A honest point of view on graduate programs

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Let me start off with a question: What do you expect from a graduate program?

I came from a Fortune 500 company based in Australia and what I got promised was flexibility, ownership of projects, meaningful work and the list goes on.

What did I get? A mixture.

I mean you’re probably sitting there thinking ‘Oh my god it’s a young millennial complaining about starting work’ but no that’s not my intention.

I am writing based off my experiences as well as what as other opinions from other graduate programs I have heard of from your Big 4 like Deloitte all the way to your FMCGs. I am not complaining but rather giving an insight and an opinion that usually you don’t see.

Many new university (or college if you’re from the states) graduates seek more honest opinions and this is what I want to give.

Am I going to do meaningful work?

I mean this is one of the biggest questions any new graduate will ask so I will get straight to the point. If you’re looking to contribute to a bigger picture then a graduate program is definitely not for you (a start-up would be better). You’re most likely going to do very operational or ‘entry’ level work. However if that still doesn’t put you off but you want to do meaningful work then there is another way.

If your manager is on some kind of leave or is your team understaffed, then you’re in luck! You’re probably going to be forced to take over that manager’s role or something along those lines. I am not even kidding but the graduates that actually had strong learning experiences and contribution were ones that got grouped in that scenario.

Managers can make or break your experience

I mean some managers really know how to train up a graduate. I wasn’t expecting spoon feeding but at least guidance. After all, I just came fresh from university. But lets put it this way — backstabbing and name calling were common. Several times I heard managers talk crap about other graduates and more than once I heard a graduate referred to as ‘useless’.

Your manager is to simply put it — one of the most important parts of your graduate program. If a manger wants to help you grow, exceed and provide you a network of opportunity, they will do so and you just won the lucky dip of managers.

I have heard stories where a COO have helped and gave their own network and guidance to help a graduate understand what they wanted as well as further opportunities. However I have also heard of managers who talk behind their own graduate’s back in their own team and give absolutely no guidance or work at all.

It says that I can try any job I want!

Wait hold on. That’s what I got told too and I even got marketing pamphlets thrown at me about it.I mean it worked as it got me excited as I wanted to try out different roles and get opportunities that I wouldn’t get if I didn’t come into a graduate program.

Oh but there is a catch. You’re actually restricted. I mean even I got a bit lucky with my program, I heard in other ones they really restrict what you can do. I bet you that if you do a quick search around graduate programs, probably 80% of them will state they offer flexibility in their programs and the opportunity to try various type of roles. Just from chats as well as my own experience, this is usually overemphasised although there is some flexibility. Just don’t expect much usually.

Graduate communities are #1

Did you think I was going to be all negative in this article? One of the most positive things to come out from not only my graduate program but others as well is the network you make with the other graduates. It’s amazing. Think about it like this, this is the only chance you’re going to make friends who are in the same point in life as you. Equal grounding. Equal footing.

I think the most rewarding reason to go into a graduate program is the network you create. Many of my friends didn’t go into programs and when they see my snapchats as well as my stories, they do get a bit jealous. It’s one in a lifetime opportunity (unless you go and do more degrees) that you won’t probably get again as you climb the corporate or work ladder.

You’re done — now what?

You finished your program. Now what? Congratulations — you now have a job! (most programs roll their graduates into full time jobs). Did you get accelerated though compared to those who took normal entry level jobs? Probably not but at least now you know what you want to do probably!

Conclusion

There you have it! My opinion of going through a graduate program as well as the thoughts I got from others who went through other programs.

To summarise, basically if you want to take part in a graduate program, I would most likely do one if:

  • It’s a reputable big brand that will push your career forward using that (Big 4, tech companies etc.)
  • You’re not sure what you want to do yet and want to test with a safety net
  • Be with other graduates (it’s like university again!)

If you don’t fall into any of those three options than most likely a graduate program isn’t for you. However the most important advice I can give if you are in one is this: Make it your own

You’re in a big company with most likely a big safety net. It’s time to experiment, take as many opportunities as you can and try to make it something even if you have a bad manager or a very operational role.

That’s my opinion anyways.

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