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        Graduate schemes versus graduate jobs: what's the difference?

        If you're currently at university, it's likely you've been asked whether you're planning to apply for graduate schemes, grad jobs or entry level roles after you graduate. With the world of work being somewhat alien to you at this point, we wouldn't blame you for not knowing the difference yet.

        Although all of these routes can lead to strong and fulfilling careers, it helps to understand their application processes, structures and progression opportunities ahead of your graduate job search.

        What is a graduate scheme?

        Graduate schemes are structured training programmes, designed specifically for university graduates. They tend to last between one to three years but can last up to six for some specialisms, like law. Typically, you'll join a specific division of a company, such as marketing, or HR. However, you'll spend time in different departments to get a better understanding of how the business operates.

        Graduate schemes are generally awarded to those with a 2:1 or higher. However, many employers are becoming increasingly flexible with this criteria.

        The application processes can be lengthy and tend to involve face-to-face interviews, assessments and psychometric tests. There are limited spaces offered within each company, so start your search while you're still at University.

        Graduate schemes are designed to give you a high level understanding of the industry, first-hand experience and the opportunity to build on your key skills.

        Graduate programmes are highly competitive because not only will you have access to specialist training in a high profile company, but they also help you stand out from other candidates.

        Employers are known to pay graduates on their grad schemes exceptionally well. Many top graduate schemes offer a starting salary of more than £40,000 per annum.

        What is a graduate job?

        Many people get confused by the difference between an entry level job and a graduate job.

        Graduate schemes to run for a set period and have a fixed window for when you can apply to them. Graduate jobs are available all year round and are permanent roles. Employers normally offer a limited number of places but they may hire graduates for other positions in the business.

        While graduate jobs tend to be less structured than a scheme, you may still be partial to training opportunities (depending on what your employer offers) and it's likely you'll have a manager to mentor you. The work is likely to be more flexible and fairly hands-on. Therefore, you'll still get valuable experience and be able to build upon key industry skills.

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        When do graduate schemes open?

        Most graduate schemes open for applications in June. The deadlines are normally set for November and December (depending on the employer).

        You should try to apply as soon as you've finished your second year at university. Don't leave your application to the last minute! Some companies close their application window before the deadline if they're already full. If this happens, you can apply the following year.

        You might not find out if you've got an interview as quickly as you might do when applying to a graduate job. Companies tend to start screening and filtering candidates around February.

        Assessments begin around March and once these are completed, offers will be made to the strongest and most fitting applicants.

        When is the best time to apply for graduate jobs?

        Unlike graduate schemes, companies recruit graduates throughout the year. However, you may find that there are seasonal hiring peaks (May to July and September to November.)

        Normally, a company will seek to fill a position within six weeks of advertising it.

        How many years after graduating can I apply for graduate jobs?

        You can apply at any time, regardless of when you graduated. It's a common misconception that graduate schemes and jobs are only for people who have just graduated.

        Many grads find they're unsure about their career options and therefore try their hand at other professions, or secure a job purely to bide time while they consider other industries. There's nothing wrong with this. If anything, having experience can help you stand out from the competition.

        Also, age is no longer a barrier when applying to graduate jobs as many employers have become increasingly committed to equal opportunities.

        Can I get a graduate job with no experience?

        Yes! Firstly, don't worry. Recruiters are trained to recognise potential when they see it. Lots of companies take chances and hire candidates they're impressed by, even if they don't have experience.

        If you don't have experience, apply for an internship. You'll get to work in a company and gain first-hand experience in the industry. You should focus on developing your soft and key skills because recruiters love them!

        Core transferable skills to develop before applying to jobs include:

        • Research skills: involves finding, collecting, analysing, interpreting and evaluating information before presenting it to your employer or client. The findings can be used to shape key business decisions.
        • Communication: being able to write, speak and present clearly is very important. Key communication methods are verbal (speaking), written and visual (body language).
        • Initiative: this means you're able to make logical decisions and take relevant action without being asked. The more experience and confidence you gain, the better your initiative will be. Having sound knowledge of your sector will increase your confidence in using your initiative. Work experience is also a great way to develop this skill.
        • Teamwork: is about working with others in a group to complete a task or project. Most jobs involve working with other people. A good way to develop teamwork skills is to do work experience at different places. You'll be forced to meet new people, which can quickly develop your ability to operate efficiently within a team.
        • Flexibility: is about adapting to changing circumstances and environments. You need to try new ways of doing things, whether that involves working different hours or following new work processes. You can develop this skill by putting more trust in other people and forcing yourself to try something new on a regular basis.
        • Organisation: Being organised essentially means knowing exactly what you're supposed to be doing. It means making sure your working life is in order. Properly filed paperwork and appropriate levels of tidiness and cleanliness all contribute towards projecting a professional, organised employee.

        If you feel you need to develop a particular skill then make efforts to do so. Work experience can be a great for this.

        How do I get a graduate job?

        The first step is to apply, either via an application form or by submitting a CV and cover letter.

        The next step is likely to be an interview. You might be interviewed more than once, usually so different stakeholders can meet you or to discuss your experience and ambitions in more depth.

        You may also be required to carry out an assessment or test at some point.

        Here are some tips to follow before you apply:

        • Clean up your social media accounts: employers are likely to do a quick search on you before they invite you for an interview. Get rid of anything embarrassing or set your social media pages to private.
        • Update your CV and cover letter: even if your CV feels a bit bare at this stage in your career, it's worth including part-time jobs and university projects to demonstrate your use of soft skills.
        • Research the industries you're interested in: try saving jobs first before applying. This way, you'll be able to thoroughly consider your written application and tailor it to the specific job requirements (recruiters love this!)
        • Do some research: check out the company page before you make an application because it's a quick way of understanding their work culture. If you get shortlisted, you'll be invited to an interview with a hiring manager or recruiter. Make sure you understand the role and what the company does. If anything feels unclear, use the interview to ask questions.

        The next stage will either be a second interview and/or assessment.

        Who are the times top 100 graduate employers this year?

        The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers reveals the top graduate employers in the UK and is based upon the answers of more than 19,000 graduates who have recently left university.

        You can find the latest version of the list here.

        Want to learn more?