When applying to graduate employers, there is certainly an argument that it is a statistics game, as well as a matter of skills and personal attributes. That is to say, that for every grad scheme worth its salt, there will be many applications, and students and new grads need to work really hard to make themselves stand out from the pack, whilst applying to as many great schemes as possible to sway the odds in their favour.
However, not all grad schemes are made equal, and at some stage you are going to need to be able to pick out the A-Class options from the average. Here are some points to consider.
How much exposure will you get?
One of the major differences in grad schemes is as much philosophical as it is practical. Some schemes are set up to throw you in at the deep end, in 'real' jobs, to learn about the business through working, and build your skill sets on the job. This is common in areas such as retail and hospitality, where an understanding of the customer facing side of the organisation is crucial, and can be gained quickly through first hand experience.
Other schemes - especially in technically complex fields - take a gentler approach, with something more akin to classroom learning at first, combined with 'placement' roles which may not be taking up a genuine vacancy within the organisation.Both approach has its merits, for graduate and employer - but some people will flourish in one environment more so than the other.
Check out the programme philosophy by looking up the rotations and tasks you will complete if you take part in it. You're too expensive a resource to end up genuinely making the tea, but this way you should at least get an idea of how 'real' the experience will be, and how well this would suit you. As a great example of this theory, the BMW Global Leader Development Programme offers executive mentoring, networking events, as well as rotations covering challenging jobs at home and abroad, to help you quickly understand the business.
If you're MBA qualified, then the Grow in Syngenta program, which offers a full five years of rotating roles might be the one for you.
What about transferable skills?
A graduate scheme will come to an end, but the skills you learn on it can stand you head and shoulders above others in later years. The key is to gain transferable skills as soon as possible, rather than finding yourself learning company specific programs or processes, or spending so long in one particular area that you become niched too early in your career. For example, the United Nations Young Professional Programme offers professional development to successful candidates which can build the foundations for a successful career in the long term.
If you find a grad scheme which offers accreditation by relevant professional bodies and external training in broad areas of personal and professional development, then you're onto a good thing.
Alternatively, taking up a graduate opportunity outside of your home country can be a great way to accelerate your own learning, collecting cultural and international experience alongside your professional growth. Check out the Societe Generale International Opportunities here.
A good way to make sure that you access the broadest range of skills possible is to look for a grad scheme which allows you to move through different roles during the programme. This means that you cycle through different business areas, learning 'on the job' while gathering armfuls of experience in different business areas. The Dow Jones Rotation Leadership Program is a great example of this approach, which can be especially helpful if you're quite open minded about the business area that might best showcase your skills.
Can you connect with scheme alumni?
Right now the most important point might be which grad scheme you will get into. However, the more important point really should be; what will you do after that?
Many grad schemes feature testimonials from previous participants of the scheme, and the best will have ways you can connect with current grads or previous alumni, to get their views on the programme. If you're able to speak to some people connected to the programme, ask them how their career trajectory worked out after the scheme - this is a great way to assess the worth of the programme and what it could do for you in the long term.
Check out the small print
Before you even apply to any schemes, make sure you check out the small print. Grad schemes often demand specific grades, mobility and a willingness to be away from home frequently. The qualifications required for your application to be considered also vary from scheme to scheme, and may include specific degree types, previous internships, work experience and international travel.
The very best grad schemes, such as the Heineken International Graduate Programme, are often those with the greatest demands placed on applicants, including degree type and class, previous international experience and relevant professional exposure. If any of these things are a problem for you, then read the small print carefully before you get too far down the line - and if you're still a little way off graduating, then check out what the top schemes are looking for in their new grads now, so you can pick up the relevant experience during your uni years.
And don't ignore your gut ...
Finally - and it might seem surprising after all of the logical advice above - don't ignore your gut feel about a business.
A successful grad scheme is one you feel at home on, one where you feel nurtured and able to be yourself to reach your potential. No objective measure will tell you this as well as your gut feel when you talk to people within the business, or attend interviews and assessments. If your heart tells you it is an A-Class scheme then it is - go for it!
While getting a grad role might to an extent be a numbers game, getting a great grad role is not. Apply to as many schemes as you are able to - but taking time to understand the programs and polish your applications is smarter than simply scattering cut-and-paste applications far and wide.
The end goal is to apply to sufficient graduate programmes to give yourself options - but ultimately you only need one good offer to come in to be happy.
Once you know your choices, you can weigh up the facts about each of them, and make a choice combining your gut feel, and logical research about the different schemes on offer. This way you will know you are well set to move off into your new career with the best possible chances of success.