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How to secure a place on a graduate scheme

By CIMA
Book open Reading time: 3 mins

Are you thinking about applying for grad schemes and are concerned about just how competitive it might be? These tips will help you to stand out from the crowd.

After years of study, late night cramming and deadlines, donning your graduation gown is a proud moment for any university student.

The hard work and sacrifice is over because you’ve got a degree and that guarantees you a well-paid job at the company of your dreams, right? If only it was that simple.

If you haven’t landed your dream job by the time you’ve shaken hands with your university chancellor, chances are that you might be looking to secure a graduate placement. Graduate placements are usually offered by big firms wanting to attract young talent and they offer industry experience and career progression. The slight snag with this is competition – and it’s fierce.

So, what does a company look for when selecting graduates for placement and what can applicants do to stand out? Here are some top tips.

1. Explore the options

Firstly, you must think broadly about all the different sectors available, what you’d be most suited to and what makes you tick. It is important to choose something that you are passionate about and are driven by. If you have a genuine interest in the field and enjoy what you are doing you are more likely to succeed and it won’t go unnoticed by an employer. Most grad schemes accept graduates from any discipline – the options are endless and it’s your job to narrow them down.

2. Think about what you want to gain

Next, you should think about what you actually want from your career. Ask yourself, do I want to a big brand on my CV? Do I want the opportunity to work internationally? Do I want high earning potential? Am I looking for a laid-back or fast-paced culture? Do I want an informal or formal environment? It’s important that you ask yourself all of these questions and do a lot of research to ensure that you’ll get what you want out of the role.

3. Ask experts

Engage with graduate recruiters at careers fairs and events to find out as much as possible about the company and the available roles. This gives you a wider understanding of what is out there. This will also help you to decide if the job is actually right for you. It’s also worth speaking to past graduates or interns who have worked for the company that you’re interested in. This gives you the opportunity to hear an unbiased perspective of what it’s like to work there and help you to understand the roles.

4. Network

Networking and attending careers fairs are very important when it comes to finding the best scheme for you. Speaking to as many companies and business representatives as you can will ensure a full understanding of the role and the culture of the company. This will help you to decide whether it is really the right place for you. 

5. Learn the day-to-day activities of the job

Attending events and networking will give you a full understanding of what the companies that you’re applying to work for actually do. Make sure you ask what the day-to-day work involves, so that you can see whether it matches your skill set and whether you’ll enjoy the job.

6. Don’t limit your opportunities

It’s worth casting the net a bit wider and applying for schemes that aren’t commonly advertised on campus. Major industries such as banking, consulting and the public sector have traditionally been showcased in the campus space. However, taking the path less travelled and looking into technology companies, start-ups and alternative employers that offer different career paths can often be fruitful and offer more diverse opportunities.

7. Meet the criteria

Most companies will have a checklist of core attributes and skills that they desire in their applicants. If you know what they’re looking for prior to your application, you can adapt your application to give you a lead.

8. Paint the best picture of yourself

Finally, take some time to focus on your own personal brand – first impressions count. This includes everything from your attitude, behaviour (both online and offline) and being authentic. Asking friends and family to identify your strengths and areas of development will allow you to make improvements and changes that you may not have spotted. Employers want to see you demonstrate that you know your motivations and ambitions, have problem-solving skills and are self-aware. This can become apparent quite early on in the interview process, where competency-based questions can be asked and graduates may have to give key examples of their achievements and examples from extra-curricular activities.

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