Updated 11 November 2023
There is no definitive answer on whether a graduate program is better than a standard graduate job (also referred to as an entry level role). We outline the key differences between the two below to help you better decide which one might be the option for you.
|Overview – A structured program by a large employer that typically lasts 12 – 24 months. Structured learning experience, training, mentorship with many programs giving you a chance to see multiple parts of the business.
|Overview – A specific entry level role that requires a university degree but does not necessarily require any experience. Whilst it doesn’t have a structured graduate training component, these roles are still supported by company training practices used to develop all staff.
|Purpose – Identify future leaders and fast track them to leadership positions within an organisation
|Purpose – To fill a specific role within an organisation from day 1
|Competitiveness – Very high. Graduate programs attract the most applications per vacancy but only provide positions to 30% of graduating students each year.
|Competitiveness – Whilst still competitive, these roles don’t always get the exposure graduate programs do and have much lower applications per job vacancy than graduate programs.
|Duration – Typically 12 – 24 months for the structured component with many guaranteeing a transition into full time positions.
|Duration - No fixed terms with a permanent contract. Standard probationary periods are 3 – 6 months long.
|Recruitment Process – Long and Rigorous. Sometimes application processes for these programs can take months with very formal and automated steps such as Applicant Tracking Systems, video interviewing and more.
|Recruitment Process – Can vary heavily but time to offer can be up to 50% faster with less steps and applicants to assess.
|Parting thoughts – Graduate programs are a unique chance to see multiple parts of a business, gain access to leadership and mentors that might be tough normally but because of these benefits are extremely structured that might not suit all graduates.
|Parting thoughts – Some graduates prefer these roles over structured development programs as they can progress as fast as they want only limited by their own drive. They are also able to start specialising in their chosen area which can be tough on a large structured rotational graduate program.
What is a Graduate Program?
A graduate program is a structured experience where you receive training, mentoring, and support over the course of one or two years. It’s a great option to take your first guided steps into the workforce which focuses on continuing your learning as a recent graduate just starting their career.
Three Benefits of Graduate Programs
1. Structured rotations
Many graduate programs offer rotations throughout the business where you work across different departments and areas of expertise to get a feel for different jobs and the business as a whole. Through this process you can expect to gain new skills building upon what you bring to this position as a recent graduate but rotations may also open your eyes to whole new opportunities and career paths. Plus, structured rotations are a great networking opportunity as you meet more and more people.
2. Training and Mentoring
Training within graduate programs will help you learn your position and the work you’ll be doing in that role but in addition you may be partnered with a mentor. Over the course of the program having a mentor offers a tailored learning experience to provide a greater depth of skill than what a broad training manual may be able to provide.
The breadth of networking available to you in your graduate program is boundless depending on your willingness to put yourself out there and speak with people. Unlike an entry-level job, your access to a mentor means possible connections available to you expands to those that your mentor also knows. This could mean being able to meet more senior members of the business where one good impression could change your career. By striving to do good work in your role, those around you will notice - setting the foundation for making connections with these people who you will likely be meeting and working with across the full length of your career.
What is a Graduate Job?
A graduate job (also referred to as an entry level role) is a position that requires minimal experience that you can get into straight out of a degree. These positions are an excellent opportunity to start working within your industry and meeting your peers. Once you’re in a graduate job they also can lead to advancement within the company or being able to see jobs you’d previously never considered.
Three Benefits of Graduate Jobs
1. Explore career paths within the business
Unlike graduate programs where structured rotations are expected, a graduate job is an entry level position where you can shadow other jobs to build your experience and perspective. By being in the workplace you can be exposed to different possibilities of future career paths and possible jobs you might not have realised existed prior. Companies often hire from within the company as well so being in an entry level position may create future opportunities.
2. Building up your experience
A graduate job offers an opportunity to build your experience within your industry by working and being paid for your time. By being involved you open yourself up to future opportunities and doors opening, get to experience what it’s like to be working in your chosen field, and can network with those around you. After all, you never know who you might need to know later on in your career.
3. Developing transferable skills
The skills you develop within a graduate job can be used across the same industry but also in other jobs or fields. By developing your communication skills for example you’ll be better equipped to work in a team setting later on in your career. Graduate jobs require you to overcome obstacles that will teach adaptability which is useful across your career wherever it may take you.
When should I be applying for a Graduate Program or Graduate Job?
As a general rule of thumb, you should be applying from the start of your final year at university.
Graduate Programs – Applications open extremely early. While we're seeing more employers opting to hire year round, peak time for applications is generally February to April with 70% of the employers here on GradConnection opening jobs over this time. These roles generally start the following year and with applications opening so early, many students miss out by realising this too late.
There is also a mini peak middle of the year as well from July onwards with second round application windows from large employers as well as many employers also looking to advertise when there is less competition from other companies trying to hire the same sets of students.
Graduate Jobs – These are more of an on-demand basis and can come up at any time so keeping an eye out as early as possible will help make sure you don’t miss opportunities!
What about Salary?
The average salary for a large graduate program is $74,000 per year according to the 2023 AAGE Annual Employer Survey however this doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed this figure! There are many factors that determine what a position might pay and as this is your first serious career step, taking the position that is right for what you want to achieve is more important than a short term gain for your bank account.
Things to weigh up when assessing a graduate salary:
- Type of company – is it a large established company or a small startup with less funds?
- Type of work – an extra few thousand dollars should not sway you from a job that is more aligned to where your interests lie. Gaining the right experience will also set you up for a much higher pay day in the future
- Work-life balance – can you expect to be working long hours or do you have flexibility like remote working?
- Development and training opportunities – these aren’t cheap so if these are on offer factor this in as well
- Share options – not just limited to startups but also on offer from many large established companies
- Your potential future team – whether you’ve been won over by a hiring manager or the skills, attitude and personality of the team this should weigh in higher than any salary discussions
See more on how to choose the right graduate program for you here and a breakdown of the average salary in some of the major industries here.