STUDENT LIFE / NOV. 15, 2014
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5 Questions You Must Answer Before Signing up For a Grad Programme

Across the globe, the milkround is well underway, and final year students, new graduates and those students in earlier years already planning their careers, are wrapped up in the long process of researching, choosing and applying to grad programmes. It can be an exhausting time, when you need to balance the emotional reaction to different businesses, with the logical examination of the programmes they offer - and all at the same time as contending with the stresses and strains of everyday uni pressures.

There are multiple factors to consider when choosing which graduate programmes to aim for - but some of the most important questions are not necessarily the most obvious. Salary, industry and the prestige of the programme are vital - but don’t forget to also think about - and get answers to - these important questions.

1. What is the size and scope of the programme?

The experience you have on a grad programme can be a fantastic foundation for a long and successful working career - but how impactful a programme is can be determined in part by the size and scope of the programme you choose. The size of the programme is important depending on your personal preference - some larger corporations take on dozens or even hundreds of graduates every year, creating an excellent opportunity to make new friends and contacts which will see you well into your career. However, smaller programmes can be more intimate and tailored to personal preferences - understanding your options will help you make an informed choice.

The scope of the programme is also important. For example, does the programme offer international opportunities, which can springboard your career into new arenas?. Do positions offered under the scheme include other sister companies of the brand you’re applying for? Getting some varied experience in different companies (even if they come under the same parent company) can put your CV head and shoulders above other grads on more limited programmes.

2. What happens at the end?

Not all graduate programmes are made equal - and often, ironically, this is most visible in what happens after the programme ends. Some programmes have a guaranteed length, some include a career long ’flag’ to show that you are a high potential employee, and some may end more abruptly if you do not perform to the required standard. Whilst all reputable programmes will make it very clear what levels of performance are required to pursue the programme to the end, understanding this before signing up is helpful. Understanding the destination role at the end of the programme is also crucial - you can then make a balanced assessment of whether the time invested in the scheme is worthwhile and will bring you to a more advanced level than you may otherwise be able to achieve.

3. What is in the small print?

There are likely to be a number of requirements which you need to understand before getting swept up in the elation of being offered a grad programme place. The policy on relocation is a common one which is overlooked - if you are given notice in your contract or offer that you may need to relocate to complete the scheme, do not imagine that this will be waived. If it is a problem then don’t sign on the dotted line - and make sure to ask pertinent questions like what levels of support and financial contribution are offered if you do move.

4. How crucial are my grades?

Another important question before committing fully to a scheme, is to understand any grade-dependant offers. If you are offered a place conditional on receiving a 2:1 class degree, for example, then be realistic about your chances of achieving this before you sign up. Whilst many employers will be flexible - not all can be, based on the levels of competition for places. And whatever you do, don’t lie about your grades - it will be found out and could well be grounds to terminate your contract based on loss of trust and confidence.

5. How transferrable are the skills you will gain?

A final important consideration for your longer term career is to understand how transferrable the skills you will learn are. If your scheme pays for a university accredited qualification, for example, this will be a great addition to your CV for other employers in the future as well as helping your success on the scheme. If you have an opportunity to access a mentor during your programme, then this can also be a valuable relationship that helps your career development beyond the scope of the programme. If, however, the training offered is in-house only, and based on company specific programmes and tools, then its value may be more limited in the long term. Whilst this may not be a big enough issue to deter you from pursuing your application, it is a useful way of comparing programmes if you have the luxury of choice.

When choosing a graduate scheme, you will need to employ both a little science and logic, and a healthy dose of instinct. You will be immediately attracted to certain businesses, whilst others might not tug at your heartstrings quite so much. Follow this instinctive lead - but don’t forget to weigh up some of the logical arguments at the same time to give you the best possible chance of success at this crucial point in your career. 

Image: Graduate Portrait via Flickr

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