should I apply for a graduate scheme if seeking a career beyond academia?

This is the final Think Ahead blog post from, Jane Simm, Careers Adviser for Researchers. Jane retires on the 31 July 2017 — we wish her all the very best and thank her for her long, passionate and dedicated support.


So what actually does a graduate scheme involve?

Many of the larger organisations provide opportunities for graduates to join them via a ‘graduate scheme’, ‘grad programme’, ‘training scheme’, ‘graduate development programme’ etc etc…in fact a range of terminology is used so take note of this! It is  usually a way of gaining experience, receiving training in functional areas e.g. finance, marketing, purchasing, to name but a few, but can involve routes into obtaining Chartered status also, for certain professions.

Is this an appropriate route for a researcher to consider?

In a nutshell, mmmm quite possibly, but it will depend on the type of work you are seeking to enter, and where the employer/organisation places graduate schemes as part of its recruitment programme. Many smaller organisations such as small to medium size companies (also called SMEs) will have different methods of attracting researchers, such as ‘direct hires’ or ‘experienced hires’, which we will come back to.*

When considering a potential careers outside academia it is essential to consider the many and varied way an organisation uses to attract candidates:

What are the different approaches to job search for researchers ?

Numerous surveys and reports, over the years have discussed this topic, but its all about using your creativity and very obvious research skills to consider what’s best for you. To name some approaches: Social media including LinkedIn (now a key networking site, so how is your online presence?!); Graduate vacancy websites such as Prospects and Target Jobs; your own HE Careers Service jobs pages (if you have access to them), who work with employers wanting to advertise their vacancies; Specialist jobsites depending on the nature of the work you are seeking (e.g. charityjob or Nature Jobs); never underestimate the value of your learned societies or professional bodies who often have their own vacancy sites; recruitment agencies (also called ‘executive search’ sites) are frequently used by researchers to secure employment; regional job search sites such as Yorkshire Graduates; and good old fashioned newspapers in the UK, and specialist publications.

*So what is direct entry or experienced hires?

This is where an organisation may be advertising specific roles, vacancies or positions where your skills set matches their requirements. It could be an advertised vacancy on a company website you have identified, or a speculative approach to a company where you highlight your key skills in a cover letter. These may be research related, or perhaps focussed on a career change, highlighting the transferable skills that employers outside academia value greatly.

So what are the advantages of Direct Hire versus Graduate Schemes

This will depend on what career you are seeking to enter, and whether you are sure of the kind of role you want to take. For example, through Grad Schemes many of the larger companies will provide the chance to experience several different functional roles within their company, possibly linked to professional training and development. However, many researchers with a comprehensive set of skills already banked, may join an organisation based on their current and previous experience as a direct hire which may offer the opportunity for an accelerated career progression. There is no ‘one size fits all’, and you should carefully weigh up your options, and the recruitment patterns of employers.

How do I secure a Graduate scheme?

Timing is often crucial for applications as many employers will close their schemes before December of the year prior to start dates. Timing this right should form part of your job search strategy!

Make sure you are clear what you want and what can you offer a potential employer who is offering a graduate scheme. Highlight your  skills set and do some careful research on what they are, how do they match the organisation’s requirements, you will need to provide clear examples of when you have used these skills and competencies, and would you be able to provide evidence of how they have been used. Consider how to successfully apply for jobs, complete different types of application forms, and cope with various types of interviews. Remember many of the larger employers will use a range of selection techniques such as assessment centres, possibly psychometric assessment, to name but a few. Do your homework and try and get along to any networking sessions employers and Careers Services may be offering.

Still considering options? At Sheffield we bring back past researchers to talk about their experiences in a very successful programme called v i s t a (seminars, mentoring, blogs). We also have two dedicated careers advisers for researchers who provide workshops and one to one support. You can find them through Career Connect.

Remember, always do what’s best for you. Good luck with your job search


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