Let’s face it: deciding on where you want to work straight after you’ve finished your education can be a little like feeling around in the dark for the light switch. One way to get a bird’s eye view of a prospective company is to take part in a graduate scheme.
But what are they, why are they a good idea, and what should you look for in a graduate scheme? In basic terms, graduate schemes can show you all the different functions within the business before you choose to specialise in an area.
There are many different sectors out there and many different lines of work within each of those sectors, so, before you decide on anything, think broadly about everything that is out there. What is most suited to you? What are you interested in, and what excites you?
If you have a genuine interest in a particular field and enjoy what you are doing, you are more likely to succeed. Most schemes accept graduates from any discipline.
PwC Ireland people partner Emma Scott says it is important to take stock of a company’s values and ensure they are aligned with your own.
“Graduate programmes are an excellent idea for anyone starting out their career,” she says. “When looking into graduate programmes, it’s important to research and make sure it’s the right fit for you.
“One piece to watch out for is the company’s values. Do they practise what they preach and, most importantly, do they align with your own values? Find out about their sustainability goals.
“When entering a graduate programme it’s so important to feel comfortable in your surroundings and be able to bring your best self to work each day.
“You should also look at their benefits and the way the company works. Do they have flexibility and will you be rewarded and recognised for the work you will do and the impact you make? Will you be able to remote work if this is what you wish?
“If you are thinking about doing a professional qualification or simply want to get the best training possible, research their learning and development function.
“What do they promote around on the job training and classroom-based learning, do they have relationships with professional bodies and have they won recognised awards for their programmes?”
Ferdia White, business director at recruitment specialist Hays Ireland, points out that graduates have big choices to make.
“The first point to consider is what sort of organisation you want to work for and is it the right cultural fit for you,” he says. “Different employers will offer different challenges and benefits.
“If you choose to go down the multinational route, these companies will generally provide a very structured training programme, possibly including regular catch-ups with a co-ordinator, the opportunity for redeployment within the company, or even a rotational system to give you wider exposure to different areas of the company.
“They also offer the opportunity to progress through the ranks if you have an ambition to do so.
“The other option is a start-up or SME. These smaller employers generally offer a less structured training programme than a multinational.
“That said, this can have its advantages, as you will more than likely get exposure to the decision-makers within the business and a range of different tasks and responsibilities that may not come your way in a more structured environment.
“You will need to learn on the job and change focus at the drop of a hat. This type of environment is generally more suited to the entrepreneurial graduate, as opposed to someone who works best within a structure.”
Many graduate schemes are highly sought after and securing a place can be tricky. Companies nowadays are targeting students in first and second year for these programmes.
Be aware as early as possible what sort of companies you’re interested in and what might be required for their programmes. Make contact with companies and ask questions to ascertain whether it is a good fit.
That being said, Daniel Corcoran, a vice president at jobs website Indeed, says there are many companies out there with spaces to fill.
“Historically when selecting a graduate scheme, students will look at the sectors and companies with strong performance, in particular international businesses with a presence here,” he says.
“Job postings on Indeed have recovered strongly across the economy after Covid restrictions were removed and there’s been a similar recovery in graduate jobs, which are outstripping the previous four years.
“This is good news for graduates as many employers have staffing gaps to fill and may be looking at the broad talent pool for the next generation of the business.
“The shape of the labour market has also altered in the wake of the pandemic with sectors like healthcare, online retail and distribution having grown, so I encourage graduates to look across all sectors of the economy for opportunities.
“Oftentimes the only work experience entry-level jobseekers will have is in the form of an internship. So it is still important to make sure you choose one that complements your field of study and meets your overall objective.
“Make sure the internships you’re deciding on align with your passions and career goals – ask yourself what subjects interested me in college or university? Will this help me in my career advancement? What responsibilities will I have?
“Knowing this ensures you’ll be able to take the experience gained from the internship and apply it to your future profession.”
Paul Vance, head of resourcing at KPMG, says to “think carefully about what matters to you” when you are making these choices.
“In our experience candidates want to know what sort of clients they’ll be working with, what sort of training is available, what are the career progression opportunities, might you be able to work abroad, and importantly, what the culture is like,” he says.
“Are the people nice, are there social and sports opportunities? You should also consider do you know anyone who does business with your potential employer and see have they a view of what they are like.
“You can often pick up a good feeling from just doing some research and asking around.”
Sinéad D’Arcy, head of the Jameson international graduate programme, says the Irish Distillers group tend to look for “innovative self-starters”.
“Graduate programmes are a great way to transition from college life into the world of work as they usually offer a structured training programme to support students in developing the skills and knowledge they need to kick-start their career,” she says.
“Some provide an opportunity to progress to a professional qualification. At Irish Distillers, we focus on recruiting graduates who are creative, innovative, self-starters with an entrepreneurial mindset for the Jameson international graduate programme.
“We call this ‘serious character’. Our focus is more on attitude and fit than on what you have studied. The programme is open to all degree types with graduates coming from a variety of backgrounds such as business, languages, psychology, and arts.”
Graduate programmes typically range in duration from 12-36 months and an advantage is that they can provide a clear career path post-qualification.
Once you get in the door, there is a good level of support, training and development opportunities on these schemes, and you are ensured of a mentor to help you through problems.
Graduates will be rotated around and will get to see different types of roles, so try to absorb as much information as possible and you will be far more attractive to your employer as you will have a holistic view of the business.
D’Arcy adds: “In addition, there is typically the opportunity to gain exposure to senior leaders within the business at an early career stage, which means graduates are learning directly from leaders from the outset.
“There are a lot of graduate programmes offerings currently in the marketplace, so I would recommend taking the time to research these offerings by attending career fairs, chatting with careers officers, connecting with the company and with recent graduate recruits to find out what the programme is really like and is it really for you.
“This will ensure you choose a programme that best suits your development goals and career aspirations.”