8 things you should know about graduate schemes

Large graduate recruiters often run ‘graduate schemes’ or ‘graduate programmes’ – a route to employment with on the job learning, a good salary and (probably) a household name on your CV.  

But, if you are considering this path here are some things you should consider.

Whichever path you take good luck!



Retaining graduate talent in the South West – Gradsouthwest launches first SW Grad Scheme Directory

South West Grad Scheme Directory (LinkedIn banner)

Gradsouthwest, the South West’s graduate jobs board, is pleased to launch its’ first ever South West Grad Scheme Directory – a guide to the range of graduate schemes, programmes and traineeships available in the South West.

You may be surprised by how many employers offer grad schemes in the region, and how many options there are for graduates to remain locally.

Covering Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Bristol & the West of England; the Directory aims to help those graduates that want to work in the South West find graduate employment. There are three sections – a full listing of employers offering schemes with graduate web address, and then listings by county area and by sector.

This is the first year Gradsouthwest has pulled together a Directory following requests from students for more information about what is available in the region. Our aim is to provide an easy to read guide that students have access to that helps them find suitable schemes in the region.

In addition, we will of course continue to advertise 100’s of graduate job vacancies throughout the year – so whether it’s a grad scheme, or a single job vacancy – Gradsouthwest is the place to go!

Commenting on the Directory, Dr Deborah Watson, Director of Gradsouthwest, said:

“We’ve been asking students and graduates about where they want to work, and they tell us that they’d love to ‘stay local’, but roles aren’t very visible and they don’t know what is available locally. So we decided to act: to help students and graduates find local jobs and to help employers recruit we created a free graduate scheme directory for opportunities in the region.”

To download your copy click here.

If you are running a graduate scheme and would like to be listed in the next version of the Directory please let us know. If you are recruiting graduates – either for a scheme or individual jobs, and would like to advertise with us please email us at admin@gradsouthwest.com.


To find out more about Gradsouthwest, visit www.gradsouthwest.com

Recruit, train and retain high-calibre IT talent in partnership with the University of Exeter and Gradsouthwest

It is widely acknowledged that businesses in the South West struggle when it comes to attracting and retaining young people to fill IT, digital and tech-heavy roles. From web development and app support to data analysis and cyber security, this skills gap is a barrier to productivity and growth, as graduates are pulled out of the region towards London and other major centres.

Degree apprenticeships are a central part of current Government policy to address this challenge, with an avowed target of three million apprentices working in the UK by 2020. In support of this, the Government’s new Apprenticeship Levy will cause any employer with a pay bill above £3m to pay 0.5% of this to fund apprenticeships. Smaller employers will of course not pay this Levy, but instead will be able to claim extremely generous government support, to the tune of 90% of tuition fees – up to 100% in certain circumstances – making this a very attractive recruitment and retention solution.

Apprentices are known to be extremely loyal and committed to their employers, and highly appreciative of the skills escalator that the programmes provide them with.  They receive the best of all worlds – a degree combined with extensive professional experience, a good salary, and no student debt as they kick-start their career.

Launched in September 2016 with employers including IBM, Renishaw and Beran Instruments, the University of Exeter’s Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship offers employers innovative high-quality IT training while building loyalty and business understanding in their staff.  The programme combines the technical aspects of a computer science degree with the professional skills required for business success.

Crucially, this is fundamentally a work-based programme, relating to real roles within a business.  The University of Exeter offers specialisms as Software Engineer, Data Analyst, IT Consultant and Cyber Security Analyst.  Apprentices are full-time employees, studying towards their degree over four years.

The programme is designed to minimise the impact upon their role through a blended learning programme based on short termly residentials in Exeter, flexible online learning and work-based projects that can be based on an apprentice’s day-to-day role.

