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Finance & Accountancy Graduate: is a graduate scheme or a graduate job the right path for me?

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by Lauren Newell | 21 March 2019

As Finance & Accountancy students come to the end of their degree it can be very difficult to decide what to do next. There are a number of routes into the Finance & Accountancy sector, and two of the most popular for our candidates are graduates jobs and graduate schemes, but choosing between them can be difficult. You could apply for a graduate Finance & Accountancy job with an SME, or work with a recruiter to find one or apply for one of the many graduate schemes with some of the UK’s biggest employers. But what route should you take? In this blog, Consultant Lauren Newell discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each option to help you make an informed choice.

When Finance & Accountancy graduates approach the end of their university degree, securing a job in the ‘real world’ can suddenly feel daunting. You are about to become a graduate and will need to make some career decisions which can feel overwhelming. Sometimes, it can be hard knowing where to begin and how to kick-start your career in the Finance & Accountancy sector. Not everyone is suited to the same route and it is important the make a logical and informed decision which will ultimately help you progress within the Finance & Accountancy sector.

The positive news is that businesses across the UK are putting more emphasis on graduate recruitment to fill gaps in their teams. The big four (Ernst & Young, Deloitte, KPMG and PwC) have always traditionally offered graduate recruitment schemes, but we are also starting to see more SMEs turning to graduates to fill key gaps in their teams, giving you more choice than ever before.

Here are some thoughts on each route, and what you need to consider if you want to have a long and successful career within Finance & Accountancy.

What are Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes and graduate jobs?

Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes are normally advertised by large established companies and have a fixed structure and usually last from one to three years. Graduate schemes are usually advertised at certain points in the year and candidates have to wait until that point to apply. In contrast, SMEs typically hire graduates in entry finance positions that you can generally apply for all year round.

Advantages of Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes

If you are looking to get varied experience with structured training then you may want to consider a graduate scheme. Some companies will offer opportunities to gain a professional qualification and will help contribute financially towards them. Finance & Accountancy Graduate jobs do not normally have such a formal training programme in place, therefore you may find that you are not learning as much academically. Training will also be carried out in other areas of the business in a graduate scheme which means you will get to learn about other aspects of a business. This can be really beneficial in your first finance role to gain a deeper understanding of how a business is commercially ran.

  • Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes usually pay extremely well

If you are looking for a higher base salary straight away then a graduate scheme may be the better option for you to consider. Graduate schemes generally offer a higher salary than Finance & Accountancy graduate jobs, however they are very competitive and can be very hard to secure. 

Highfliers have provided an annual review on graduate recruitment providing further insight into starting salaries for graduates.

Disadvantages of graduate schemes within the Finance & Accountancy sector
  • Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes have set application windows when you can apply

If you are applying for a graduate scheme, you need to be prepared and know exactly when to apply as there is usually a set application timeframe and strict application guidelines. I always advise candidates looking to pursue this route to start applying in your final year of university in order to start the following August or September. If you miss the application window, you cannot apply for another 12 months so make sure your CV is up-to-date, and you follow the guidelines and timeframes exactly.

  • Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes generally have longer working hours

Graduate schemes are typically known for their long hours of work so would not be suitable for someone that needs or would like flexible working arrangements. Some companies may expect you to work longer hours to meet demands of the business. If you are a successful applicant for a Finance & Accountancy graduate scheme, you need to make the most out of the opportunity by actively learning and taking in as much information as possible. Also, remember to keep a positive attitude and approach the challenges head on as you may impress the right person leading to other open doors.

Advantages of Finance & Accountancy graduate jobs

Working within an SME business can be really rewarding as you can see the impact that your suggestions have on the organisation you are working for. Key decisions can be made quicker due to a flatter structure, therefore there are not as many decision makers to get approval from. This means it is easier to be recognised and rewarded for your hard work.  

Finance & Accountancy graduate schemes can be oversubscribed and most of them expect you to meet certain grade requirements to be considered. Graduate roles can still be competitive, however there are more jobs advertised than graduate schemes and they may consider additional factors other than your grade. They may also have a career development structure in place, so if you are looking to stay within a company for a number of years to progress, this could be a better option for you.

Disadvantages of Finance & Accountancy graduate jobs

Many companies that offer graduate schemes have recognised names which may give you a sense of security. You may have reservations about some lesser known SME companies. If this is the case you can use a website called Glassdoor, which is a website where previous and current employees leave reviews on the business and provide a rating out of five stars. This way you can get an honest opinion on what it would be like to work for the company.

Graduate schemes have been renowned for offering nice perks including laptops, mobiles, iPads and many more. If you are working for an SME, you may not get as many benefits, however they may offer other types of benefits like flexi-time.

So what route will you take? Both have advantages and drawbacks. On one hand, if you want to work for a well-known blue chip business that has a formal training programme in place, then a graduate scheme may be for you. Or if you want to get some hands on experience, climb the career ladder and put your stamp on the business, a graduate job may be better suited.

Are you still struggling to make up your mind? We would be happy to talk to you and offer our advice. Get in touch with myself or a member of our team today for a confidential chat!

Alternatively you can visit our much loved candidate resources page to get further advice to assist you with your job search including CV tips and interview advice and preparation tips.