In the UK, a graduate scheme, is a structured work-based training programme offered by many large employers and is often designed to identify and develop the future leaders of the organisation.
Typically lasting 12 to 36 months, the majority are open to graduates from any degree discipline, though certain core requirements such as numerical ability might be required and tested during the recruitment process. Their defined time frame and structure is what distinguishes them from 'graduate jobs'; a term used for other entry-level roles that require people with graduate level education.
Some schemes will be specific to a job role (HR, marketing, retail, sales, strategy, finance) while others might involve rotation through different business functions and locations, to give you a holistic view of how the company operates and help you identify where you might want to work when transition off the scheme and into a permanent position.
Graduate schemes are competitive, and employers typically recruit up to one-year ahead, starting early in Michaelmas Term – and sometimes over the summer – so it’s important to check their deadlines and processes. You would therefore typically apply at the start of your final year of study, but you can choose to wait and apply after you graduate, joining the subsequent year. If you are unsuccessful in your first applications but are still drawn to a particular scheme, consider taking six to 12 months to gain some experience and develop your skills before then re-applying. This could be through volunteering, internships, other work experience. Most organisations will be very happy for you to reapply and will give clear guidelines on length of time they will accept between different applications.
Some graduate schemes, particularly in professional services firms, may also require you to undertake professional qualifications while working. When researching different schemes, make sure you understand the structure of the programme and the opportunities available to you including whether you are guaranteed a permanent role at the end of the scheme.