A graduate programme is a fixed entry-level position marketed towards recent education leavers. Typically the contract last between 1-2 years, sometimes 3 years. Often with the programmes, recent grads are given experience within different departments in the company. Also the opportunity can work as a training process, with the grads undertaking sessions with more senior employees doubling as a mentor relationship.
Recruitment is often complex and a lengthy process. This is because companies want to invest in diligent and hardworking graduates with great promise. The company hopes to see the grads as the next leaders and experts within the organisation.
To give yourself the best head start, it’d a good idea to review your CV. Why not check out Ingenio Learning’s CV Review service? With a 1-3 turnaround time and extremely valuable feedback, it’s a perfect solution if you don’t know where to start with your professional information!
So what is the best preparation you can do before applying to graduate programmes?
Knowing the Timeline
As previously mentioned, graduate programme applications take a long period of time. Most companies open their applications in September or October. As you might have different aspects to the application, such as assessment centres, aptitude tests and interviews.
Take a look at Accenture’s process:
Another example is Enterprise Ireland’s timeline for last year’s programme:
And take a look at Bank of Ireland’s scheduled application process:
It’s important that you take note of deadlines given on the company’s website. That way, you can manage your time wisely and best prepare for that particular section of the programme application process.
Assessment centres can range from case studies, aptitude tests to presentations. They can aid candidates in showcasing skills and competencies in a stronger than just one interview. The exercises are usually based on skills needed for the job. It can be a really effective way to show the employer that you have the potential to perform well in their graduate programme.
Here are some tips and tricks to succeed in some common solo assessment centre tasks:
Aptitude tests are an effective method to test candidates on skills needed for the job. Normally the tests are completed online. They can range from 20 minutes to 1 hour. They can cover a wide range of areas, including
- Diagrammatic Reasoning – Tests your ability of logical reasoning, using diagrams and flowcharts.
- Numerical Reasoning – Tests your mathematical ability through percentages, averages and the like.
- Verbal Reasoning – Assesses you on your ability to assess verbal logic.
- Inductive Reasoning – Tests your ability to see patterns and analyse data, in a pressurised environment.
- Situational Judgement – Tests your problem-solving ability.
- Logical Reasoning – Tests your ability to recognise patterns, sequences or relationships between shapes and imagery.
- Abstract Reasoning – These are similar to IQ tests and assess general knowledge, and ability to utilise your knowledge in new situations.
There are many free aptitude tests online that you can use for practice prior to the real thing, make sure to check them out.
During the case study, you might be given a scenario with instructions to advise a client or fellow employee. As part of the process, you could potentially need to give a presentation on your findings and reasonings to back up your decisions. You should try to highlight your analysis and problem-solving skills within this assessment.
While you’ll only find the topic of the case study on the day, there are still ways in which you can prepare. Research what strategic decisions the company has made recently. Keep up with current business news in general and see if there is any information you could utilize in your assessment.
Examples of case studies include:
- Looking at a company’s financial statements, and you may have to make decisions on reducing costs.
- A company is looking to allocate more spending to different operations, you might have to state where the spending you think should go, and why.
- A company wants to enter a new foreign market, you might be asked to look at the benefits and risks to this strategic move.
You might be asked to give a presentation on a particular topic, such as a marketing strategy. The length and visual aids needed will be briefed to you prior to the session. You’ll want to show the recruiter your confidence and communication skills. Make sure to go at a pace you’re comfortable with. Try to minimise your movements and make eye contact with the recruiter(s) present at the presentation. A day or two before the presentation, you could go through a test round in the mirror or with a friend, to familiarise yourself with the layout.
See here a tutorial on how to successfully complete a sales presentation, with advice and guidance applicable to all sorts of presentations.
Fortunately, as the pandemic begins to simmer down, the job market is slowly moving back to in-person interviews. However, some companies may opt for the virtual option of an interview. As a result, it’s important to remember appropriate etiquette before and during the virtual interview. Have a fully charged device. Stay in a quiet room without disturbance and good internet connection. Remember to be present and polite with your recruiter.
There might also be a video element to the application process also. For example, Jameson’s graduate programme requires candidates to upload a video. The website mentions “The biggest tips we have on creating a successful 2-minute video application are: to be yourself and showcase that ‘Serious Character’ we look for keep your application video to 2-minutes max”
Check out this really useful video also from Jameson, on how to create a video for their graduate programme.
