Careers Made Simple


Hands up: how many of you procrastinate thinking about your future? I know I do. So here is your friendly reminder in the form of an interview with Lancaster University’s Careers Service.

What is the difference between graduate schemes and graduate jobs? 

Graduate schemes tend to be offered by larger organisations. To secure a place on a graduate scheme you will typically need to begin applying around August to January of your final year at university, ready for next year’s intake, which is usually during the summer following your graduation. It can be really challenging, balancing your academic study and completing applications at the same time, and it’s worth noting that although graduate schemes may advertise a set closing date, they can actually close before this if they have received sufficient applications. It’s always worth applying sooner rather than later. 

Securing a place on a graduate scheme can be a very competitive experience and it means the application process is intensive. You may be asked to complete application forms, submit a CV, do a video interview, take psychometric tests and participate in assessment centres.   

Once you have secured a place on a graduate scheme, they tend to have very structured training programmes. Quite often there are opportunities to gain professional qualifications whilst working, which is a definite bonus. Also, if you’re not exactly sure what you want to do within a given industry, graduate schemes are really useful as you may get the opportunity to rotate around the company and learn about different aspects of the business, so it’s a great way to find out what it is that you really enjoy doing before committing to a role. 

It should also be noted that if you do secure a place on a graduate scheme, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee a job offer on completion. Programs run for a set period of time, roughly between 12 to 36 months. This can make them very high-pressured opportunities, as even though you’ve made it through the competitive application process, it doesn’t stop there as you’re still competing with other graduates to be hired at the end of the scheme. The roles can be demanding and working long hours is common.     

One of the main draws of graduate schemes is that they tend to offer higher starting salaries than you would expect from your first direct entry role after university. 

Although there are many positive aspects of graduate schemes, they really don’t suit everyone and they represent only a fraction of the opportunities available. Instead, the majority of graduates go into what are sometimes called direct-entry or graduate jobs which occur across all sectors and from large to small organisations. 

A graduate job, as opposed to a graduate scheme, is one which you wouldn’t normally apply for until you’re nearing the completion of your studies, as the employer will want you to start within a few weeks of securing the role. It will mean that you have the worry of not having secured a job as you’re approaching the end of your degree, but on the plus side, there’s less waiting around in-between when you first apply and when you secure the position. 

The application process can still be very competitive. Employers will all have slightly different hiring practices, but they are very unlikely to have as many application stages as graduate schemes.    

If you are offered a graduate job, you’ve been hired to do the role as soon as you start the job. You would still expect some form of training but in a far less structured way and, in many cases, it will just be you starting on your own rather than with a cohort of other graduates.

Graduate jobs aren’t typically advertised as prominently as the major graduate schemes, which have large budgets to spend on recruitment, so instead you will have to put more effort into searching for these opportunities. 

What are your top tips for finding a job after graduation?  

Really do your research. Attend employer webinars, careers fairs and alumni panel events where possible. Make the most of these opportunities by speaking to as many people as you can, to find out more about roles, organisations and sectors. These insights can be so useful. Find out what is out there and what really appeals to you at this time. If you apply for hundreds of roles but don’t have a genuine interest in them, this will come across to employers in your application.  

Be organised. If you are applying for graduate schemes, check the programme opening dates and really plan your application timetable. Give yourself sufficient time to submit applications so that you’re not putting yourself under additional pressure. 

Use the Careers and Employability service at the university. We’re here to help you from the career planning stages to supporting you with your applications. Don’t feel as if you need to have a career in mind before you speak to us; the service is open to everyone regardless of what stage you’re at with your job search.   

Don’t feel as if your first job after graduation will define your career path. It might help if you break it down and focus on what you want to do within the next 12 to 24 months instead. Whatever you do at this stage will enhance your skills, knowledge and also help you to develop a clearer idea of what you might want to do in the future. The world of work is constantly changing, and you will change with it, so don’t feel pressured into thinking you should know what you want to do with the rest of your life right now! 

Finally, don’t practise your application technique on the job that you really want! Apply for other roles that you have a genuine interest in first, but maybe don’t want quite as much, so you get the real life practice of applying for a role but you won’t be as disappointed if you don’t get offered the position. 

What is the best place to look for job opportunities? 

This very much depends on the kind of role you’re looking for. A good place to start is the jobs board on TARGETconnect. Employers have uploaded their vacancies to Lancaster’s jobs board because they’re interested in having a Lancaster student working with them, so this is definitely a starting point. 

Have a look at the Careers and Employability events calendar on TARGETconnect to see which employers are on campus. Each year we have hundreds of employer events – in person where possible or all online at the moment. Attending these sessions will give you an insight into employment opportunities and hints and tips for successful applications. 

