The Twenty-Something Series: How I've found working on a graduate scheme

Since leaving uni, I started on two graduate schemes - one more successful than the other. In this post, I share my experiences and how I've benefitted from it.

For those of you who aren't new to my blog, you'll probably already know that after graduating uni in 2016, I spent a few months working on a finance graduate scheme (where I promptly handed in my notice after deciding it wasn't for me) and then started another graduate scheme in IT in 2017

Honestly, I love my job. This is an industry and a company I would love to stay in, and despite my career as an author (which, if I do say so myself, has been pretty darn successful) I'm really keen to build a strong career for myself in IT.

If you're curious about what I actually do, you can check out this post. But today, I wanted to talk about how my experience of working on a grad scheme has been.

What does being on a 'grad scheme' actually mean?

Graduate schemes are different to just going into a regular job (whatever the heck 'regular job' means) in that they are tailored to people who've left university recently. They seem to hire several grads at a time to start in September, so there's usually a few of you to stick together and learn things like how to book a room, or write a good email. 

The amount of tailoring and structure they provide will differ from scheme to scheme, but I'm going to talk about my experiences of them and how I've found them. They're also typically fixed term - or else, have a set time for the grad scheme and then transition you into a permanent role within a team somewhere.

In my first job, it was all about the training.

My first graduate scheme was in the world of financial assurance, and to work in that area, you have to be a chartered accountant. There are fifteen or so exams to take to become a chartered accountant, and a certain amount of hours you need to work in order to qualify. 

In that role, the whole scheme was built around the three years of exams and getting you to a point where you were a qualified chartered accountant. There were also dedicated days spent to teaching you aspects of the job or how certain things should be done - though these were mostly packed into the first few months.

As schemes go, if becoming a chartered accountant was something I'd really wanted to do, I probably would've benefited a lot from it. But I didn't want to work in finance and the company culture wasn't for me, so I left.

(I also wrote recently about what I learned from working in a job I didn't like, so you can find out more about that here.)

So what about the graduate scheme I'm currently on?

The IT grad scheme I work on now is a two-year scheme, and honestly, I could not have hoped for better.

There's still training - and that's a blessing, not a curse

Having a scheme where the people behind it are encouraging us to build our CV with useful qualifications relevant to what we're doing in our jobs is a huge bonus. Not only from the pragmatic point of view of it making my CV look better, but also because it has gone a long way to making me feel valued by the company and the people I was working for. This was something extra they were offering to help us succeed and progress and develop, and that was wonderful.

We've had designated development days

The development days are for all the grad schemes in the company, not just IT, and focus mainly on soft skills. Things like presentations, body language, giving feedback. There's been some useful stuff in them - but it's also offered us all chance to get back together for a day or two. Of the twenty-odd grads in my year group, we're split over maybe five offices, so it's great to all get in a room together for people you don't see much and catch up on how things are going. (And go for some drinks after.)

Rotational, placement-based work has helped me grow so much

The fact that my scheme is generally structured around moving through to a different area of IT every six months has, I'll admit, been pretty stressful at times. For me it's meant moving to new cities three times since September 2017 and new offices with each rotation, not just new teams. That's a lot to do and a lot to get used to.

It's been so worthwhile though. For me, having the opportunity to work with different teams and understand that even between different offices there's slightly different cultures has been a huge learning opportunity. 

I've developed a deeper understanding of the business, a better knowledge of what different departments do and how they fit together, as well as building my own skills. (And I think the whole moving three times within a year was kind of a kick up the arse in terms of growing up and becoming more of an independent adult, but that's another story.)

I get that this sort of thing won't be for everyone, and that there are benefits in specialising and having depth of knowledge in one area as opposed to a breadth of knowledge. But this was something that I'd wanted from a grad scheme and it's been the most valuable aspect of it for me. 

Mentoring younger grads
So I had a really great opportunity (that I kind of built for myself) where one of the guys in IT who'd been working with the grad scheme, helping guide us through it, choose our placements, set up training, etc., was leaving. 

My year group was the first IT scheme the business had had in several years, and we were set up slightly differently to some of the other schemes within the company. It made it kind of tricky when we were at our first development days and through the whole onboarding process.

So when we had new graduates coming in, I decided it'd be good to set up calls with them, help fill in some gaps and welcome them into the business, answer any questions they had. It was something I'd have found useful, so I more or less went ahead and set it up.

And when our 'Graduate Champion' left, I took up the mantle. It meant talking to the Leadership Team, helping the new grads out - I was even involved a lot in helping organise the assessment centre for the next bunch of grads. 

And honestly, that just felt like the kind of additional role that was a great opportunity, offered me new learning experiences, and was something I found really rewarding. I don't know that I would've even known to take it if I'd not been in the grad scheme.

So what am I taking away from working in a grad scheme?

Going into an office and 'the world of work' is such a vastly different and new experience coming out of university. And honestly, I just felt that being in place where there's a culture of bringing in grads meant that everyone knew I'd be on a learning curve, and there was support in place - whether from people in charge of my grad scheme, managers, or the other grads.

It never felt like a hinderance to be labelled 'a grad' in the company. Personally, I always found that people were happy to help, understood that if I made a silly mistake or didn't know something, it was down to inexperience and that they just needed to help me for next time. Plus, it always felt like there were more opportunities to network - whether through organised shadowing of other roles and departments, or simply saying to someone, 'Hey, I'm new to this role, tell me about you and what you do and how your area works.'

I'm aware that everyone's experiences of graduate schemes will be different, and that even other grads in my year group in the same company will have had different experiences to me, but I've really found it so worth it.

That's it from me today. If there's something specific you'd like to see me talk about around work and careers, please let me know in the comments, or Tweet me @Reekles!

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