Results day is fast-approaching for hundreds of thousands of university students in the UK. It can be an incredibly stressful, nail-biting time for many, as more often than not, the final result will influence students’ employment options and whether they are accepted onto certain graduate schemes and internships.
In 2017, there were an impressive 14 million graduates in the UK. It’s safe to say that there’s a huge amount of competition when it comes to job applications, and depending on the industry itself, it can be a challenge to even get a foot in the door. Graduate schemes and internships are a great way to learn the ropes of a business and develop desirable skills and competencies that are often transferable.
This week we spoke with Ascendant Recruitment’s Sharan Lidder, who shared some thoughts and advice on graduate recruitment. Sharan manages Accounting and Finance roles (both permanent and temporary placements) and has been one of our Consultants since March 2017.
Q. What is your experience with graduate schemes?
Sharan. I used to run the Finance Graduate scheme at my previous company, which was a really effective part of their recruitment strategy. Finance-focused schemes can be ideal once the graduate has been to university and studied finance or a finance-related degree, such as Maths or Economics). They offer a great opportunity to practically build upon your theoretical knowledge and we know that employers regard them as a breeding ground for their future leaders.
Q. In your opinion, can graduate schemes increase an individual’s employability?
Sharan. As described above, they can be a ‘way in’ for most people and clients can use it to fast-track high calibre individuals onto a management programme. We used to run it as an assessment centre which allows you to really put the graduates to the test with various tasks and interviews; and often managers in the organisation would meet with them, too.
Q.What is your opinion on unpaid (or paid) internships?
Sharan. I prefer paid internships as it motivates the individual to apply themselves and put effort into their chosen field. I think the employer will get more commitment, longevity and are likely to show the individual they value their work. However, my understanding on paid internships is that the pay is often insufficient and the work can be exploitative. I would suggest graduates do their research beforehand, try websites such as Glassdoor to gain further insight into the organisation and its culture.
Q. What qualities to your clients look for when taking on a graduate?
Sharan. They consider the degree classification, A level results and general calibre of a candidate i.e. communication skills, ambition and integrity etc. They like graduates who can demonstrate skills associated with emotional intelligence such as confidence, empathy, great communication and presentation skills and specific degrees that relate to the role.
Q. Are there any specific companies that offer impressive graduate schemes and packages?
Sharan. There are between 30–40 established accountancy firms that offer graduate schemes for those with a 2:1 or above in Finance, Maths or Economics. They offer competitive starting salaries with a study package where graduates can gain accountancy credentials ACCA or ACA, which are a worthy career investment. They also get invaluable training across the department allowing them to choose their final specialism, whether it be accounts, tax or auditing etc. The bigger names like VW, Network Rail and Home Retail Group tend to run their own graduate schemes and often do milkrounds at universities.
Q. Are you seeing any particular trends in terms of the type of role or industry that is popular among graduates?
Sharan. We deal with many of Milton Keynes’ prestigious employers, such as BSI, Rightmove, Mercedes, Volkswagen, Dentons and the ICAEW. The main areas that are desirable among graduates are entry-level customer service roles, finance and analyst roles and specific roles that may deal with engineers and technical products, so an engineering degree here is ideal. That said, a lot of graduates strive for the right company over the right position in the knowledge that great companies are likely to facilitate great learning experiences.
Q. Finally, do you have any tips for graduates when it comes to applying for their first role post-university?
Sharan. Network, network, network! Connect with friends and family, and use business networking platforms, such as LinkedIn. Be proactive. All universities will have a catalogue of top companies that recruit graduates. Also sign up to recruiters, that way you’ll have industry experts (who already have the contacts) actively looking for you.
Finally, don’t be afraid to be assertive. I once had a graduate contact me directly with a ‘sales pitch’, he then sent his CV and was accepted onto the finance scheme. It can be hard to contact the bigger companies but with the SME’s that you have a particular interest in, get in touch and introduce yourself – it’s all great practice!
We hope you’ve found this useful. If you’re looking for further advice, there are a number of great resources and tools that can help graduates find the job they’re looking for. Research is key in order to understand the application process and how to stand out in a crowd of hungry graduates.
Look out for articles and publications where industry experts offer advice for graduate scheme applicants. In addition to this, find out the latest trends in recruitment and get an accurate view of what an assessment might entail.
Remember: be patient and don’t give up! According to Office for National Statistics, we are still seeing graduates in higher-paid and highly-skilled roles. Interestingly, their annual earnings generally reach a peak at a later age, too.
It’ll all pay off eventually.
Finally, to all graduates awaiting their results this summer – good luck!