The University of Exeter is proud to be a Russell Group University committed to degree apprenticeships as an innovative new approach to higher education, providing new opportunities to job seekers and businesses alike. As the highest-ranking institution in the country offering the Digital and Technology Solutions degree apprenticeship, the University offers superb value for money for the small investment required to recruit an apprentice on our programme.

Their dedicated partnerships team works closely with all employer partners, including crafting job adverts, supporting recruitment through campaigns, and seeking out opportunities with high-calibre organisations such as Gradsouthwest.

Employers who are interested in participating in the University of Exeter’s exciting programme can contact Jonnie Critchley (j.critchley@exeter.ac.uk) or call (01392) 724067.

For further information, see www.exeter.ac.uk/degreeapprenticeships/digitaltechnology.

For our student-facing programme page, see www.exeter.ac.uk/degreeapprentice.




New partnership announced

Gradsouthwest, the south west graduate jobs board, is proud to announce its latest partnership agreement with Plymouth College of Art. The partnership will support the creative sector by matching more skilled arts practitioners with businesses across the region.


Plymouth College of Art offers a range of undergraduate and master’s degrees for life in contemporary arts practice. The college has invested over £12 million in the last five years enhancing its creative resources and facilities, including significant investment in new Craft, Design and Fabrication Workshops that house state-of-the-art ceramics, glass and digital design workshops include a range of facilities such as 3D printing and laser cutting.

Gradsouthwest Director Deborah Watson said “we are delighted to partner with Plymouth College of Art and look forward to helping creative enterprises recruit their talented graduates”.

Rebecca Moore, Employability & Careers Manager at Plymouth College of Art, said: “This is great news for students from Plymouth College of Art. Our new relationship with Gradsouthwest will definitely enhance the work that we do to connect our graduates with the growing creative industry in the region.”

What Plymouth College of Art can offer you?

FabLab Plymouth, part of the international FabLab network, is filled with the latest in digital design technology; from 3D printers, 3D scanners, and laser cutters to the CNC milling machine, CNC router, and vinyl cutter. Plymouth College of Art can support commercial business activity such as research and development, prototyping and full product development. Visit fablab.plymouthart.ac.uk or contact fablab@pca.ac.uk for more.

Design Agency  The Agency is an incubation space and creative agency that supports homegrown talent – made up of students across all disciplines and offering a wide range of creative services that include: Branding, Web Design, Film, Animation, Books, Magazines, Stationary, Tableware, Fashion, Textiles, Ceramics, Illustrations, Photography, Art, Prints, Graphic Design, Products, Jewellery, Crafts, as well as Home & Lifestyle products and accessories. Please contact Kamal Gohil for more at kgohil@pca.ac.uk.

CPD Training  If you’d like to provide your employees with some creative training in a specialist environment, then Plymouth College of Art can offer bespoke training options, from  one day experiences to bespoke Short Courses. The college can provide you with a tailor-made programme to fit your requirements. Please contact Rosie Drake-Amery on rdrakeamery@pca.ac.uk for more information.

To find out more about Gradsouthwest, visit www.gradsouthwest.com

New Partnership to Serve West Country Businesses


Gradsouthwest, the South West’s graduate jobs board, has announced a new partnership with Business West, the leading provider of business support services in the South West.

The new partnership will provide local businesses with a quality service to access an unlimited pool of graduate talent. To celebrate this new partnership, recruiters in the West of England are invited to take advantage of a special 10% discount using code BW012016 until the end of July with Gradsouthwest.

The partnership is a fitting way to mark Gradsouthwest’s first anniversary as a private company. Founded in 2001 by university careers departments, the service is now managed by the former staff team who are passionate about the value graduates bring to the local economy.

Retaining strong campus links, Gradsouthwest attracts candidates from a wide range of universities and disciplines who share a desire to work in the South West.

Commenting on the partnership, Dr Deborah Watson, Director of Gradsouthwest, said:

“We are delighted to be working with Business West and to feature as one of their impressive suite of business solutions. As a small business ourselves, we recognise just how critical high quality business support can be, and welcome the opportunity to assist other businesses in accessing talent to drive innovation and growth.”

