Graduate schemes

What to expect from a graduate scheme

Find out what to expect when working on a graduate scheme within a top company.

For many university leavers, the holy grail of securing a place on a graduate scheme is a dream come true. The job market is tough, so being offered the chance to work your way up while taking part in a structured programme of learning could be just the ticket to make your days at university seem worthwhile!

Graduate schemes are a big commitment though, so you need to know what you’re letting yourself in for before you apply. Here goes…

6 Things to expect

Work ethic

It goes without saying, but when you do a graduate scheme, your employer will expect a lot from you. You’re being offered a fabulous opportunity in many cases, so it makes sense that you’ll have to work hard and prove your worth.

Your working hours will vary from employer to employer, and while your contract will typically be 9-5 Monday-Friday, it’s safe to expect a few late nights and taking your work home on a weekend from time to time.

Ruth from the STG team said:

I did the Marks and Spencer retail management business placement programme as part of my sandwich degree, and it was essentially ran exactly the same way as the graduate scheme. Due to the nature of the business, I was required to work every other Saturday. It all depends on where you choose to work and how the company operates.


Graduate Scheme PayThe beauty of a graduate scheme is that they’ll usually pay you fairly well. Salaries between £22,000 and £28,000 are commonplace in big organisations such as the NHS and Tesco. There are very rarely salaries offered below £20,000 and above the £50,000 a year mark.

The average salary is a healthy £29,000 and those looking to be paid over this should pursue jobs in banking, law, oil & energy and consulting.

Money’s likely to play a big part in where you want to pursue your career, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. Your overall benefits package and development opportunities can often make up for a slightly lower starting salary.

Time Span

Graduate schemes can last from as little as 2 to as many as 6 years but the norm is a 3 year position with the look to moving onward withing the company.

Obviously the time of your scheme depends on the type of job you take and with which company. If you are looking for a more skills based job then it’s likely that you may need more than 3 years to learn the trade.


Location Of Graduate SchemesThe truth with graduate schemes is that you could be based in multiple places in the UK as well as worldwide.

Some companies will simply want you to work at their head office for 3 years which may mean staying in one location. Most graduates have to be willing to move to another area of the country when taking on their graduate scheme but this is a great opportunity to discover a new place.

Alternatively you may be asked to experience multiple locations (such as retail stores) and work in different sectors of the business during your graduate scheme. This can mean moving around the UK or to different countries around the world.

If you work for a multinational company then they may be looking for candidates who will travel into Europe and beyond. Just make sure you check the details of the scheme before applying.


Big businesses often take on a large cohort of graduates at the same time, so you can expect to see others in your situation fairly often.

Typically, you might be posted out in one of the business functions, but see other graduates at training and networking events.

Ruth says:

I did the Civil Service Fast Stream after graduating, and I was placed in one of the HR units. I didn’t see other graduates on a day-to-day basis, but I’d usually see them around once a week for one reason or another. When you’re all in the same boat, it’s fairly easy to make some good friends along the way.

The inner politics of every business varies, so your experiences with other colleagues will vary. There’ll no doubt be people there who’ve worked in the company for years and would kill for your role, so bear this in mind! Straight out of uni, you need to be prepared to prove your worth and go out of your way to build productive working relationships.


opportunityGraduate schemes should lead on to bigger and better things. The company will usually be investing a fair chunk of time and money into your development, so they hope that you’ll be a future leader.

You might have your career path mapped out for you in terms of the role you’re expected to go into, or it could be more of a general thing. Do your research so you know where you will end up!

You’re also likely to have plenty of training and development opportunities. These could be in the form on in-house courses, on the job training, or a mixture of the two.

You might also have the opportunity to take on further study that will help you in your role.

Ruth says:

As part of the Civil Service Fast Stream, I was funded to complete my MSc and CIPD professional qualification. Some businesses might have clauses in their contracts that say you’ll have to pay the money back if you leave within a certain time period, so do check this out.

Are you thinking about applying for graduate schemes? Do you have any other questions about what to expect?