Grad schemes: are they for you?

Thanks to Jacob Turner, Careers Information Desk Intern, who made some great notes for us at our recent panel event: Are grad schemes for you?


Employer panel:

  • Mark Page- TJX Europe (TK Maxx), Senior Talent Acquisition
  • Elin Williams- Civil Service Fast Stream, Senior Cohort Leader
  • Hannah Dillon- L’Oreal, Campus Ambassador
  • Pash Selopal- Frontline, Recruitment Officer
  • Kathryn Walmsley- PwC, Student Recruitment Officer

What is a Grad scheme?

  • A structured period of training and development, often rotating around different departments, may involve placements overseas, structure may vary according to employer.
  • TJX Europe’s schemes are segregated and specific with a lot of early responsibility, allowing participants to train and develop skills relevant to a specific area of the business.
  • Fast Track schemes aim to attract future leaders, allowing graduates with great potential to begin working with early responsibility, and to develop personally and professionally, whilst increasing their profile within the business. Often such schemes are structured to ensure that passionate graduates are able to be themselves and learn skills throughout various areas of the business.
  • Certain schemes are more general. The Civil Service Fast Stream Generalist scheme ensures that graduates attempt a varied group of jobs throughout the service. They recruit from any degree subject. The scheme includes 4 six month placements, giving you the opportunity to try out different things and see what fits you, whilst developing an understanding of the different areas within the Civil Service.

A lot of students feel unqualified for certain jobs, for example in Consultancy or Accountancy

  • PwC are well known as a large accountancy/professional services firm, but in fact operate in a wide variety of sectors and offer a similarly varied range of roles. They understand that it is more soft skills that make a good graduate and so commonly this forms the basis for what they seek in an applicant. They seek graduates who can build relationships with their clients in Europe and use soft skills to create, maintain and keep those connections. Equally they’ve found no correlation between having a specific technical degree and success within a number of the schemes they offer.

How many apply to the Civil Service Fast Stream or PwC, and how many get in?

  • There are around 1,000 places available through the Fast Stream, but it is important not to be afraid about applying to the Civil Service or any employer in general as they are looking for a variety of skills often including soft skills, a creative and thinking mind that is passionate about what they do and readiness to develop their own skillset.
  • PwC takes in around 1,166 graduates each year with 40,000 applications being made, and outside of London doesn’t cross compare candidates, so you will be considered on your own merit.
  • Similarly Frontline takes 400 graduates and it is important to understand that you are not in competition with anyone else, and will be assessed and recruited on your own merit. Taking the time to evidence specific competencies at interview and assessment centre is also key to a successful application.
  • TJX Europe takes just over 100 graduates, looking to attract people who match the business’ culture and values, with one applicant not being compared to another. It is worth noting too that the business makes a heavy investment when taking you on. It is important to remember that different companies are looking for different skills and people who can fit their working culture.

Careers offers a large amount of advice around CV building, development of soft skills and application help.

What is Fast Track?

  • Brand Ambassador roles and Internships can mean a fast track to an Assessment Centre for graduate schemes. This may also happen following conversation with an employer at a recruitment fair, careers event or competition.
  • Equally some firms take high calibre graduates and rotate them through various departments so they develop rapidly andcan enter management early on.
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream also aims to take graduates who will assume responsibility from day one, ending up in Senior Civil Service roles with a breadth of experience.

How important is it to be politically neutral at the Civil Service?

  • Very important. The service is impartial advising Ministers and enacting their policies. Often it is important to differentiate your personal political beliefs from your professional work, whilst in an important advisory role. Bear in mind that you may well be asked this at an assessment centre, so be prepared to answer in a concise manner, understanding that while it is absolutely fine (and common) for Civil Servants to be personally politically active, this must be kept separate professionally.

If you apply and are rejected is it worth applying again?

  • If you meet the eligibility requirements it is worth applying again, improving your soft skills in the meantime. Keep a positive attitude and indicate in a future application how you’ve developed since your previous application.
  • Some firms may have certain lock up periods where you can’t apply, eg 6 months from your previous rejected application date in the case of PwC. Maintaining a clear attitude to focusing on developing the skills referenced in feedback shows determination and focus, and it is quite possible to re-apply successfully.
  • Employers look for a resilient applicant, so taking a setback and using that to fire you up and do better next time can be great; ask Careers to help you with this.

Are grad schemes only based in London?

  • Frontline has a head office in London but operates in 5 regions, soon to be nationally (Yorkshire and the Midlands to be added next year) specifically choosing the areas most in need.
  • PwC works throughout the regions in places like Hull, Liverpool and Sheffield where you may get more exposure to Directors and clients at every level. There is a big focus on an equal amount of development whichever office you are in, with clients in the regions often making more money for the firm than those in London.
  • Some schemes may require mobility, rotating around various locations.

Is there any specific difference in applicants from Arts and the Humanities?

  • The Civil Service value all applicants though A&H students often have a clearer ability when it comes to analytical thinking, understanding and distilling large amounts of information and being able to advise effectively.
  • PwC have had a large increase in arts and humanities students applying and working at the firm. Critical thinking, and being able to take a large amount of information and explain it in an accessible way to colleagues and clients, are particularly important skills.

Is there anything arts and humanities students fall down on?

  • Some students can find psychometric testing a hurdle, but given some practice this can be conquered. They aren’t as scary as they seem and with the wide variety of free tests available it is easy to practice.
  • Careers have a variety of books, online information and practice tests, alongside sessions and drop-ins offered by the Maths Study Centre.
  • Being confident in yourself and your ability is very important; believing in yourself can make a big difference. Be prepared to market yourself effectively, and if you’re worried about sounding arrogant it can be a good tip to back whatever you might say with clear examples.

What sort of hours are graduates scheme participants expected to work?

  • TJX Europe expects their graduates to work around 37.5 hours per week and without good reason expect their employees across the business to stick to that (bearing in mind that occasionally that you may work more or less hours due to circumstance).
  • Work life balance in the Civil Service is very good with extra hours worked being rewarded through overtime.
  • Frontline expects normal (9-5) hours, despite the stereotype of social work, but bear in mind that you will be completing postgraduate diplomas alongside your scheme and work.
  • PwC expects certain schemes to include additional diplomas and peer mentoring groups, along with support from study leave buddies who can assist you to maximise your time. With consultancy work certain periods may be quieter or busier, and the firm allows you to buy and sell holiday days as a result.
  • Be realistic about the time you are likely to spend on work and study where a scheme includes a postgraduate diploma, and recognise there may be a short term hit to your free time and work-life balance.

What are good or bad questions to be asking at a careers fair, networking event, etc?

  • L’Oréal: asking what is different about their scheme and having some insight into the business itself can really grab the attention of the employer.
  • Asking what you do or don’t enjoy and what the scheme actually includes on a day to day basis can give you a great insight.
  • Asking what sort of internships and voluntary work or roles you can take on now to strengthen your application.
  • If you have visa requirements, make sure you are prepared to talk about this with prospective employers.
  • Keep up with the hot topics within the sector and ask questions about these; you can then use that insight in your application and at interview.
  • Be curious and find out what it’s like to actually work in that business, what are the challenges, good and bad things involved. Go in with an open mind and be prepared to ask insightful questions; be ready to have a conversation and be passionate about what you’re talking about.
  • All companies will ask why you want to work with them. Be prepared to use the example of a conversation with someone from a firm at a careers fair to show you’re passionate about the firm and unique as an applicant.
  • Bad questions: something that is obvious on the company’s website!

Find out more – our events programme gives you the chance to meet employers so you can be more confident when it comes to your application.