Phil Smith, Managing Director of Business West, said:

“Gradsouthwest has an excellent reputation and is led by an experienced and passionate team. Youth unemployment remains a barrier to long term economic growth, and businesses tell us that the skills gap is hurting them day in day out. This platform addresses this issue by linking our young talent with businesses of all sectors and sizes. I am pleased to welcome them to our extensive network of partners.”

To find out more about Gradsouthwest, visit www.gradsouthwest.com , or contact the Business West Skills Team via  skills@businesswest.co.uk

Look into a crystal ball…


…or use the Working Futures 2014-24 report just launched by the UK Commission on Employment and Skills (UCES) to assess the future shape of the UK labour market.

UCES forecast that the overall number of jobs in the UK will rise by around 1.8 million between 2014 and 2024, and that the majority of these additional jobs will be taken by women.

So which sectors are due to grow?

  • private services are set to grow, and be the main engine for employment growth, with business and other service activities such as professional services and information technology seeing the strongest rates of jobs growth;
  • manufacturing is expected to increase productivity, increase skills needs, but reduce in terms of overall numbers of jobs;
  • construction is forecast to rebound producing strong employment and output growth;
  • health & social care is to see large numbers of additional jobs; and
  • any growth in education and public administration is expected to be muted, at least in the early years of the period.
As for qualifications:
  • projections show a continued shift towards more higher level qualifications, with an estimated 54% of jobs at level 4 or above – that’s foundation degree level or higher by 2024.
  • Average qualification levels are also due to rise within all occupations.

So with increasing numbers of jobs, many at higher skills levels, it is looking likely that the graduate job market will continue to grow over the coming years.

If you want to read the detail go to: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/uk-labour-market-projections-2014-to-2024


Dr Deborah Watson, Director Gradsouthwest Ltd.


Interview Tips

There are a few useful things to remember about interviews.


Firstly, an interview is a two way process.  It is an opportunity for the candidate to see if they think they would fit in the role and organisation, as well as the organisation testing the candidate’s fit for the role.

You need to plan for your interview – take time to prepare:

  • be familiar with the job description, person specification, and your own application – make sure you remember why you said you would be perfect for the role in your covering letter!
  • if you’ve been asked to do a task, e.g. a presentation – prepare it, and have a fall back for if the technology lets you down.  If you are asked for a 5 minute presentation, make it 5 minutes!
  • think about likely questions and your answers to them – “Why do you want the job?”, “What are your key strengths?”, “Why did you leave your last job?”, “Where do you want to be in 5 years?”
  • think about questions you would like to ask the employer – “What opportunities are there for training and progression?”, “How do you see the role developing?”

First impressions count.  Turn up at the right place, and be on time (practically plan to be early!)  If you are going to be late – let them know!  Be appropriately dressed – research the organisation to get a feel for what appropriate is – and be a bit smarter than the average employee.  Display confidence, and be polite and friendly to all the staff you meet.  Make eye contact, and shake hands when offered.

Once the interview has started take your lead from the interviewer(s) – hopefully you will establish a rapport and the interview will flow with both sides able to ask questions. Remember:

  • listen carefully to questions and clarify if you are unsure.
  • answer the question, but try not to wander too far off topic.
  • be confident and enthusiastic.
  • be clear in what you say.
  • keep your body language in mind – don’t fidget, fiddle, look aggressive, look too relaxed or disinterested – remain more neutral.
  • keep good eye contact with all interviewers if there is more than one.
  • put a positive spin on past challenges – e.g. don’t be overly negative about past employers.

As the interview concludes, remember to:

  • ask what the next steps are in the process, and when you are likely to hear the outcome.
  • restate your desire for the role.
  • thank the interviewer(s) for seeing you.

