Career options for graduates

Graduate training programmes may have the highest profile on campus, but there are many other routes into today’s job market.

Browse the employers on this website or the materials available at your careers service and you will recognise many major business names offering graduate training programmes. These high-profile recruitment campaigns may give the impression that this is the only option for graduates looking for jobs. But if you haven’t got a place on a graduate recruitment programme – or if you feel this is not for you – there are many other job options worth considering.

The truth is that the majority of graduates start their career via a different route. This could be a temporary job (not always related to their chosen career), a permanent career in a non-graduate job, or a permanent graduate job that is not part of a graduate training scheme.

Outside of graduate schemes, many industry sectors provide good long-term prospects to graduates who are willing to be flexible and take control of their career. Many employers, particularly smaller organisations, recruit graduates directly and train them on the job. And even a temporary job can give you a foot on the career ladder.

Graduate training schemes

Most large companies employing graduates have graduate training programmes in place. These are seen as an investment in potential high flyers and tend to be competitive.

A graduate scheme with a big organisation has the advantage of a structured training programme with a variety of different experience, leading to a management position. These schemes tend to last either one or two years and many offer you experience in several different areas of business before you choose your career path within the company. Graduate training programmes are available in many sectors, particularly finance and IT. They give you a good level of support when starting your career, with excellent training and development opportunities.

It would suit you if...

  • you’re a high flyer aiming for a management career
  • you want to study for a professional qualification
  • you are comfortable in a corporate environment.

Job hunting tip

Start your search early as programmes can attract thousands of graduates annually. Having previous experience – such as work experience or an internship – can give your application the edge.

Smaller businesses

SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) have always represented a good chance for graduate employment simply by virtue of their share of the jobs market. A huge percentage of businesses in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are SMEs – organisations with up to 250 employees.

Roles can be less rigid within a smaller company, so if you’re keen you’ll be able to develop skills across a range of functions – and develop your career quickly. Training and promotional opportunities may be less structured than in larger organisations, and starting salaries possibly less attractive, but financial reward and promotion are very much performance based so you may be well rewarded once you have shown what you can do.

It would suit you if...

  • you’re creative and entrepreneurial
  • you learn quickly
  • you have a flexible approach to working life.

Job hunting tip

This is a hidden job market and you will have to be more proactive in finding vacancies. Job-hunting strategies based around personal contact, networking and good intelligence about what’s happening in a particular sector are essential.

Public sector

Jobs in the civil service, local government, semi-state bodies and development agencies fall under the heading of ‘public sector’. Employers cover a wide range of sectors from healthcare and education to defence and police; while jobs range from administrative and managerial posts to specialist roles such as science and engineering.

The culture can be very different from the private sector, generally tending to be bureaucratic and conventional, although this also varies from organisation to organisation. These jobs offer good conditions of employment (eg flexible working, job sharing) and good training opportunities, and are usually heavily unionised.

It would suit you if...

  • you value a good work/life balance
  • you are looking for formal career progression.

Job hunting tip

At a time when there are a limited range of public sector jobs available, you can find helpful advice on the Public Appointments Service website. The public sector has traditionally been a strong source of jobs in Northern Ireland and also offers one-year work placements for students. See the Northern Ireland Civil Service's recruitment website for more information.

Self employment

Few graduates go directly into self-employment, but this can be a good option for the right people.

It would suit you if...

  • you are self-motivated and well organised
  • you have a marketable skill
  • you value autonomy.

A temporary job

Your first job may only be a short-term stepping stone but even in a ‘stop-gap’ job the contacts you make and the experience you gain can prove valuable in progressing your career. For example, tasks like compiling paperwork and data entry show that you understand and use business systems effectively. This increased awareness is an asset to your current or future employer.

It would suit you if...

  • you are not sure what you want to do next
  • you want something to fill the gap before you find your ideal job
  • you want to gain experience in a particular area.