 1st class honours degree.

3. Graduate Schemes are very competitive

Given the promise of a potentially better defined career path and a higher starting salary, it goes without saying that these jobs are highly sought after by most graduates. Most employers will typically  require the applicant to have at least a 2:1 honours degree as well as excellent A-level results. These requirements remain the same even where the candidate joins the organisation via the internship or placement route. The A-level results, university performance so far and predicted outcomes at the end of the degree are all central to the selection criteria.

4. The highest paying Graduate Schemes are even more selective

The different industries and sectors of the UK economy command a different range of salaries; these differences are reflected in the graduate jobs too. At the top end of the scale, a graduate in an Investment Bank or top Law firm in London could earn between £40k - £45k per annum whilst graduates in other industries in the same city could be on a salary just over half of that amount. Getting into these high paying careers is therefore even more demanding than the average graduate role.

A lot of the leading employers are looking for the brightest candidates - those who have attended the leading universities with AAA – AAB A-level grades and excellent GCSEs. Some would expect nothing less than A**to A (9 to 7) grades in GCSE Maths & English. To ensure they recruit the best of the best, these employers conduct milk rounds each year, visiting the leading universities to attract their topmost graduates.

5. Academic Attainment is crucial but not enough

For most of the employers running graduate schemes, having excellent GCSE and A-level grades as well as a 2:1 or 1st class degree is just the starting point. The algorithms programmed into their selection software are unlikely to let a candidate get through to the first stage unless they have achieved the minimum specified grades. The academic benchmark is pre-defined hence the focus of the selection process turns to what else the candidate brings to the table. Competencies such as leadership skills, team-building, organisation & prioritisation skills, communication skills, influencing & negotiation skills etc are frequently tested.

These soft skills are not typically gained from a text book but through real life experiences and extra-curricular activities such as:

  1. volunteering in a charity;
  2. promoting a worthy cause e.g. fundraising or campaigning;
  3. getting the Duke of Edinburgh award;
  4. work experience in a related career;
  5. taking a key role e.g. treasurer, social secretary, president etc in a student society;
  6. active participation or leadership role in team sports / choir / music band etc.

These are just a few examples, the key is for the candidate to have engaged in other interests outside of the classroom and in the process developed confidence, emotional intelligence and the core competencies that graduate schemes require.

6. The Early Bird catches the worm

The autumn term of the academic calendar is very crucial whatever the level of education you’re at. Most of the following milestones are due before or by the end of October:

  1. it’s back to school time for everyone from reception to university;
  2. 11-plus exams are taken and the results are published;
  3. parents complete their state secondary school application forms;
  4. students applying to Oxbridge universities or for Medicine, Dentistry etc submit their UCAS applications;
  5. undergraduates seeking graduate roles submit their applications for internships, placements or full-time graduate schemes;
  6. A-level students considering degree apprenticeships which are becoming quite popular, submit their applications.

Missing any of the above deadlines is out of the question for the serious-minded. However even though the deadlines for the last two items on the above list are usually not until later than October, experience shows that the candidate who enters a strong application earlier may have an advantage. This is because some of the leading employers do not wait till the final date before selecting their candidates. Rather applications are processed as they are received and once all the places are taken, the selection process ends even if it is before the advertised deadline.

Another point to note is that whilst most first year undergraduates are partying and enjoying being freshers, those who are savvy amongst them are doing the same but also keeping an eye on the Spring and off-cycle internship roles which are open to first year undergraduates.  Applications for these roles have the same timelines as the main internships. Essentially, the informed and organised first year undergraduate could very well bag the type of work experience which put them ahead of their peers when applying for the summer internship roles and graduate roles in the following years.

7. Some graduates are more sought after than others

Apart from the leading employers preferring graduates from leading universities, some specific departments within these organisations tend to have a preference for certain courses. A 2016 National Audit Office report confirmed that teacher shortages are growing, specifically highlighting A-level teacher shortages for physics, science and maths. It is no wonder that this is the case… not only does the UK not produce enough STEM graduates, the technology departments of Investment Banks have long been known for snapping up top graduates with Engineering, Physics & Maths degrees.

Luckily STEM graduates are not the only ones who are sought after, parents and students would do well to research the job prospects of any course of study being considered. Research notwithstanding, it is unwise to fit a square peg in a round hole. Therefore students should look for the best amongst the courses that play to their strengths and then excel in it. It is better for a student to have a 2:1 or 1st class honours degree from a leading university in a course that they are passionate about than a mediocre degree in one they do not have the flair or potential for.

8. The highest paying Graduate roles are not for the faint hearted

Having worked with employers who run some of the leading graduate schemes in London for a number of years, this article would be incomplete without a bit of insight into what these employers expect from their graduates.

The selection process of these leading employers is designed to target the topmost students hence they have extremely high expectations of their intakes. They choose the best of the crop following multiple fiercely competitive selection rounds which include online assessment tests, video interviews, assessment centres, face-to-face interviews etc. The internship programmes have similar selection criteria and the work experience interns undertake is designed to help them decide whether or not they are cut out for such a career.

Once a candidate becomes an Investment Bank Analyst, Consulting Analyst or Trainee in a leading Law firm, they undergo a very demanding induction programme. Following that, it is not uncommon for the graduate to regularly work in excess of 14-hour days not just on weekdays but also at weekends. Despite this level of rigour, the graduate places available at these leading employers continue to be significantly oversubscribed year after year not just because of the salaries they offer but also because of the training they provide. Furthermore they are recognised far and wide, locally and globally such that resumes showing graduate experience with these organisations usually stand out amongst the pile.

In Conclusion

For A-level and undergraduate students, clearly there’s a lot you can be doing straight away to boost your chances of clinching that internship or graduate job of your dreams in the near future. You may want to start by visiting the Milk-round website or the Student Room to get a glimpse of available jobs and set up alerts so you are notified when the type of job you are looking for is posted to the site.

If on the other hand you’re the parent of a KS3 or KS4 pupil do not file this information away. Now is the time to set the ball in motion - your child will pay attention to what you promote. Be deliberate about your child's academic attainment and the extra-curricular activities they engage in as this will pay dividends when they come to write their personal statement for university applications or attend university / job interviews in future.

Parents Homework

Consider these:

  1. Which subjects should my child choose at the end of KS3 to boost their GCSE scores at the end of KS4?
  2. What can I do to encourage my child to develop an interest in such subjects?
  3. What should I do to help my child develop the study skills that would help them get the top GCSE grades?
  4. What can I do to encourage my child to select one or more facilitating subjects for A-levels to improve their chances to attending a leading university?
  5. Can my child benefit from the free summer schools and pathways programmes which helps envision them from early on?
  6. What kind of experiences should I begin to expose my child to now so that they have a wealth of other / non-academic career-enhancing skills?

Should you need further support with anything covered in this article reach out to us and we will help you take things forward.

We run Soft Skills workshops for students in Years 9-13 during the February and October half-term breaks. Click here if you would like your son or daughter to attend the next one.

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