When you finish your degree, it’s time to find the job of your dreams. Most entry-level positions have some kind of extensive onboarding process. These onboarding processes might include work readiness programmes so that you can put your best foot forward and gain the knowledge and tools you need to get the job done. How do you know if a graduate programme is right for you?
We asked an engineering professional, who started his career in a graduate programme and is now a software engineer, for his top tips on how to find the right one. His responses below will offer you some helpful guidelines on what to look out for, what to avoid and how to ensure you find the right programme for you.
What is a graduate programme?
A graduate programme is an entry-level position that is usually offered by companies to college or university graduates. Usually, a graduate employee is offered tools, training and mentorship to equip themselves for the professional workplace. This is usually offered as a fixed term contract. A graduate programme is a great way to start your career in your chosen field; it’s a softer landing as opposed to finding a first-time job off the cuff. There are many benefits to taking advantage of a graduate programme opportunity, including some of the following:
- Access to resources that are made available within a company
- Mentorship with senior staff members
- Exposure to how the working environment operates
- Leadership and collaboration opportunities
- Salary progression and access to company rewards benefits
- The tools you need to become an exceptional employee
- Work experience and a stronger CV
- Your first letter of recommendation
1. Make sure the company has a proper graduate programme in place
Some companies will hire graduates into entry-level positions and get them to do grunt work because graduates are cheaper than experienced workers. You need to make sure that the position you’re going to apply for will expose you to real work with the intention of training you and developing your skills. You want to ensure that the programme will give you what you need to grow and gain good experience while also seeing how different departments work together. At RecruitAGraduate, we put all employers through a vetting process when they offer graduate opportunities. This is to ensure that both employers and graduate job seekers can trust us.
Some key questions you could ask are:
- Will you have exposure to different departments in the company?
- What projects would you be working on?
- Will there be someone guiding you and mentoring you?
- What kind of work will you be doing, and how will it stretch you and prepare you for permanent work?
Graduate programmes are considered official jobs, which means that they require the proper structures and processes in place to ensure the agreement benefits the employee and the company. Companies that run official graduate programmes will be intentional when they put the job on the market and advertise it. All of the jobs listed on our website are from trusted companies that are passionate about hiring skilled graduates.
Our 2 cents: Graduate programmes should make you a more valuable valuable candidate by the end of it. You should leave with work experience on your CV, new skills, an understanding of how to be a good professional in the workplace, and a solid letter of recommendation.
2. Ask if there’s room for you to become a permanent employee
Find out upfront if there is the potential for you to become a permanent employee with the company once you finish the programme. Most graduate arrangements will have a time duration on them where you have the option to leave or become a permanent employee. Be certain of what you’re in for when you apply for the job. If you want a shorter gig, that’s great, but if you are looking for permanent employment, then prepare to look for more work when the time comes.
3. Check your attitude towards doing the grunt work
If you are given grunt work, try to use it to show the company that you are capable of more. Find ways to improve and optimise the grunt work you are doing so that it can be done faster or automated. This kind of ‘can-do’ attitude will show your supervisors that they can trust you to make the best out of a situation. They may give you access to more enjoyable work.
Even if you don't realise it, you will be watched by management to see how well you are doing your work. Companies want to know if you are worth keeping around after the programme is done. A good attitude, a growth mindset and a teachable spirit are very valuable traits to have in the workplace.
Our 2 cents: take on extra opportunities and responsibilities to grow within the company, such as leadership or team-building support, and anything that will help to get you noticed by people in the company. A graduate programme is a great way to get yourself out there and build a rapport with some of the key staff members. At the end of the day, you’re there to learn, not to look cool, so get your hands dirty and enjoy the learning process.
4. Build a network within the company
As you conduct your work, try to find some opportunities to network within the company. Getting to know people from other departments will enhance your experience, as you will gain a greater understanding of the company as a whole. You will also get a better feel for the company culture and how it works in a professional environment. Sometimes the best way to learn is to watch how others conduct themselves, and then make sure you take note of the important things.
5. Take note of potential improvements you see in the company
You will always spot ways to improve and optimise certain processes in a company; as an outsider, you might see them quite quickly. Make sure to note these down and bring them up with management as potential improvements. If they are good ideas, then your supervisors may take them into consideration or even give them to you to implement. Being observant and willing to take responsibility will go a long way towards proving yourself.
6. Take initiative and grab onto opportunities to learn
If you find that you aren’t getting enough work to keep you busy, then don’t be afraid to speak up. Ask your manager or supervisor for some more work, or try to find something to keep busy with until they assign a new set of tasks to you. Taking initiative is a skill that will hold you in good stead throughout your career. It shows that you care about your work, you’re willing to take ownership of it, and you have the capacity to become an asset to the business.
Our 2 cents: don’t be afraid to ask questions and find out the details you need to do the job. There is no such thing as a stupid question, especially not when you are already in a learning environment. It’ll also show your co-workers that you are someone who takes initiative.
7. Get hold of a reference
Try and speak to another person who has gone through the graduate programme before you to find out how it was and if it was all they said it would be. If you can't do this, you could always ask the company for one or two success stories of graduates who came before you through the programme and what they went on to do afterwards. This kind of information will give you clarity and confidence that you’re in the right place.
Find the right work opportunities at RecruitAGraduate
Our platform is one of a kind in South Africa and offers meaningful work to graduates and interns. Register for free on RecruitAGraduate. Once registered, complete your online CV to start searching for jobs, internships and graduate programmes.