home Features I Don’t Have A Graduate Programme, Now What?

I Don’t Have A Graduate Programme, Now What?

Elisha Carey, Features Editor

A graduate programme is a fixed-term entry-level position offered by companies to university graduates. The primary difference between graduate positions and other jobs is that graduate programmes are structured to involve a training and development component so that the graduate employee progresses through the ranks in a given timeframe.  The educational element of the graduate programme can appeal to students as it forms a bridge between university and working life. Recruitment for graduate programmes can often involve multiple stages as these companies are trying to take on top talent. While all industries and sectors have graduate programmes, only medium to large sized companies will have the resources to make such a commitment to training and guidance and the business needs to recruit annually on a large scale.

Something about the way graduate programmes are advertised can give students the impression that they are the be all and end all, the only route into the job market. While it’s true that graduate programmes offer a smooth, and perhaps, more convenient, opportunity to get your foot on the ladder, to say they’re the only viable option, is nonsense. 

There are many routes into the job market, and the alternatives to graduate recruitment programmes come with their own distinct advantages. For example, smaller businesses tend to allow graduates to become more hands-on with the work of the business earlier on and promotion can come quickly. A career in a non-graduate job offers a degree of flexibility, it can form a short-term steppingstone to a different job or can in itself lead to lifelong employment. Self-employment or working with a start-up is likely to suit more entrepreneurial graduates who value autonomy.

Alternatives to Graduate Programmes

Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

In Ireland over 90 percent of businesses are SMEs. While they do not have the same high profile as the big graduate recruiters, the quality and quantity of jobs in the SME sector is improving all the time and roles in SMEs are generally less rigid. At an SME you will likely have the opportunity to learn and develop skills across a range of functions, so there is less of a risk of being “pigeon-holed” like there can be with larger companies. Recruitment works differently with SMEs as there is no set yearly intake of graduates, in fact, for roles in SMEs you are competing against job seekers from all walks of life, from those with no college education and those with 20 years+ industry experience. If you are thinking about launching your career with an SME spend some time ameliorating your networking skills and have a breadth of knowledge about what is happening in the particular sector you’re interested in. If you keep an ear to the ground and are able to demonstrate that you have the required skills, you will be well placed to get that job


Self-employment is a career option for all graduates but particularly so for those in the marketing, IT, and engineering sectors. Being your own boss has many advantages, it allows you to be independent and choose the hours that you work but it is also very hard work and demands skills in many areas. After finishing his degree in Business Entrepreneurship in Maynooth, Luke Joyce noticed that the majority of his peers went on to Graduate Programmes with the “Big 4/5”, a route that was of little interest to him. Instead, Joyce decided to focus on starting and growing his own company, TheCleaningCompany.ie. When the pandemic hit and many business-owners fell on hard times, Luke was able to draw on the skills he had gained from his degree and quickly adapt to the new world, launching a disinfecting service to join in the fight against Covid-19. 

To any entrepreneurial students who are thinking of going out on their own with an idea, Luke says, “now is absolutely the best time to do it.”

The Hidden Job-Market

The “hidden job market” is a term used to refer to jobs that are not publicly listed, these are generally  only accessible through networking or having the recruiter reach out to you. While the term “hidden job market” sounds quite ominous, if you have ever been offered a more permanent position after a period of work experience or been offered a tutoring position by a lecturer you’ve gotten on with, you have availed of the “hidden job market” because that job was offered to you before being listed anywhere. Developing and maintaining a strong network of professionals in the area you’re interested in working in is the best way to avail of the “hidden job market.”

If you were unsuccessful at obtaining a place on a graduate programme and are passionate about working for a large company, you can always apply directly to that company via their website or a job board. You can also make a speculative application to a company that is not advertising a vacancy right now and ask them to keep your CV on file. 

Did you know…

 As a UCC student you have access to Careers Connect for a year after you graduate? This means you can search for jobs, set up daily or weekly job alerts, book appointments with a Careers Consultant and register for employer events while you navigate the beginning of your career journey.