If you’re looking for graduate schemes, then the Times Top 100, Prospects and Milkround websites are also useful.  

Social media is an excellent way to keep up to date with the latest opportunities. Many organisations tweet their vacancies and offer tips on applying. Jobs are also frequently advertised on LinkedIn and many hiring managers and agencies will use LinkedIn to search for candidates. We run LinkedIn workshops throughout the year if you would like some support in developing an effective profile. You can find all of our workshops listed on TARGETconnect.

Newspapers, recruitment agencies, and organisations’ websites are also a good place to look. Smaller organisations often don’t have a huge budget for advertising roles so vacancies may well only appear on their website.  

Use your network of contacts to see if they know of any opportunities and don’t be afraid of trying a speculative approach. In some fields, such as PR and journalism, employers actually expect applicants to be proactive and seek out the jobs and therefore some of these roles are never advertised. 

What is a skill that undergraduates undersell? 

I don’t know if there is one particular skill that undergraduates undersell but we often work with students who don’t necessarily appreciate the value of their transferable skills to employers. Being an active member of a society, volunteering, having a part-time job, being a member of a sports team are all things that equip you with the skills employers are looking for. Being able to articulate your skills during the application process is vital to succeeding. Doing the Lancaster Award is a really good way of developing your ability to market your skills and to stand out from the crowd.    

What are your top tips for interviews?

There are really two purposes of an interview. Firstly, can you provide evidence for the skills the employers are looking for, and secondly, are you really interested in their organisation, and are you motivated to succeed in the role? 

Definitely do your research about the organisation and the role beforehand. Look at the person specification and role description – from this you will be able to gain an insight into the kind of questions that you might face. How can you evidence the skills and attributes the employer is seeking?   

Practise before the interview. Use the video simulator we have at Careers. You can select from a bank of questions and then watch yourself back, to help you refine your answers. You can also contact us to ask for a face-to-face mock interview. 

Either create a mind map or list of evidence that can be used in the interview. This will help you to visualise and retain the important information needed on the day. The more prepared you feel the less stressful the experience will be.  

If the interview is face-to-face, make sure that you give yourself plenty of time to get there so it’s not a last-minute rush and you’re flustered before you even begin.

If it’s an online interview, check the technology beforehand and make sure that you have the contact number of the organisation to hand, just in case you experience technical difficulties and need to get hold of someone to let them know. 

During the interview if you’re asked a question and you can’t immediately think of an answer, you can ask the interviewer to repeat the question, ask if you can have a moment to consider your answer or simply take a sip of your water to give yourself some breathing space. The panel will appreciate that you’re nervous and need time to think.   

At the end of the interview, it’s highly likely you will be asked if you have any questions for the panel. It’s definitely worth preparing a bank of appropriate questions beforehand so that you don’t feel the pressure of being put on the spot.   

What would you recommend students do right now?

Review your skills by doing a skills audit and identify areas you could develop that will contribute to strengthening your job applications. Gaining these skills may be the result of more work experience, an internship, completing online courses, or increasing your professional network. Over the past few months, many of these opportunities have been offered in a virtual format so it’s definitely worth researching what is currently available.

If you haven’t already, create a LinkedIn profile. This can support you with your job searches, allow you to connect with alumni and research other people’s career journeys that you may wish to emulate. Sometimes it’s difficult to fit everything you want on your CV; on LinkedIn you can elaborate on your experiences, upload certificates/documents and create a URL link. You may also follow companies and develop your commercial awareness which is very useful for all stages of the recruitment process.

What is your top tip on how to stand out in:

Personal statements?

When writing a personal statement be sure to get across your inspiration for applying to a particular course/university and relate this to your aspiration to go into a specific sector. This could be something from childhood, a significant event that has happened in your life, course modules taken in your undergraduate degree, work experience…this will be different for everyone. The key thing is to produce a good rationale and reasoning for your choice of course.

Cover letters?

When writing a cover letter ensure you research the company to tailor your letter. Employers will know if you send out blanket responses and your application is unlikely to be shortlisted. Look further than just reading their website…dig deep…use LinkedIn and Twitter to develop your commercial awareness and read any relevant articles. Our careers portal has a great section on Industry Insights. Well worth a look!


When attending an interview have a good rationale for wanting the role. Demonstrate your enthusiasm! Think of four key points that motivate you to want to do the job that relates to the job specification and duties you may be expected to perform. Find out what type of interview it is going to be. Employers may specify a competency-based interview, a strengths-based interview, or a mixture of both. Understanding this will inform you of the types of questions you may be asked and the style in which you will be required to answer them. To book a mock interview contact – if you send us the job specification, we can create interview questions based on the role. 

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