As a new graduate, you are now awash with choices.

With the hard work of study out the way, the next challenge is weighing up your options and plotting out your career path. Gap year, full-time job, internship, and even further study are all possible next steps.

But even those who have decided to look for full-time work have a lot choosing still to do.

On Graduateland you’ll find job vacancies of all kinds, across many industries, and in a wide variety of places.

As the name suggests, we are specifically focused on helping students and graduates find work. So we know a thing or two about one of the most appealing options for those entering the labour market: graduate programmes.

This is our guide to the benefits of pursuing a graduate programme, from what it can do for your career to how it’s structured.

As a new graduate you’re eligible to take advantage of graduate programmes, so should at the very least get the lowdown on what they have to offer.

What is a graduate programme?

A graduate programme (also known as a ‘graduate scheme’ or, occasionally, ‘trainee programme’) is a fixed-term entry-level position offered by companies to university or college graduates (typically those who have graduated in the last few years).

The key difference between graduate programmes and other graduate jobs is that the programmes are structured, and involve a core element of training, often so the employee progresses up through the ranks in a given timeframe.

Graduate programmes include a salary (which may be scheduled to rise at certain points during your tenure), usually involve rotations, and typically last between 12 and 24 months.

Recruitment is often rigorous and long. The reason being that graduate programmes are used by companies to attract highly competent graduates with great promise, investing in a long-term vision of these individuals as future leaders and specialists within the organisation.

What are the benefits of graduate programmes?

The benefits of a graduate programme are many:

  • A sought after position. Graduate programmes are used to fill valued roles with top talent.
  • Insight into the company. You will often be moved between different sections or departments, and given a comprehensive education on the company and its work.
  • A chance to specialize. By trying out different areas of work, you will have the chance to stick with what suits you. It’s likely you’ll be expected to become a specialist.
  • Structured training. Graduate programmes always involve thorough on-the-job training.
  • Career progression. The position may well have promotions scheduled into the programme – you just have to meet certain expectations to progress.
  • Personal guidance and mentoring. Graduates will be assigned mentors and given guidance on any area they are being trained in, which may involve shadowing senior staff.
  • Salary progression. Your pay may be set to rise as you meet each milestone along the way.
  • Leadership opportunities. Graduate programmes are typically used to train leaders, so you may be expected to take on this kind of responsibility.
  • A stronger CV. While many programmes lead to long careers at the same organisation, they can also help you shine a lot brighter in the labour market.

What kind of companies offer graduate programmes?

Graduate programmes are becoming more popular all across the world. All industries and sectors have graduate programmes, but only medium-sized or large companies will have the resources, and the business need, to recruit graduates on a big scale across the business with such a large commitment to training and guidance.

Graduate programmes have been more typically seen as the preserve of big, profit-driven, and multi-national corporations. But no longer. More recently, large public sector companies, such as utilities and government departments, as well as NGOs and charities, have also started to offer graduate programmes.

What are companies looking for in a graduate?

First things first, to qualify for a graduate programme you will need to have a higher education degree from a university or equivalent institution. More than that, graduate programmes are usually aimed at those with a master's degree.

While in years gone by graduate programmes were much more commonly designed for technical roles such as engineers, or for business graduates, today the field is much wider.

Whatever your educational background, there will be plenty of graduate programmes looking for high performers and promising candidates.

Having a desire to progress your career, and to be a leader or a specialist in your chosen field, is also very important. Recruiters will want to see serious potential, a strong track record and clear motivation to achieve great things at the company.

In short, they want the best. Expect the recruitment process to be demanding.

How are graduate programmes structured?

Graduate programme positions are usually full time. There are different types of contracts, but the most commonly used is the fixed-term contract. The length of the contract varies depending on the company, but is usually somewhere between 12 and 24 months (in some cases up to 3 years). Expect to typically see roles advertised as being for 18 months.

Over this time you will spend certain, probably pre-defined, periods of time working on different projects in different departments. You will also commonly have time allotted to complete training programmes, working closely with senior staff and mentors, and you might have dedicated work assigned only to your position.

This will all depend on the role and your field of expertise, but will be laid out at the beginning of your time at the company.

Any schedule will of course be subject to change, often based on hitting certain targets over time.

How international are graduate programmes?

Graduate programmes at multi-national companies are extremely common. Many will have their official working language as English, wherever they are based.

In some cases you will be expected to travel a lot during your programme, or to spend some of the time period based in an office abroad.

Once the programme is over, you may well be offered a position that can be transferred to any one of the company’s overseas offices.

Where do I apply?

Graduateland is a good place to start.

There are thousands of open graduate programmes listed live on Graduateland throughout the year.

The recruitment process doesn’t necessarily differ from an ordinary job, though there may be more formal documentation requirements related to your studies. You should expect to take part in assessments and several rounds of interviews before a final decision is made.