For some graduate programmes, candidates may be required to have specific skills or attributes needed to be considered. It’s a good idea when scoping the job specification section to see if you can meet these precise requirements. For example, a lot of grad programmes recently are requesting candidates have a full clean driving license. Potentially if grads are travelling from home and the office to client premises or events. You might need a particular grade classification, such as an upper second-class honour (2:1). You could also need previous internship experience for example.
Another very popular aspect of grad programme applications is group interviews. This session is used to test your teamwork, communication skills and your ability to accommodate others. You might be given a topic or stimulation in which the group has to make a decision on. You don’t want to be too overpowering, but you also still want to get your point across. Find that balance so that you can show the hiring manager you can lead but also work in a team efficiently and effectively.
The interview is a guaranteed section of any graduate programme application. It is a fundamental aspect of the process so that the recruiter can get to know you personally and professionally. Common interview questions are expected – What do you know about the company? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you explain a conflicting situation and how you resolved it? But specified questions can still appear too. The interviewer may want to know what particular department in the programme you’re passionate about, be it Digitech or Human Resources.
Some usual interview questions for graduates include:
- Tell me about yourself.
- What do you know about our company?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Tell about an achievement you’re most proud of.
- Why do you want to work with us?
- Why have your chosen this career path?
- Where do you see yourself professionally in five years’ time?
- Describe a difficult you faced.
- Describe a situation where you were under pressure to meet a deadline.
There are limitations you need to keep in mind going forward with your graduate programme application. As stated previously that most grad programmes have a maximum duration of 2 years. But what then? Well, your employer may offer you a promotional opportunity to stay in the organisation. If not, will this grad programme provide you with the skills and training you want going forward into your career? It’s something to keep in mind – as not all graduate programmes will end in permanent employment.
Another area to look at is being specific. Let’s look at Marketing. You might want to work in digital marketing, but doing what? You need to be specific in what you’re looking for. Try to break digital marketing down into these possible categories: content marketing, email marketing and social media marketing. Research these areas and see where best suits you and your strengths. Reach out to people on LinkedIn who work in the area of Marketing that interests you. This will allow you to best prepare your application and saves you from unnecessary waffle.
We recently got in touch with an individual, who is due to start their graduate programme experience this September
What made you decide on pursuing a graduate programme?
I really felt that a graduate programme was the right next step for me. I had a desire to get more industry experience under my belt while also wanting time to explore more sectors of work to see what area I wish to pursue in my career. These programmes not only offer the chance to work in the industry but they are created to help you develop and expand your skillset. I recently heard someone describe that on graduate programmes “it’s not just about you working and contributing to the company but also the learning opportunities the company provides you with”
How did you find the application process?
Long! So many graduate programmes have long application processes which can feel draining at times but when you consider the number of others that apply it’s understandable. While you’d love to get the application process over quickly, I like to think that the long process helps to take the pressure off – that you’re assessed on a series of interviews or assessments rather than just one interview.
What was your experience like with the assessment centres?
It was actually really positive. I was unsure going into it what it would be like since it was done virtually and how it would be doing group challenges. It was organised really well and the use of breakout rooms was really helpful. I think people can be cautious of not talking over one another when on video call but it’s important in the virtual centres to strike the right balance of encouraging others to speak and making sure you share your opinions.
How did you balance the application process and your studies?
Early in final year, I signed up for various mailing list related to graduate recruitment. I then kept an eye out on my emails and made a note of any roles that caught my eye. I found it helpful to set aside a small bit of time each week than to read through the job specs and applications and make a start. As the application process progresses and assessment centres and interviews etc came about I tried to pencil in preparation time in my schedule as I did for my college assignments and study.
Graduate programmes can be a fantastic opportunity to kick off your professional career. They can offer you a chance to expand your knowledge and your skills with extremely talented people within an organisation. Having the best preparation beforehand will hopefully help you through the rigorous process. Become aware of the programme’s application timeline. Practice before the assessment centres, whether that’s case studies, presentations, or aptitude tests. Preparation is key to nailing that perfect virtual interview. Check the job specification to see if you are able to meet particular requirements. Prepare your interview answers. And Finally, be aware of limitations.
It is going to be competitive with how many talented graduates there are. But with these tips and tricks in mind, we hope you can successfully complete that graduate programme application.
Written by Emma Sheridan