You didn’t get on a grad scheme – so what?

Friday, February 1, 2019

You’ve been rejected – or you just missed the deadline. Your friends have been swept up in the strong, safe embrace of the grad scheme, and you’ve been left out in the cold. Is this to be your life post-uni – watching your friends bob along on a current of success as you struggle to stay afloat? Well, of course not. Here’s why.

You’re not alone

Most graduates don’t land a place on a grad scheme. In fact, it’s likely that most people who apply for grad schemes don’t end up on one. In 2016, respondents to the annual survey of the Institute of Student Employers (previously known as the Association of Graduate Recruiters) reported receiving an average of 68 applications per graduate vacancy, with this figure soaring to an average of 137 and 123 applications per vacancy in the transport/logistics and retail sectors respectively. It would seem that there are more losers than winners in the grad scheme game.

Meanwhile, 17% of students surveyed in 2017 by the UK graduate recruitment agency BrightNetwork stated that they weren’t sure what they were going to do after they graduated. It’s important to note that the survey’s respondents were members of BrightNetwork, meaning that they were already taking steps to secure employment post-uni. The real number of students who don’t know what they’ll be doing after graduation is likely to be higher.

You may not have applied for the right reasons

Being accepted on to a grad scheme can give you a sense of security when you’re faced with the terrifying expanse of The Rest Of Your Life. Sometimes it’s this need for security, and not a real vocation for the work in question, that’s the driving factor behind grad scheme applications.

This may be one of the reasons why, when asked how long they intended to stay with their first employer, a fairly large proportion of respondents to the BrightNetwork survey said that they didn’t know. Surprisingly perhaps, only 10% stated that they planned on sticking around for over 5 years. Of course, this isn’t to say that 90% of the students surveyed had serious doubts about their chosen career, but it may suggest that a significant proportion of graduates go into their first job feeling less than certain about their future with the company in question, and perhaps even the industry in question. 

Even if you’d been certain that a particular career or industry was right for you, you still might have changed your mind after experiencing the reality. In fact, the latest annual survey of the Institute of Student Employers found that in 2017, 20% of those recruited through grad schemes left their job the year after completing the scheme. Reasons for leaving were varied, but many cited a desire for a change in career or dissatisfaction with their career progression.

You may have dodged a bullet

Let’s say you had landed a place on a grad scheme, but after a few months realised the career/industry wasn’t really for you. Let’s say you decide that sticking around would be a waste of time – you’re going to quit.

Then you remember that you’re under a lock-in clause: your employer has provided you with free training, and you’ve signed a contract stating that you’ll work for them until you’ve paid them back. If you quit, you’ll be liable for a substantial fee.

It’s unclear at present just how many companies use lock-in clauses. The practice has reportedly come to the attention of MPs after it was blasted by Jolyon Maugham QC, director of The Good Law Project, in a recent article for The Guardian. However common lock-in clauses are, their existence is a sobering reminder that the benefits of grad schemes are not always weighted in favour of the grad.

The take-away

If you had secured a place on a grad scheme, you might have hated it at first and then grown to love it, you might have loved it at first and then grown to hate it, you might have hated it from beginning to end or loved it all the way through. It’s impossible to say. What is certain is that you haven’t missed out on anything yet: you do that only when you ignore the opportunities you have.

You are where you are, and it’s not a bad place to be. A degree will open doors for you; there are jobs available for graduates outside grad schemes. In those jobs, you’ll forge your own path. Right now, you have something that those on grad schemes may lack: independence. In the immortal words of Ultra Naté, you’re free to do what you want to do.


Rosemary Proctor writes for Inspiring Interns, which specialises in sourcing candidates for internships and graduate jobs in London.