Job market

Both different, both good – grad schemes and SMEs

Graduate schemes represent an important sector of the graduate job market, but SMEs offer exciting opportunities too. Try not to conflate ‘graduate job’ with ‘graduate scheme’. There are plenty of organisations looking to hire capable grads, but without the resources and budget to marshal a high-profile recruitment campaign. If you’re a savvy student you’ll consider both options and give yourself the best chance of securing a challenging role post-graduation.

Graduate Training Schemes

  • Graduate training schemes are typically well structured. Trainees complete a  range of placements within the organisation (lasting anywhere from 2-12 months in a programme spanning 1-3 years), giving a great overview of the organisation as a whole and an insight into how the various functions work and interconnect.
  • The big graduate recruiters place a heavy emphasis on training and development, combined with strong mentoring programmes and close supervision. Some companies will also assign a “buddy” – typically a grad who has recently completed the programme. You may be itching to work independently and autonomously from the beginning, but you might have to bide your time. Don’t expect to be PM on day one!
  • One of the big attractions is the feeling of camaraderie with fellow trainees. Depending on the size of the company you could find yourself starting with a handful of grads, or considerably more. Not only does this give you a ready-made source of social support (a real plus point if you’re moving to a new country/city) but also the shared experience of training, learning and working towards professional qualifications together.
  • There’s no doubt that many students are attracted to graduate schemes because of status and prestige – and this is a perfectly legitimate motivating factor! You can certainly reap the rewards if you’re prepared to work hard.
  • It requires very little effort to find graduate schemes – they really are everywhere. You can’t miss the presentations, skills sessions, glossy brochures and campus brand managers. We work with 98 of the Times Top 100 so there are plenty of jobs available on our own vacancies database and through other portals like TargetJobs, Milkround and graduate-jobs.com.
  • The application process is pretty transparent and very well documented. It normally involves a competency based application form (possibly a CV and cover letter in sectors like law and banking) and is a multi-stage selection process including aptitude tests, a telephone interview and an assessment centre. It can be a good few months between application and job offer, with a start date in summer or early autumn following graduation.
  • And finally, the entry requirements are quite rigid: most grad schemes (there are exceptions) will ask for a 2:1 and a certain UCAS tariff. If you have got one, but not the other, the chances are you’ll be screened out.


Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs)

  • Graduate training schemes represent a very small percentage of vacancies in some sectors and in others are almost non-existent! Think how many jobs in print (and digital) journalism exist in local newspapers or niche magazines, compared to the number of large national dailies. Consider how many small and specialist campaigning and charitable organisations there are compared with the household names, and IT jobs don’t start and stop with Apple or Google.
  • There are graduates in young and growing companies who talk with enthusiasm of the way in which they have been able to grow and develop a role according to their own interests and ideas, how there is a much more direct relation between their success in the role and the success of the organisation.
  • Smaller teams and a flatter management structure can create opportunities to shoulder early responsibility, lead projects and influence decision making. Don’t expect this to translate to a high salary though – you’ll need to adjust your expectations and scale accordingly.
  • If you are the only recent graduate recruit in an SME or start-up, you may enjoy the challenges of building up your own networks which can stretch beyond the organisation.
  • You may – no, make that will – have to be a little more resourceful and flexible if you want to unearth some of the graduate opportunities within SMEs. Although most university careers services (Warwick included) are working really hard to raise the profile of SMEs, most of them simply don’t have the same campus presence as the big players. Get the ball rolling by finding out how to start your career in an SME.
  • Graduate jobs with SMEs are often advertised throughout the year with vacancies in the ones and twos, not hundreds. The application process is often less structured, with (typically) fewer stages and a faster turnaround. If you’re really lucky you could find yourself employed within a week or two. They may also be amenable to speculative approaches.
  • And finally, you’re less likely to fall at the 2:1 hurdle. SMEs are open to applications from candidates with a 2:2, provided they show ample initiative and motivation.

One thought on “Both different, both good – grad schemes and SMEs

  1. Pingback: 6 Things you need to know about working for an SME | The Careers Blog

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