Graduates: career success isn't a sprint, it's a long distance race.

windy road

Peer pressure can be a dangerous thing. So easily it can seem that, come graduation time, everyone else knows what they are doing and is on a fast track route to getting there. Securing a place on a graduate training scheme can look like your whole career is mapped out in front of you, making those without such an opportunity seem lacking in ambition and rudderless.

But stop and think - is a graduate training scheme the right thing for you? Whilst getting onto a training scheme may seem like winning a gold medal in the race for career success, you have 40 (possibly 50) years ahead of you to prove yourself at work. It is likely to be a long ambling jog that will eventually define and shape your career, not a 60 yard dash. And so there are some very real, and worthy, reasons why jumping head first into a graduate training programme may not be the best thing for you to do.

You need space and time to think

3 years (or more) at university and the very last thing on your mind may be your career. You have just emerged from months of revision and exams and you JUST. NEED. A. BREAK. A little bit of time and space for reflection and unpressured decision making can be a wonderful thing. Taking a step back and thinking about what you want - not what other people expect from you - may allow you to make very sensible choices. This need not be wasted time. Temping, for example, can be a great way of learning what it is you want from a job, without the pressure of commitment. It can allow you experience different industries and different skill sets whilst making useful networks and connections to further your career when you feel you are in the position to make longer-term choices.

You can’t handle the competition

Last year the AGR suggested that the top UK graduate employers were attracted 85 applications for every position they had to fill. Yikes - that gives each applicant just a 1.2% chance of success. So now’s the time to get realistic. How well did you use your time at uni? Are you one of those smart students who, from the get-go, set about building a portfolio of skills and work experiences? If so, you may well find yourself within that lucky 1.2%. If not, as harsh as this may sound, the ultra-competitive world of graduate training programmes may, at present, be unobtainable. Perhaps a better option for you right now would be to spend some time gaining this experience through internships or through other employment opportunities. Most graduate recruiters are happy to hear from candidates who are not immediate graduates but who have spent some time post-graduation building their skills and researching their options further.

You’re not interested in what they have to offer

Let’s face it - graduate trainee schemes can be quite limited in their breath. Fine if you are interested in pursuing a corporate career within a large organisation, but that just might not be ‘you’. Perhaps you consider yourself better suited to a SME or a start-up firm? Maybe your preferred industry just isn’t served very well by formalised training schemes at this level? Or perhaps you just always pictured yourself as someone who would experience career progression in your own time - entering a company through an admin role and seeing where it takes you? Such is the abundance of fresh graduates on the market these days that a large amount of so-called ‘entry level’ jobs in a whole range of industries will be asking specifically for graduate calibre applicants. So your potential certainly won’t be wasted by targeting these. And whilst they may not carry the shiny badge of ‘graduate training scheme’ they can offer amazing opportunities to develop skills and progress up the career ladder. Check out the job boards, get in touch with recruitment agencies, and network on social media to find out exactly what is out there for you. You’ll be amazed at how much choice there is.

Success at work does not have to start with a formalised graduate training scheme. And the small minority of graduates that do start it that way won’t necessarily end up happier or wealthy 10, 20, 30… years down the line. Career is rarely a linear journey so prepare for twists and turns ahead. You will likely discover that your own journey will become as much about the people you meet along the way as it will any conscious decision you made right at the beginning.


Momentum Careers Advice is based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, but can provide careers advice, guidance and support via Skype, across the UK and beyond.