When do graduate schemes start?

May 13, 2020

So…you’re approaching graduation and you’re wondering what to do next?

Well, as I’m sure you know, many students look for graduate schemes. It’s a great way of getting high-quality, structured training and transitioning from a student into the working world. 

Graduate schemes normally start between July and September. However, companies have graduate schemes starting at different times throughout the year. 

I’ll take you through everything you need to know about graduate schemes so that by the end, you’ll know exactly how to get started. 

#1 The difference between graduate jobs and graduate schemes

The first thing you need to know is that they have set application dates. For example, applications may open in September for an intake the following August.

Graduate schemes are structured programs that help you develop technical skills while receiving on-the-job training.

It’s a clear pathway to prepare you for a full-time role at a large corporation where you can prove yourself. You may also be able to gain a professional qualification along the way. 

Typically, you’ll join a rotation training scheme run over a set period of time (between 12-36 months).

This gives you the chance to build up experience in multiple areas which, of course, is very handy if you’re not quite sure where you’d like to end up!

You can dip your toes into numerous fields before choosing where to specialise at the end. 

Meanwhile, graduate jobs do not have set application dates so don’t worry if you managed to miss all the deadlines for training schemes!

They will open job roles for graduates as and when they need them throughout the year. They also tend to have a far swifter application process. 

Generally, graduate jobs are more specialised. You’ll receive thorough training but it’s more hands-on and you learn on the job.

You will not be following a set program as you do in a graduate scheme so perform well and you will get rewarded with more responsibility. And with more responsibility comes opportunities to progress faster!

Which route you go for is up to you. In summary, graduate schemes for big companies look fantastic on your CV and, as a result, are very competitive. A graduate job may provide opportunities for a faster progression. 

➡️Read: What is a graduate scheme? 

#2: The graduate recruitment calendar 

➡️Read: When to apply for graduate schemes

Graduate schemes have set application dates. Typically, they may be open from September to January. Dates vary though, so make sure you’re aware of the application deadline for each scheme. 

You should be well aware of what graduate schemes you’d like to apply for well in advance. It is important to note that it is usually done on a first-come-first-served basis.

➡️Read: Graduate Careers For Bright Minds to see an extensive list of graduate scheme deadlines in 2020.

The whole application process takes a long time. There are many stages, which involve the likes of aptitude tests and assessment centres.

These take place over a number of months. Therefore, you might not find out about whether you have got the job until 7 months after you applied.

The recruitment process might look something like this:

#3: The application process 

When do graduate schemes start
Photo by energepic.com from Pexels

Application processes take a long time so you’ll have to be patient. This can be especially frustrating if you’re final year students with a lot on your plate already. 

Most graduate programmes ask for a 2:1 but more and more are starting to accept graduates with a 2:2. For example, EY and Deloitte have now scrapped the minimum requirement of a 2:1.

Below, I’ll run you through each stage of the application process:


The initial application will involve sending a CV coupled with a cover letter. Remember to tailor your CV for each role you’re applying for. 

You may also have to answer a series of questions asking you why you want to work in that industry and what relevant qualities or experience you have. So if you can intern somewhere beforehand then great! 

The first application might take a long time. But once you have a strong cover letter and answers to questions, you can adjust these for each application. 

Online Test:

The next stage will be an online test. You can normally expect aptitude tests involving verbal and numerical reasoning.

There are plenty of sites you can practise these on and it is essential that you do so.

Once you’ve done a few, you’ll really start to get the hang of them. Therefore, when you get to this stage of the application, you’ll feel like you’ve seen all the questions before. 

➡️Try: Practice Aptitude Tests. They have a number of free tests to get you started. 

Telephone interview: 

If you’ve made it here then very well done. Most applications are cut before this. Make sure you can thoroughly explain to them both why you want the job and why they should hire you.

Interviews will contain competency-based questions so brush up on your strengths and weaknesses beforehand. Also think of examples involving teamwork, leadership and where you’ve overcome a challenge.

It is also important to note that some interviews are recorded video interviews. This means you’ll be answering a set of predetermined questions with no one on the other side. Having a one-way conversation is, understandably, more difficult so be sure to thoroughly practise all your answers beforehand.


Assessment centres

So if you’ve made it here you’re down to the select few. An assessment day might involve a group exercise followed by an interview. However, it could also involve a presentation, written exercises or a roleplay.

There will always be some sort of group exercise to see how you interact with other applicants. If you find the idea of this stressful, don’t worry, everyone does! Having to address a room of people you’ve never met before is especially daunting.

Don’t feel like you’re competing directly against the other candidates. Everyone could get hired from your assessment day or no one could. The key is showing the company the attributes that they are after. 

Don’t be too quiet but equally don’t feel like you’ve got to hog the limelight. No one likes a show-off. 

Make sure you get your voice heard but also try and include other people-maybe someone who hasn’t said too much. These big companies are looking for team players, not someone who already thinks they can do the job better than everyone else.  

Face-to-Face Interview: 

The interview is likely to be a more thorough version of the phone interview discussed earlier. Make sure you come across as being passionate about the role. No one expects you to know everything at an entry-level interview. But they do want to see that you’re eager to learn and would be a good fit for the company. 

Here’s an example of how the process works at one of the most sought after companies for graduates, KPMG:

KPMG Graduate Application Advice Video

The Job Offer:

Once the assessment centre is done, the hard work is out the way and all is now out of your hands! They will normally set a timeframe telling you when to expect a response. 

If you are offered a job, congrats, all your hard work has paid off! If not, don’t panic. Just learn from your mistakes and move on to the next one.

Firms will normally give you feedback and if they don’t make sure you chase them up for it. It’s important to know where you went wrong so you can make adjustments for next time.

➡️Read: 6 Graduate scheme application tips 

#4: When do graduate schemes start?

Typically, graduate schemes start the Summer after you graduate with intakes ranging from July to September. 

However, there are of course variations. Some graduate schemes might start in January whilst some have multiple intakes. For example, Deloitte has intakes in both September and March.

Meanwhile, the well-known Aldi Graduate Area Manager Programme takes on graduates in different parts of the UK all year round. 

So great..now you know how they work, but how do you find them?

#5: Where to find graduate schemes

If you know which graduate schemes you want to apply to, then great. You’ve probably already gone straight to their website, so this bit might not be for you! If you just want to browse through some graduate schemes online, then there are plenty of great sites. These include Milkround, Bright Network and Gradtouch.

➡️Read: 21 Job Websites for Graduates

It’s definitely worth taking a look at The Times Top 100 Graduate Employers 2019-2020: Amazon.co.uk: Martin Birchall: Books. Most universities will have copies to give out to students. It’s a great read for students that have started thinking about the job hunt but aren’t sure which graduate scheme to go for. 


  • Graduate schemes are structured training programs usually providing rotations through different teams.
  • Applications typically open in up to a year before you’re due to start, so make sure you are ready to start applying well in advance.
  • Be prepared to go through a lot of stages in the application process.
  • They’re very competitive so make sure you apply to as many as possible.

If you would like some advice on how to land your ideal graduate scheme, feel free to get in touch with the team at Graduate Coach. 

Graduate Coach offers one-to-one coaching, interview training, online courses and more.

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