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With the wide variety of student and graduate work opportunities out there, it can be difficult to navigate your options. The summaries below haven been put together to help you identify what you should be doing, and when.

Graduate job

Also called: graduate scheme, graduate programme

Graduate jobs are the number one reason that people go to university – to get a job that requires a degree. This has become the foundation of entry-level recruitment in many professions, with many larger employers creating structured training programmes to both entice and induct new graduates.

Graduate programmes in many industries have a dual focus of developing talent and initiating recruits into the corporate culture, which typically lasts a year or two before promotion. Training can take longer in professions where members are required to achieve chartered status: on average, three years for accountants and four years for actuaries.

Most graduate scheme intakes take place in the September following graduation, with the application process opening – and often closing – during the preceding autumn term. For the most competitive professions and prestigious companies, the application window can close as early as October. To make the most of these opportunities, you should do your research and preparation early.


Also called: work experience programme, summer placement

Employers run internships in an attempt to source the best candidates for their graduate programmes, which is why the majority are aimed at students in their penultimate year of university. They last between six and twelve weeks, and usually take place over the summer. Many that finish an organisation’s internship programme are fast-tracked through the graduate application process, or even offered a job outright. Indeed, the UK’s leading graduate recruiters reported that a record 37% of 2014’s entry-level positions would be filled by graduates who had already worked for their organisations.

In addition to bolstering CVs and boosting employability skills, interns can expect to be paid for their work. Perhaps most importantly, they allow you to try your hand at a profession or company before you make the decision about where to start your career.

Given all of this, it’s unsurprising that places on internships are fiercely competitive. As is the case with graduate jobs, some recruiters fill their internship quotas in autumn, though many often recruit into February. Either way, it is recommended that you do your research and apply as early as possible.


Also called: industrial placement, year in industry, sandwich year

Prior to their final year of study, many students spend between six and twelve months in industry, working full-time and fully paid for it. This is a compulsory component of many courses, but some academic departments make industrial placements optional to their students. These are most commonly associated with engineering or business-related disciplines, but there are also placements to be found with many employers in finance. Participants are generally required to complete a project and submit progress reports to their university during the placement year.

Insight day

Also called: open day, career information day, insight week

Graduate recruiters are increasingly making a point of opening their doors to first year students, inviting career-focused candidates to spend a day (or week) learning about the inner workings of their organisation. The focus here is more on the company than the profession, but attendance at an insight day is still very much a form of work experience, and should be listed on a CV accordingly. Events like these are most commonly found over holiday periods – Easter in particular – with students advised to apply at least a month in advance.

School Leaver Scheme

Also called: school leaver programme, high school graduate scheme, higher apprenticeships

School leaver programmes are schemes that you can join straight out of school. They offer training and, in many cases, the chance to gain a professional qualification while you are earning. Schemes vary in length and content but they usually offer the chance for you to gain work experience with real clients while you are being trained.

This means that you will quickly be brought up to the same educational level as a graduate entering the profession but you will already have relevant experience working within the company and will have interacted with their clients. Effectively you have the chance to ‘learn while you earn’.

School leaver schemes usually last between 4-6 years and give you a real insight into your chosen profession. If you know what you want to do, a school leaver scheme could be the ideal way to get there straight away without spending more time in education.

Types of work

Who should apply?
How long does it last?
When does it generally start?
Graduate job

or graduate scheme, graduate programme

Finalists and graduates 1-2 years for corporate training programmes; 3+ years where professional qualification is required September

or work experience, summer placement

Students in penultimate year of study 4-12 weeks Summer

or industrial placement, year in industry, sandwich year

Those seeking a placement year as part of their degree 6-12 months Penultimate year of university

or insight week, open day

Undergraduates, particularly first years 1-5 days Easter/Spring
School Leavers

or school leaver programme, high school graduate scheme, higher apprenticeships

School leavers – Some schemes accept leavers who have finished their GCSEs, others prefer candidates to have A levels or an equivalent 4-6 years September

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