Reflect on the process:

  • what were your impressions of the organisation and people you met?
  • what about the role?  Does it meet your expectations now and as a career choice?
  • what could you have done better at the interview?

And finally, the waiting is over, and you are notified of the outcome:

  • you are through to the next stage – either another interview or some further assessment activities – so again prepare as above.
  • you are offered the role – you may have to negotiate salary, hours, start date etc. so be prepared to do so.
  • you are not offered the position – ask for feedback as to why: how could you improve on your application and interview performance; are there shortfalls in your experience or skills you could work on? By being proactive here the interviewer might well consider you for future roles or refer you to others as you are demonstrating a willingness to learn and improve!

For more top tips go to: http://www.gradsouthwest.com/careers-advice/


Dr Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.



Our 2015 Highlights

2015 was a momentous year for Gradsouthwest with the management buy-out of the service in June 2015 ensuring the continuation of this well respected service for graduates and employers.  Initially founded in 2001 by SW university careers departments, the service is now run by a small group of experienced graduates and still enjoys the support of universities in the south west peninsula.

Over the summer of 2015 we launched this blog to enable us to share our experience with both graduates looking for jobs and employers wanting to recruit.  We hope you find it useful.  Our most popular post was “Why graduate training schemes are seen as the gold standard. And why you should re-think.”  Click on the link to read it if you missed it first time.

September 2015 saw the redevelopment of the platform meaning that our tried and tested service to match great graduates with great jobs got better:

Better for candidates
Great jobs for recent graduates plus:
– Job browsing open to all
– Use social media to register
Upload your CV to get in front of recruiters
– Apply online with one-click applications
– Manage your applications online

Better for recruiters
Unlimited access to graduate talent plus:
– Higher visibility for your vacancy
– More candidates
– New CV database – browse before you buy
– Alerts when new talent registers
– Streamlined Post a Job and payment options

Our closely targeted approach focuses on quality and relevance – and it works!  On average each vacancy receives 6 quality applications.


We’re passionate about what we do and we’ll go the extra mile to help so talk to us!

And finally, over 2015 we have continued to build our social media presence, and here are our year end stats:


Let’s make 2016 a year of new opportunities, new jobs and new employees.  Happy browsing to all our candidates and recruiters – now go find each other!

Dr Deborah Watson
Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.
Images from:

Why graduate training schemes are seen as the gold standard. And why you should re-think.

Photo of Charlotte Weston
Charlotte Weston

Ask final year students where they want to work and the majority will identify a graduate training scheme with a big, well known company. Probably in London.

This will become a reality for just 10% of graduates so why the mismatch between perception and reality?

It’s mostly about scale. The large graduate recruiters – many of whom undoubtedly run fantastic schemes – have the budgets to run glossy recruitment campaigns and the staff to work with university careers services. Which is great – and something most businesses might aspire to. The downside however, is that the low profile of small firms means that many graduates feel that taking a role with one is a bit of a come-down.

And it’s not.

Working for a small company is hugely rewarding and highly underrated. So why should you consider it?

Well, for a start, small companies are the biggest employers of graduates. Developing a successful career starts with knowing the job market and being realistic. Given that 90% of graduates end up working in small companies, you’d be crazy to rule it out. And small companies dominate the south west labour market.

In a small company, you’re kind of a big deal. Smaller businesses don’t employ anyone, let alone graduates, without giving it lots of thought. They will have identified a need for your skills and are likely to have a clear picture about what they want you to achieve.

Make no mistake, working in a small company gives you a great opportunity to manage your own projects. You’re unlikely to have departments dedicated to every aspect of the business so you’ll need to knuckle down and get to grips with a wide range of new tasks. Need to manage a budget? Chances are, you’ll be knocking up your own spreadsheets and dusting off the calculator. Have to collect data? It’s likely you’ll be responsible for finding the best software and checking out the rules on privacy. You get the picture. It may sound daunting but you’ll have others to call on and will develop a fantastic range of transferable skills – not to mention initiative.

