Graduate program vs graduate position: what’s the difference?

Okay final year students and near graduates, listen up!

When it comes to searching for a job after graduation, you typically have two options: a graduate program or a graduate position. Sometimes there is no way of knowing what’s better for us and some people might not even know that these are different. I don’t blame you – it can be difficult to tell them apart. I spoke with Deborah Greentree, an Employability Consultant at Student Central to highlight the main differences between a graduate program and a graduate position to give you the best chance at employment upon graduation. 

What is the distinction between a graduate program and a graduate position?

Deborah: “Graduate programs are recruitment programs that usually lasts for 1-2 years and are offered by large companies and government organisations to a variety of graduates of different disciplines. Successful candidates are usually rotated around various parts of the organisation during this period, providing them with a wide range of experiences across various operations.

These programs are usually targeted at students in their penultimate or final year of study, with some organisations recruiting a year in advance. These are highly competitive positions with sometimes thousands of applicants. There are several stages to the recruitment process.

There are a large number of graduate recruitment programs that open early in the year and close during March and April (for commencement with the business or department in January or February the following year). Many are currently advertised on Career Hub or the company website. Make sure you carefully review the application details and closing date.

On a different note, not all industries offer graduate programs so an option for you might be a graduate position. A “graduate position” is the term generally used for jobs with organisations, offering only a small number of positions. These roles are usually targeted at students who have recently graduated (up to two years since graduation) or who will soon complete their studies. Graduate positions are advertised by businesses of all sizes.

Companies that offer Graduate Jobs tend to value flexibility more than the firm structure of a graduate program. This doesn’t mean that they will invest less in you, they want driven graduates who they can develop into industry professionals. The training for a Graduate job may not be as varied, structured like a Graduate Scheme, it can be more hands on, meaning you have more control over your own development. Opportunities for progression may be more realistic and achievable within a Graduate Job as most employers have a clear path in mind for their graduates and there could be a little less competition – but that doesn’t mean it will be easy!”

What does applying for a graduate program typically involve?

Deborah: “It’s best to look at the specific details about the application process for each graduate program you are considering. Many employers utilise a multi-stage process to identify the best candidates to take forward through each round. Video/online interviews, phone interviews, written applications, Assessment Centres and psychometric tests are some of the ways employers help to determine the successful candidates. Remember, these programs are highly competitive and the process can be lengthy and a bit overwhelming.  One of the big differences is that recruitment for a Graduate Job is usually only open to those who have already graduated, meaning things can move a lot faster than with the application process for a scheme.”

Contact the University Careers and Student Development team for support with these processes.

How can students give themselves the edge when applying for graduate programs/positions?

Deborah: “Firstly, visit the Careers and Student Development service to help you identify the best steps for developing your application. We encourage students to work on this over several weeks or longer and to visit us regularly, as they prepare their applications. We help support you with interview preparation, by offering mock-interviews, interview preparation and access to online practice using Interview Stream. We can also assist with cover letters, selection criteria and job searching.

Secondly, aim to build upon your employability and professional skills each year. A bit like a marathon, these skills take time to develop. Working part-time is a great way to do this and don’t forget volunteering and other community engagement. Employers love to see that you are a well-rounded individual and will contribute to their workplace culture and values.

Finally, be the best version of yourself. Having confidence, a positive attitude and presenting yourself as someone who will make a strong contribution to the organisation will make you stand out from the crowd.”

How do you choose?

Do your own research! It sounds obvious, but you will need to ensure you meet the requirements to apply, so read the details carefully.

Also, ask yourself the following questions before you apply:

  • Do I want to work for this organisation for up to 2 years?
  • Will I need to move and can I afford to move to the location?
  • What is the employer offering in terms of remuneration, benefits, professional development and opportunities beyond the graduate program?
  • Does this fit in with my future plans, both professionally and personally?

As a final piece of advice – don’t limit yourself. Apply for as many graduate programs and positions as you want.

So there you have it. There’s no one size fits all when it comes to graduate employment. There are different options you can explore. Ultimately the choice is yours! And it’s never too early in your degree to explore future employment opportunities as a University of Newcastle graduate.

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