When entering the final year of your university degree, students will begin their search for graduate employment. While “graduate programs” and “graduate jobs” sound similar, they differ in a range of ways, including the structure of the role, purpose and training provided.
Graduate programs differ from graduate jobs in that they are structured, often including rotations in different departments and parts of the business. Employers have a focus on recruiting the best graduate talent from diverse backgrounds, as their plan is to develop graduate talent into future leaders of the organisation.
The most in-demand graduate programs are with large employers like in IT, the ‘The Big Four’ (KPMG, EY, Deloitte and PwC), in engineering and the public service sector.
Most graduate programs in large organisations offer rotations. Instead of being glued to one role, employees are rotated throughout a range of different business units or departments. It’s a terrific way to gain experience in different roles and business units. An example of this in practice, Kraft Heinz recruit finance graduates into their program, however, they also have a rotation through marketing, and sometimes logistics and supply chain.
Employers understand that students aren’t the finished article when graduating from university, and thus you will be supported with a variety of training, depending on the industry you work in. Graduate employers will build a framework of structured learning and development, plus on the job training, to fast track students technical and soft skills. The learning, development and support is what sets a graduate program apart from an entry-level graduate job.
Depending on the industry, it’s common that employers partner with professional organisations for on the job training and certificates. An example of this is in the accounting sector, with most firms providing support in order for you to achieve your CA or CPA qualification. Training and development is a big commitment from the company, as it requires significant investment in time and money, so only very large organisations can afford to offer them. Because of the substantial investment by the employer, there are lofty entry-level requirements, meaning the best candidates with high grades and well rounded CV’s will obtain a graduate position.
Employers will generally implement a “buddy system”, which acts as a support mechanism. You will be one of many graduates in the program, meaning you will have access to a graduate cohort to lean on for support and advice. After graduates have completed the program, more often than not they will be offered full-time roles and participate in ongoing organisation-wide professional development and training.
Whilst there is an increasing trend of graduate employers recruiting mid-year, you’ll find that most graduate employers will open applications between February and April.
Next item on the checklist, research the employers that offer graduate programs. There are loads of useful online tools to conduct research, including our nifty browse employers list which highlights the top graduate employers in New Zealand. This is especially useful if you are in your penultimate year, as you can start bookmarking the employers and sectors that you’re interested in.
Relevant degrees are important, however, you will quickly realise that employers take applications from a range of degrees. The most employable degrees at the time of writing are ‘STEM’ degrees (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), as employers face skill gaps in their organisations which require these all-important technical skills. Many graduate employers also offer “generalist” programs, which candidates from all disciplines are encouraged to apply since they are looking for diversity of thought in their program and organisation.
Whilst this does vary depending on the employer, it generally involves:
At each point, applicants are screened before progressing to the next stage of the recruitment process. The application and hiring process is long, and can sometimes span over a couple of months. However, the key is to be patient as all of your fellow students and applicants are in the same boat.
Once you have passed every stage in the recruitment process, employers will send a formal offer, normally via email. Once you have accepted the offer and popped the proverbial cork on the champagne bottle, it’s now time to get back into the swing of your studies, complete your degree and graduate. Start dates for graduate programs are generally in February the following year.
Graduate jobs are generally entry-level roles targeted to students graduating university or that have completed their studies. They are on offer in all industries, but since they are generally less structured than graduate programs, these roles are more often than not available with small to medium-sized businesses, or in niche roles at larger corporates. Graduate jobs are normally full-time roles, however, there are also part-time and contract roles available for students, depending on the industry you decide to work in.
Employers assess candidates’ relevant knowledge, skills, experience and which degree they studied in order to determine if they are a good fit for the organisation. When applying for a graduate job, the first thing the employer will require is your CV and a cover letter.
When crafting your CV, it’s important to know your strengths and match them to the job description. Don’t use the CV that you have sent to other employers. Hiring managers screen resumes and cover letters for a living, and it becomes apparent very quickly if it’s a ‘generic’ CV.
It’s also vital to list all relevant part-time work. Try to list the previous tasks and experiences you’ve had in part-time roles, internships etc and highlight “soft skills” like collaboration, time-management and leadership.
Assuming your resume has knocked the employer's socks off, the next step in the process is an interview. Employers will usually complete a phone screen to start, which may last between 10-15 minutes and involve a series of questions. It is worth your while to do your research on the most common questions asked in phone screens, and have some bullet point answers prepared for when you get the phone call.
Once you have aced the phone screen, it’s now time to prepare for the face to face interview. Remember, this isn’t a one-sided interview. Whilst employers are gauging whether you’re a good fit for their culture and whether your skills and experience can tick the boxes as to what they are looking for, it’s also a great chance for you to see if it’s a good fit. Employers will also use interviews to gain an understanding of the candidate's creative skills, critical thinking, and in particular their communication skills and organisational fit. Make sure you do further research into the company beforehand and practice answering common interview questions so that you are as prepared as possible and speak with confidence.