No Scheme, No Party?

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No Scheme, No Party?

Or how I felt when I didn't get on a graduate scheme and what to do next...

Graduate schemes run like clockwork each year. Each company or firm that operates a graduate scheme follows its own calendar. While there are many graduate schemes still open, you can see the 2015 ones here, many will have started to close their openings and are now in the process asking when you are free or curtly responding, usually on mass, thanks but no thanks.

Thousands upon thousands of students and graduates (yes final years are competing with graduates from years gone by) are applying for these positions and the competition is palpable. For those that are over the first hurdle of monstrous application forms or provided them with a dazzling CV, well done.

But the likelihood is that you didn't. You applied for around 5 schemes, maybe 10 and you've been declined. What the hell are you going to do now? Graduate schemes are for graduates to get a job, right? No, wrong. This is something that will be covered later, but in the mean time I shouldn't be the first person to tell you this - pretty much nobody gets onto a graduate scheme. They are hyper-competitive and while you might be an ideal candidate, ultimately it's a numbers game.

In all likelihood, you'll be taken out with the first wave of rejection automated emails, and they'll land in your inbox one after another. So what then, they don't want you - what now?

Scheme-less Abyss

The Scheme-less abyss is something that many graduates do feel when they realise that boat has sailed. I personally was left a little confused and uneasy when I realised that I wasn't getting on a Graduate Scheme. I applied to several schemes at a mixture of places with appropriate skills and relevant work experience, and when the rejections came I was unsure of what to do next.

Unfortunately, being rejected early on is a blessing and a curse. A blessing because you don't get your hopes up and a curse because you don't really get to find out why or learn how to improve for the next application you send off.

So I, like many graduates before and after me, looked at the graduate job market instead. Sometimes equally competitive, I was left with a simple choice of applying for jobs, with CVs, covering letters and optimism.

If I am honest, I was slightly put out by being rejected after thinking I'd done everything I could have to secure a spot on these cushy schemes. When in reality this was normal and there will have been many more like me who were valuable assets for companies looking to be taken advantage of.

Looking at alternatives objectively

Graduate schemes can be a really great way to start your career, they offer training, support and opportunities for you to kick on with your career. But this is not what all graduates want. If you know you want a career in Accountancy or Banking you will be applying to the Deloittes, KPMGs or Merrill Lynchs of this world, but lots of graduates don't. And this is OK. Schemes have the potential to tie you down for two, three and sometimes four years and dropping out of a scheme before you've finished doesn't look great for future employers.

We've established the scarcity of opportunities on graduate schemes. They're difficult to get on and while if you are looking at that career you should go for it, but remember if you get rejected there are other ways into the field. Many entry roles will provide exactly the same opportunities you'd find on a graduate scheme just without the rigidity and without the concentration on training and support.

Graduates not totally 100% sure about what they want to do would be wise to test the water slightly. Spend a year or two in different sectors and different jobs to try and find out what they want. There is no shame in this. Being stuck in a job that makes you miserable will not be totally supplemented by a regular salary.

One thing I underestimated, and I know I am not the only one, is the level in which you are looking at. While you are all keen to get your career ball rolling it is important that you understand you're going in at the bottom. Looking at jobs and seeing "entry level" or "traineeship" is not to be sniffed at. Without several years' experience notched under your belt you are not going anywhere but the bottom of the career ladder and you've got to be willing to work up. I was applying for editing roles and sub-editor positions when I wanted to start out writing for a living. What the hell was I thinking? They must have thought I was having a laugh.

Why Schemes?

So if graduates and students can realise the same prospects and receive the same training outside the fixed and set nature of schemes - why the hype? The first thing to acknowledge about Graduate schemes is the prestige they possess. Looking at the companies that tend to offer graduate schemes, they are the behemoths of their respective industries. They are often massive, multi-million pound corporations with thousands of thousands of staff members already.

Without sounding too-Russell-Brandy about this, it is these companies that have the money to throw around recruiting the best of the best and so the prestige grows. The more money they are able to put into competing with other companies for the most talented graduate salaries and the most money they can spend on recruiting strategies and so on and so on. The wheel carries on turning…

You shouldn't be too downbeat about getting rejected from graduate schemes, there are a lot more people rejected than taken on. But instead, embrace this new freedom to explore your options and spend a year here and a year there in industries before you get stuck into the career rat race. While employers hate to see graduates coming and going, there are many opportunities that graduates can dip their toes in to see if it's for them.

By James Howell