Careers advice and planning

What is a graduate programme?

15 Aug 2023, 10:50

Man adjusting his tie

So what is a graduate programme or graduate job? Isn’t it the case that any job done by a graduate is a ‘graduate job’? Well there’s a little bit more to it than that, within the graduate recruitment industry, a graduate job is a very specific thing.

Firstly, as you’d expect, it’s a job offered by graduate recruiters – companies large enough to need a constant flow of new talent that can be trained up for management roles in the future. Secondly, the job is almost certainly going to be a place on a formal graduate training programme (also known as a graduate scheme).

These programmes are a way for recruiters to build up what is known in HR parlance as a ‘pipeline’: a group of high-flying graduates who are expected to aspire to leadership positions. These schemes are highly structured, typically over two years, and focus on training and development, sometimes leading to a professional or postgraduate qualification.

These programmes can be found in several career areas, and are particularly favoured in the finance sector, as well as in manufacturing, retail, science and tech companies.

Advantages include:

  • A good level of support when starting your career
  • Training and development opportunities
  • A mentor to talk through any problems
  • The opportunity to study for a professional qualification (normally funded by your employer)
  • The chance to rotate through different departments and gain experience of different functions.

Most of these companies advertise on and you’re also likely to find them on campus during what’s commonly termed the ‘milkround’ in early Autumn. Make sure that you keep an eye on their closing deadlines.

But these jobs are not for everyone – partly because there is a lot of competition, and partly because people’s personalities and aspirations are different.

So perhaps it is a bit presumptuous to define only these formal programmes as graduate jobs and everything else as ‘jobs that graduates get’, particularly when the majority of graduates do not actually get onto graduate schemes.

You could also argue that a graduate job is any entry-level position that requires a degree; there are many more of these. These ‘graduate-level’ jobs – many with smaller businesses – are often a good first step on the career ladder, particularly if you’re the sort of person who likes to take the initiative in developing your skills and talents

So what happens if you don’t get a graduate-level job straight away? Well, if you’ve completed your degree, the good news is that your graduate-level skills (communication, problem-solving and above all, the ability to learn) will be valued by most employers – whether they see themselves as a graduate recruiter or not.

Go to our Choosing your employer section to find out more about graduate schemes.

If you’re not yet preparing for a graduate job, make sure you do your best to be as prepared as possible during your time in college by completing a work placement or internship.


Learn about Lorna Caulfield's experience as an Innovation Graduate with Ornua. Find out what she had to say about what her role involves, how she got the job, what she did as a student that helped her in her career, the skills needed in her role and what she loves about her job.

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.