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Breaking into the Industry

Posted: 30th January 2020 12:53

Three ways to stand out from the crowd and get your first step onto the career ladder

With nearly half of all young people in England going into higher education and the large majority leaving with a 2:1 degree, it is increasingly challenging for undergraduates to break into their chosen profession. In some cases, hundreds of applicants may be going up against each other for a single vacancy and so it is essential to stand out from the crowd. Completing an undergraduate degree and being confronted with the world of work can be a daunting experience, but internships, graduate schemes and Master’s degrees present themselves as three methods of enhancing employability and getting a foot in the door of your desired career.


Internships are usually short-term positions within an organisation lasting anywhere from a couple of weeks to several months, often taking place around undergraduate study as a full-time role over the holidays or part-time during term. The aim of an internship is to allow the applicant to dip their feet into the industry, gaining first-hand experience and playing a role in the day-to-day operations of the firm. Internships can be paid or unpaid, with the former often being highly competitive for places.


+ Internships offer young people a hands-on involvement in the firm to prepare them for a future career in the field. Interns are equipped with key skills for the role and a familiarity that will make the transition into work far more seamless.

+ For certain areas of work, an internship can be a useful stepping stone as it allows you to build a recognisable portfolio of work within a professional environment that can then be used to score positions and contracts in the future.

+ Whilst undertaking the position, interns have the opportunity to network and build contacts within the firm. This is particularly beneficial for young people, as they will be able to exchange ideas with senior employees and further immerse themselves in the field.

+ Successful internships where the intern excels within the organisation can sometimes result in the offer of a permanent position. Interns moving on can at the very least expect a reference that will be beneficial in their forthcoming job hut.


- Some internships are unpaid and this can create a heavy financial burden for young people. Interns in unpaid positions will likely have to take up part-time employment or cut costs elsewhere by moving in with parents in order to sustain themselves.

- Positions for internship can be highly competitive due to the vast number of undergraduates seeking this form of work, and this is especially the case with paid positions. Applicants may have to search extensively before landing their desired role.

- Unfortunately, some employers may abuse the purpose of the internship by viewing the intern as an expendable unit of labour and dumping them with menial tasks to complete rather than supporting them with a useful learning experience.

Top Tips

  • Make use of all your resources when searching for an internship. Universities will advertise positions with their partners on campus and online, and there are a host of recruitment websites available to browse internships in your area.
  • Once you’re in the door, prove your enthusiasm! Be curious, ask questions to help illuminate your job and the industry, be the first one in and last one out and you may be rewarded for your efforts.

Graduate Schemes

Graduate schemes differ from internships in that they are offered to those who have completed their studies and are usually long-term, spanning from one to three years. These highly structured programmes incorporate professional development, often with training courses and mentoring, into a full-time working schedule. Graduate schemes are found across almost all sectors, and they constitute one of the most popular methods of recruitment for large companies, although it is worth searching for positions amongst smaller start-ups too.


+ Most graduate schemes will provide training to participants in order to get them up to speed with industry standards. This is a win-win situation for both parties as participants benefit from mentoring, on-the-job development schemes and sometimes further qualifications within the company.

+ Many of the schemes offer a considerable starting salary that truly sweetens the deal. Generally, there will be a linear path in place within the firm where participants can expect to build on this salary as they rise through the ranks.

+ As many of the world’s largest organisations run graduate recruitment schemes, there is sometimes an attached prestige to being one of the few successful applicants. Future employers will notice and reward the presence of a renowned firm’s graduate scheme on a C.V.

+ Participants of larger organisations’ graduate schemes can expect some enticing company perks – perhaps a laptop or free gym membership. In addition, many firms offer the opportunity to travel and work abroad for a fixed period of time.


- Only a small proportion of applicants are accepted into graduate schemes, with fierce competition across all sectors. The application process can also be particularly gruelling, with a barrage of hurdles to pass before even earning a one-to-one interview.

- The transition into a corporate environment can be unsettling for many graduates who have just waved goodbye to the lax university lifestyle. Long working hours, formal working attire and rigid chains of command will take some adjusting to.

- Graduate schemes are inevitably a large commitment since they typically last two years. Successful applicants who withdraw from the scheme are often left in the cold with large debts because many of associated the training courses sneakily incur large fees.

Top Tips

  • Don’t limit yourself with the schemes that you apply to. Competition is high and gaining experience of the lengthy application process will be vastly beneficial when you are job hunting in the future.
  • Research the graduate scheme to ensure that it is something you are willing to commit to. Consult the opinions of successful applicants who have enrolled in the scheme before.

Master’s Degree

A Master’s degree is a Level 7 postgraduate qualification lasting one or two full-time years available to BA graduates and preceding a PhD. The MA enables students to advance their learning from an undergraduate degree and specialise further into their field of interest through a series of assessed modules and a dissertation. Whilst an MA may enhance career prospects, its necessity for certain jobs is questioned and so it is important to research the applicability of a Master’s for your own career.


+ Obtaining a Master’s degree is a mandatory gateway to open doors in certain sectors, and these include business, medicine and nursing. In addition, many people undertake an MA in order to change their career path.

+ For individuals with a distinct career in mind, the right choice of Master’s degree will supply specialist knowledge and propel them ahead of others in a competitive job market. Possessing an MA is likely to increase earning potential too.

+ A Master’s degree will particularly appeal to students who thrived in the independent and intellectual environment of an undergraduate degree. The MA represents the next step in pursuing a research-based, academic interest and may be a more attractive prospect than the workplace.

+ Many postgraduate students relocate universities after completing their BA in order to have access to better resources and tutors. Studying elsewhere can be a strong pull factor and it is also worth browsing MA’s on offer abroad.


- The cost of a Master’s is the obvious drawback, with an average fee of £7300 per year. Recent graduates in particular will struggle financially and should seek employment as well as scholarships and bursaries to help to fund the degree.

- The postgraduate lifestyle can be lonely with its emphasis on independence and self-study. The days of being a baby face fresher will seem far off with long shifts alone in the library and fewer people in the year group to socialise with.

- The notion that a Master’s degree is actually necessary for many jobs is still hotly contested. Ultimately, it depends on your career, and time should be taken to research whether it is in fact worthwhile or merely delaying employment.

Top Tips

  • Research the MA’s on offer across a range of universities to ensure you find the course that will be beneficial for your career. Look into scholarships, bursaries, loans and studentships to help fund the degree.
  • Being a postgraduate brings you closer to each university’s distinguished scholars and tutors, so make use of these links and start networking for the future.

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