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Top Employers Reveal How to Secure a Graduate Scheme

Top Employers Reveal How to Secure a Graduate Scheme main image

CareerMap’s National Graduate Week offered a variety of talks from many different companies about how graduates can improve their chances of finding a job after university.

These employers included Network Rail and Aldi, who revealed how to gain a place on their prestigious graduate schemes.

Amarvir Munger, a HR business partner at Network Rail, told us what it takes to gain a place on one of the company’s 12 award winning graduate schemes, and HR team leader at Aldi, Georgina Guest, gave us some tips on how to bag a position on Aldi’s highly sought-after Graduate Area Management program.

Thoroughly research the company and the role

Thoroughly research the company and the role

Doing your research on a company before you apply will not only help you during the application process but can also help you decide whether the company is right for you.

This includes researching the company’s values and making sure they align with your own. “If your own internal values clash with the employer, we tend to find that people don't have the best experience,” warned Munger.

At Network Rail, for example, there is a strong focus on safety, so learning why the company is so safety conscious and how they enforce this will put you in good stead when applying. 

It’s also important to understand what the role involves and whether this fits with what you’re looking for. For example, if the role involves a lot of travelling but you’re someone who likes staying in one place, the position probably isn’t for you.

Doing your research will also allow you to find out about any qualifications you may be able to earn while working and about the training you’ll undertake as part of the graduate scheme.   

Prioritize your applications

Prioritize your applications

Many large companies offer graduate schemes and, with so many great options available, it can be difficult to decide which ones to apply for. This means prioritizing the graduate schemes you’re applying for is essential.

Munger advised devising a tiered plan, where tier one is devised of the companies you really want to work for and tier two contains the companies that it would be nice to work for but that aren’t top of your list.

Munger said: “Prioritize the tier one companies, making sure that you do a little extra in terms of research and preparation”. He suggested using the tier two companies to get you used to the assessment process and to help you understand what it involves.

Reflect on your own experiences

Reflect on your own experiences

Most graduate scheme applications start with an initial application form. Here, you’ll fill in a few details about yourself, your education and your work experience. You may also be asked a few basic questions such as ‘why do you want to work for the company’, or ‘why do you think you’ll be a good fit for the role?’ 

Before you apply make sure you’ve done research on the company and have reflected on your own experiences. 

Munger explained: “Taking the time to really understand what you've done either at university in or in your own personal life will then allow you to come across in interviews as somebody who's able to make the link in terms of what you're doing now, and how you're able to bring these skills and benefits into the company.” 

For example, Aldi’s application form gives a set of open questions that allows you to tell them everything you know about Aldi and what will make you a good fit for the role.

 “We're just looking for a glimpse of the skills you currently have, such leadership skills and teamwork skills,” said Guest. “That's what we're really interested in finding out in that stage.

“To answer these questions, make sure you think about times where you have led a group at university, for example. Think about how that made you feel and how you could then apply that to the area manager role.” 

Approach the application process with plenty of time

Approach the application process with plenty of time

There are plenty of incentives not to leave your application until the last minute. Rushing your application might mean including spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or missing out a vital piece of information. 

“A lot of employers also close their application windows before the deadline if they receive enough applications,” warned Munger.

Munger suggested putting the tier approach into practice here, prioritizing your first-tier graduate schemes over your second-tier ones.

Guest devised a series of checks to go through before you send off your application.

She said: “Make sure you get someone to read through [your application] before you submit it or read through it yourself. Make sure everything makes sense and it's spelt correctly, and check you've given us all the information we've asked for.” 

You may then be asked to complete any psychometric tests, which may include personality, aptitude and ability tests.

Prepare yourself and your surroundings for the video interview

Prepare yourself and your surroundings for the video interview

Once you’ve aced the first stage of the graduate scheme application, you’ll often be asked to complete a video interview. These can be extremely daunting for some applicants as it can often feel like you’re talking to a blank screen. This means that it’s vital to prepare yourself for it.

Guest said: “First impressions really do go a long way when you’re completing a video interview, so think about where you want to record your video interview and how you want to present yourself.”

Practicing answering questions with a friend or family member beforehand can help put you at ease during the video interview, explained Guest. She also advised sitting in a private spot where you won’t be interrupted. 

“Prepare your surroundings in advance and make sure you have a nice, neutral background,” said Munger.  

During the video interview, make sure you:

  • Give specific examples that relate to the question
  • Glance at your notes if you need to
  • Be concise with your answers and make sure you’ve demonstrated the skills they’re looking for
  • Use language that is open and sincere
  • Look directly at the camera, not at yourself
  • Speak slowly and clearly

Listen to the other applicants during the group assessment

Listen to the other applicants during the group assessment

Your group assessment center may either be in-person or online. During this group assessment, you may be asked to deliver a presentation, have a group discussion and complete an interview. However, what you’re asked to do in an assessment center may vary depending on the employer.

Guest gave some advice to candidates on how to prepare for the group assessment center at Aldi.

Before coming to an Aldi assessment center, she recommends that graduates “visit a couple of Aldi stores in person and research online about any new trials that Aldi might be taking part in.” 

During the assessment center she said to listen and be open to the ideas and opinions of other people. This shows that you can work well as part of a team, which is a vital quality for most companies. 

The interview at the assessment center is likely to be based on core competencies, so make sure you know what these are for the company you’re applying for.

At Aldi, for example, the core competencies are leadership, teamwork and problem-solving. Graduates should prepare for these competency interview questions in advance, applying skills learned in their own experiences. 

Be aware of what they’re looking for in the final interview

Be aware of what they’re looking for in the final interview

This is the final stage of the graduate application process and here the employer mainly wants to learn a bit more about you and your motivations for applying for the role.

The best way to prepare yourself for this is to do lots of research on the company. Look online at recent projects and news stories related to the company, visit the store and talk to the managers to find out a bit more about what they do and research on the internet. 

“It might be worth taking a trip beforehand [to where the interview is being held] to make sure you're familiar with the journey and that you're not arriving at the interview feeling stressed,” advised Guest.

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Written by Chloe Lane
A Content Writer for TopUniversities.com, Chloe has a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Reading and grew up in Leicestershire, UK. 

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