The others you have to call on may include the senior management team. It’s not unusual for smaller companies to have flat management structures which give immediate access to experienced senior managers from who you can learn first-hand. And working with the top brass is an excellent way to develop your confidence.

Another advantage of working in a smaller set up is the relative lack of red tape. Large organisations necessarily need to adopt a very structured approach to managing their workforce. In smaller organisations, there tends to be a more pragmatic approach so it it’s a good idea, there’s more chance of running with it immediately. And this often extends to working practices; in my experience, smaller companies don’t have to worry so much about setting precedents so are sometimes more able to accommodate flexible working, provided, of course, that you’ve proved your worth.

Perhaps the biggest advantage to working for a small company is the sense of ownership. You’ll have the satisfaction of seeing that what you are doing makes a difference and this is hugely satisfying. There’s nothing better than working as part of a close knit team to make good stuff happen.

Now there are drawbacks to working in smaller companies. The most obvious ones are salary levels and opportunities for career progression. But are these real drawbacks or are they just common misconceptions?

Take salaries. Every year, average graduate salaries hit the headlines from the Association of Graduate Recruiters which represents the big graduate recruiters. Remember, only 10% of graduates go on to work for these companies, so the figures that make the news are the average salaries of just 10% of graduates. Which, when you think about it, isn’t really an average at all. The wider ‘What do graduates do?’ survey reveals that average salary after 6 months for 2013-4 graduates employed full time in the UK is £20,637. So, if you’re in this ball-park working for a small outfit, you’re doing good.

Similarly, the lack of opportunity for career progression is a bit of a myth. Nowadays, graduates are expected to have two or three different careers within their working life. Working for a large company may give you access to more structured career progression. But it might not. And if you’ve worked in a small company and developed a range of skills, you’re in a good position to apply them in a different environment.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not knocking the large graduate schemes. They offer outstanding opportunities. But so do smaller firms – and this is a fact that goes widely unacknowledged. If we could address this, we could narrow the mismatch between perception and reality and ensure that graduates make the best use of all the choices available to them; different but equal.

Charlotte Weston

Charlotte is a graduate with many years’ experience in both large and small organisations. She now works as a consultant to a range of SMEs across the south west and is a Non-Executive Director of Gradsouthwest.

Look for graduate jobs in the south west at Gradsouthwest

Job Application errors – 5 things to avoid

Here are five of the things that have always annoyed me when short-listing job applications.

1. Poor covering letter or no covering letter

This is a missed opportunity (unless you are specifically told not to include one!) as the covering letter provides a chance for you to sell yourself and say why you want the role and why you’d be prefect for it. From spelling mistakes and grammatical errors, to a font too small to read, an error strewn letter never looks good. Take care over your covering letter. It is your first chance to impress, and first impressions count.

2. Incomplete sections on the application form / CV

This shows a lack of attention to detail, and a lack of interest in the role. It also means you are likely to fail to meet essential criteria for the role and so stand little chance of getting the job. Complete the form properly, or don’t apply!

3. A CV when an application form was requested (or vice versa)

Possibly the end of your chances as employers have to have comparable information on which to judge candidates. For some recruiters the wrong format immediately rules you OUT. What a waste of everyone’s time!

4. Further details that provide no detail

The early parts of the application are promising, there’s a good covering letter, the right qualifications, relevant experience and then you turn to ‘further details’ and there is nothing much there. No attempt to provide the information an employer needs to short-list you makes it very difficult for them to do so! If the form asks for detail, provide it. Demonstrate that you DO meet the person specification and requirements for the job.

5. Not being contactable

You’ve made it through the application sift and the employer needs to contact you to invite you to interview… the email bounces back and the mobile number doesn’t work. Yes this has happened to me when trying to get hold of a candidate. The result: no interview, no job, and the next person on the short-list got the call instead.

Deborah Watson, Director, Gradsouthwest Ltd.