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Internships vs graduate schemes

At uni or graduating soon? Then you’re probably starting to think about how to get your first grad job. You may have heard that there are many benefits of an internship, but graduate schemes can be hugely beneficial too. Feeling confused? Fear not, we’re going to help you weigh up the pros and cons, and look at how each can help you on your way to your dream career.

'Both internships and graduate schemes can help you to get your dream job, but each also comes with its own pros and cons'

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What is an internship?

An internship is essentially like an extended work experience placement, and is designed to help you gain relevant job-related skills. Internships usually last anywhere between a few weeks to a year, and are available across most industries. Many students complete an internship during the summer, and these can be full-time or part-time.

Are internships paid?

Some internships are paid and some aren’t. While most students would probably agree that an internship should be paid, whether or not this happens will depend on if you are classified as a ‘worker’ or not during your internship. Typically, as a worker you will have a contract, and your employer will have to make sure you have work to do as long as your contract lasts for. If you are classed as a ‘worker’, legally you should be paid at least the national minimum wage. However, research carried out by the Sutton Trust shows that 70% of internships are actually unpaid. Even if your internship isn’t unpaid though, some companies will cover expenses for lunch and travel, so it’s always worth asking if this is something that is an option.

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Internships are a great way to get some experience on your CV

What can I expect to do during an internship?

Internships can often be less structured than grad schemes, and your specific duties can vary depending on the company. Although typically, you might expect to be doing things like work shadowing, carrying out research, administrative duties and supporting projects. 

What are the benefits of an internship?

Some of the many benefits of an internship can include:

  • Get useful work experience that will look great on your CV
  • Gaining industry contacts and references
  • Increasing your confidence in a workplace environment
  • Figure out your likes and dislikes
  • Experience gained can be useful for applying to a grad scheme

Are there any downsides?

  • Can be unpaid
  • Lack of structure

How do I get one?

If you know that you want to work for a specific company, it’s worth checking their website to see if they offer an internship programme. If they do, there will be a formal application process. Make sure you get in early though, as competition can be fierce. We’d advise to start looking the year before you want to get an internship to make sure you are aware of the application deadlines and don’t miss out.

Not all internships are formally advertised though, so contacting companies you’d like to work for/in industries you’d like to work in can also be a good idea. We’d recommend getting in touch with a CV and covering letter, explaining why you’d like to intern there, what you like about the company and dates and length of internship you would be looking for.

Graduate schemes

What is a graduate scheme?

A graduate scheme is a programme that gives successful applicants an entry-level role within a company, that is also a training programme at the same time. Graduate schemes are designed to help graduates gain the relevant skills and knowledge they will need to work in a particular industry and progress. Graduate schemes typically last between one and three years. You may also rotate between different departments to gain maximum experience and connections. With some graduate schemes, you will also be offered a permanent position once you’ve successfully completed your programme, but this depends on the company.

Are graduate schemes paid?

Yes! Graduate schemes are full-time positions, and you will be classed as an employee so will be on a salary. Typically, starting salaries for graduate schemes are upwards of £25,000, although some pay much more, like Aldi whose grad scheme has a starting salary of £44,000!

What can I expect to do during a graduate scheme?

Graduate schemes tend to be much more structured than internships, and you will usually have a specific role to carry out day to day. For example, your role might be to support a certain team or work on specific projects. You may also have a mentor who you can go to for help and will be there to support you throughout your programme.

What are the benefits of a graduate scheme?

  • Gain on the job experience
  • Your employer may support with professional qualifications
  • Can increase earning potential
  • Gain invaluable industry contacts
  • Make friends as it’s likely that you will start with other grads
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Are there any downsides?

  • Fierce competition
  • You might need a 2.1 or above

How do I get one?

The best thing to do is research companies that you’d like to work for and see if they offer a graduate scheme. This will usually be advertised on their website. Be warned though, as there is lots of competition for places, you may have to go through several interview stages. This may include an assessment centre, completing psychometric tests or doing a presentation, so preparation is key. You should start looking/applying from the September of your final year at university for the next year's intake.

How do I decide which is right for me and can I do both?

What route you go down will depend on what your objectives are. If you want to gain a bit of experience to help you to get a job after graduating, then an internship will be invaluable. However, the benefits of an internship don’t end there - they can also be useful in terms of helping you get onto a grad scheme. This is because internships give you some tangible work experience to put on your CV and the ability to get a reference, which can help you to stand out. Graduate schemes on the other hand, can be a brilliant way to become immersed in a company, learn lots and earn a salary. 

In a nutshell, both internships and graduate schemes are equally as valuable in helping you in your career, and setting you up on your way to securing your dream job. Whether you go for an internship, a graduate scheme, or do both is completely up to you!

We hope that we’ve helped you weigh up the pros and cons of internships and graduate schemes. Want to know how to ace that interview? Check out these interview tips.