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It’s June. By now most of you will know whether or not you bagged that elusive grad scheme place. If you did, congrats, because grad schemes are notoriously competitive, and they’re pretty cool in many ways; you’ll get a set training scheme with lots of institutional support, you’ll have a big company’s name on your CV, and you’ll probably be paid a little more than the average grad.
But if you didn’t make it through the gruelling application process, or if you hadn’t even heard of a grad scheme until it was too late to apply (or maybe until right now?), worry not, because you’re not alone. In fact, you’re in the majority. Only 16% of graduate-level jobs (i.e. jobs meant for grads) are grad schemes. So here are a few things you 84% could do instead:
Try working for an SME
What the flip’s an SME, I hear you cry? It’s a ‘small or medium sized enterprise’, which is basically any company with fewer than 250 employees. You’re unlikely to have heard of a lot of SMEs as they don’t have the capacity to run huge training schemes, and they often don’t have the resources or the inclination to come onto campus for university careers fairs.
But one thing they do have is jobs. Lots and lots of jobs. SMEs make up 99.9% of UK businesses, they account for almost half of the UK’s GDP and between them they employ 60% of the UK workforce, and 50% of new graduates.
Although big training schemes can seem very attractive, working for an SME has its benefits. Smaller companies are likely to give you more responsibility earlier, a more varied workload, closer contact with senior managers, and you’ll more easily see the impact of your work.
Vacancies at SMEs come up as and when the business requires, so you don’t have to worry that you’ve missed the boat. Jobs boards like JobOnline, UCL TalentBank, and recruitment agencies can be great ways to find SME job adverts. But why not be proactive and contact businesses that interest you? Small start-ups may not have the time or money to advertise entry level roles, so well-timed speculative applications can be successful. UCL Advances has a list of SMEs to start to you thinking about whom to approach, and there are plenty of other SME lists out there (e.g. this London Stock Exchange, this Times, or this UKSBD one) to help you identify target employers.
Try being more committed
One of the nice things about large graduate schemes is the chance to rotate across different departments within the same organisation. The aim is to help you decide which role and department is right for you.
But what if you already know what’s right for you? Why bother with all of that? If a company, whether large or small, is advertising a permanent role in your area of interest, why not apply directly? Even some of those employers offering large graduate schemes tell us that if grads know which team they belong in, direct entry might be a better bet than a rotational training scheme. And depending upon the role, direct entry can be less competitive and involve fewer arduous applications stages than graduate schemes.
Plus, if your grades fall below the grad scheme thresholds (often 2.1 and above), applying directly for lower-level roles can be a great way to get into your target organisation. From there you can work your way up, and we’ve seen examples of graduates (and even some non-graduates who didn’t complete their degree) using this route to get onto their target graduate scheme from within.
Try being less committed
Saying that, 1-3 year graduate schemes require a lot of commitment. It can be an appealing idea to know where you’ll be in a few years, but it can also be somewhat restricting. Shorter internships and placements are a fab way to try out different sectors and organisations, build your networks, and learn about your work preferences, without making a long-term commitment to one organisation. This sort of experimentation could be perfect if you’re not quite sure which route is right for you yet. And if you’re still set on the grad scheme path, the experience you pick up on the way will make your applications stronger in the following years.
And although graduate schemes promise to fast-track you, their regimented nature means that their pace may be too slow for the really ambitious among you. By contrast, regular graduate roles give you the freedom to apply for new higher-level positions whenever they come up and you feel ready, without tying you to a set training path.