So what is a graduate job anyway?

Career ladderIt’s autumn term of your final year and everyone’s telling you to start looking for a graduate job. But what do they actually mean?

Isn’t it the case that any job that is done by a graduate is a ‘graduate job’? Well, yes and no.

In the graduate recruitment industry (and yes, such a thing does exist), a graduate job is a very specific thing.

Firstly, as you’d expect, it’s a job offered by graduate recruiters – companies large enough to need a constant flow of new talent that can be trained up for management roles in the future. Secondly, the job is almost certainly going to be a place on a formal graduate training programme (also known as a graduate scheme).

These programmes are a way for recruiters to build up what is known in HR jargon as a ‘pipeline’: a group of high-flying graduates who are expected to aspire to leadership positions. These schemes are highly structured, typically over two years, and focus on training and development, sometimes leading to a professional or postgraduate qualification.

These programmes can be found in several career areas, and are particularly favoured in the finance sector, as well as in manufacturing, retail, science and IT companies.

Most of these companies advertise on and you’re also likely to find them on campus during what’s commonly termed the ‘milkround’. Be aware that they have early deadlines, in many cases before Christmas.

But these jobs are not for everyone – partly because there is a lot of competition, and partly because people’s personalities and aspirations are different.

So perhaps it is a bit presumptuous to define only these formal programmes as graduate jobs and everything else as ‘jobs that graduates get’, particularly when the majority of graduates do not actually get onto graduate schemes.

You could also argue that a graduate job is any entry-level position that requires a degree; there are many more of these. These ‘graduate-level’ jobs – many with smaller businesses – are often a good first step on the career ladder, particularly if you’re the sort of person who likes to take the initiative in developing your skills and talents.

And if you don’t get a graduate-level job straight away? The statistics show that many young graduates begin their working life in lower skilled jobs, such as admin or retail, but that ultimately most graduates end up in a ‘professional’ role. And your graduate-level skills (communication, problem-solving and above all, the ability to learn) will be valued by most employers – whether they see themselves as a graduate recruiter or not.

Go to the ‘Choosing your employer’ section on to find out more about graduate schemes and the alternatives.

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