Future Leader / Graduate Programmes

In my induction talks this week, I’ve been talking a lot about the elite “Future Leader” or “Graduate Programmes” which you will all see advertised on campus, at the recruitment fairs, in glossy graduate & employer directories. These are fantastic programmes, designed to set you on a path hopefully leading to senior management, with companies which your friends and family will all have heard of.

But …
They are only a fraction of the graduate level jobs out there – most of you will go into other jobs, often with similar potential, but without the “big name” branding behind them or pre-packaged training programmes.

Should I be looking at “Graduate Programmes” at all?
If you have significant relevant work experience after your first degree (more than 2 years), you’re probably looking at experienced hire jobs, not these training programmes. You’d quickly get bored, and some programmes won’t consider you if you’ve worked for more than 2 years after your degree.

However, if you’ve got only 1 or 2 years experience, they’re worth considering. It seems that for quite a number of entrants to these schemes, a “big name” graduate programme is a second job after graduating.

For anyone who has less work experience, they could be just what you’re after – but check out “what do these big name programmes look for?”(below), to make a realistic assessment of your chances.

How many “Graduate Programmes” are there?
It’s really hard to estimate how many of these graduate programme vacancies there are, but here’s an example.

The High Flyers organisation survey the employers in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employer directory each year, to find out how many people these employers think they will recruit, and how many they actually recruit at the end of the year. These are many of the “big name” employers with graduate programmes.

By the end of 2009, their survey indicated that the “big name” employers who had answered the survey had recruited just over 13,500 graduates.

Not all employers answer the survey of course, but it’s a well established survey providing useful information to employers who take part. If you guess at a 50% return rate and round it up, you’re in the region of 30,000 places on graduate programmes for the biggest names in graduate recruitment.

And how many graduates are there?
For the same year, there were over 280,000 new full-time postgraduates, or graduates who got a 2:1 or a 1st, the kind of qualification which is generally essential to get on a “big name” programme.

So, it’s bar work or retail for me then?
Don’t panic yet. In the same year, we know that at least 80,000 UK undergraduates went into “graduate level jobs” (that’s from an annual survey of UK-based new graduates). That’s far more graduate level work out there than the “big names” recruited.

On top of that, not all new UK graduates answered this survey (too busy working in their high-powered graduate jobs?), plus there are all the new postgraduates and international graduates who aren’t included in these survey results, many of whom also went into “graduate level jobs”.

You can see that most graduates and postgraduates in good graduate jobs are not on these “big name” schemes.

So I might get a good job after all?
Yes! Just cast your net wider, consider employers you’ve never heard of, including up and coming “small and medium enterprises” (SMEs). You’ll still need to make excellent targeted applications (as close as possible to what the “big names” are looking for – see below) but there will be less competition.

If I’m an international student, will I be considered for a “big name” scheme?
You need to check each scheme for eligibility if you are an international postgrad. Some schemes welcome international applicants, others don’t. There’s no point in wasting your time on an application which will never be considered.

None of us know the impact that the new work visa scheme will have after April 2012, but you’d be foolish not to also have a Plan B for finding work in your home country.

And what do these “big name” programmes look for?

  • Some sort of work experience. For some sectors such as investment banking and law, you probably do need relevant placements/internships before you apply for their graduate programmes; for other sectors, if you write well about other work experience, you’ll get considered. It’s what you learnt about work and yourself that counts, not generally the tasks you undertook.
  • Excellent academic results, including at A level (or whichever qualifications you needed to get into an undergraduate degree). If you had mitigating circumstances (not just “poor teachers” or “lack of motivation”), do let them know as they may be taken into account.
  • Good examples of activities outside your degree. Everyone else has done a degree, so to stand out, you need to talk about what else you’ve done (and things you did at school or college are well past their sell-by date – employers often specify that it has to be in the last 2 or 3 years).
  • Perfect English on your application – you might get away with an occasional typo, but more than one and you’re likely to get filtered out at the first stage.
  • A targeted application – it’s far more effective to make 10 applications targeted at specific employers, than to bang out 100 “general” applications. That’s often the reason behind those tales you read of graduates who haven’t had an interview, in spite of sending hundreds of applications.

If that’s you, do go for it!  Someone is going to get that job – why should you make it easier for someone else by not applying?