Job hunting tips

What is the recruitment process for a graduate job or scheme?

Discover what to expect in the recruitment process for a structured graduate programme or individual graduate job and learn how to succeed in your applications and interviews.

'Recruitment' written in white on a blackboard

Graduates often apply to two types of vacancy:

  1. a graduate scheme , in which large numbers of graduates join a structured training programme that often includes rotations around different areas of the business.
  2. an individual entry-level role with an employer, appropriate for graduates just starting out in their career. This is often called a graduate job .

While the exact recruitment process will vary according to the employer, knowing broadly what to expect for each type of vacancy will make the prospect of applying for jobs less stressful. In this article, we provide an overview of the most common recruitment stages and set you up for success by linking to our expert advice.

The recruitment process for a graduate scheme

The recruitment process for a graduate scheme typically includes the following stages, although the order of earlier stages can vary, and some stages may be repeated at a later point in the process. The earlier stages are likely to involve members of the employer’s HR team (sometimes specialist early careers recruiters), with individual line managers being brought in for the final stages.

Step 1: application form

Typically, the first part of the recruitment process for a graduate job or scheme is filling out an application form. What this involves depends on whether the employer is following a traditional approach to hiring (based around your skills, values, previous experiences and reasons for applying) or a strength-based approach.

A traditional form will usually ask you to fill out your contact information, your educational background and work experience history, before requiring you to answer application questions . Sometimes, you will also be asked to upload a CV and/or a covering letter . The application questions typically focus on why you have applied for the role and the employer and how your skills and work experience make you suitable for the role, but they may also ask you about your commercial awareness .

A strength-based recruitment process is not focused upon how your past experiences have made you a good candidate, but on how your natural strengths and behaviours would make you a good candidate in future. As such, a strength-based application form does not ask you application questions, instead capturing quick biographical and contact information before sending you to the online tests and pre-recorded video stages of the recruitment process (see below).

Read the graduate’s guide to job application forms to discover tips for tackling the application stage. Find out how to answer job application questions .

Step 2: psychometric tests

If the recruiters like what they see in your application form, you’ll likely be asked to complete psychometric tests. These are objective assessments that employers use to assess your cognitive abilities and behaviours to gain a better insight into your potential in the workplace than a form or interview alone might provide. The main types of psychometric tests are:

  • aptitude tests
  • personality assessments
  • job simulation assessments
  • game-based assessments.

You may come across psychometric tests at other stages of the recruitment process, for example during your interviews or at an assessment centre.

Employers following a strength-based recruitment process will run virtual job simulators (a type of job simulation assessment) as part of their first-round video interview stage (see below).

Learn more about psychometric tests, what they are, the different types, how to prepare for them and how to pass them in our psychometric tests article. You can also take a look at our guide to game-based assessments for what to expect if an employer uses this interactive way of assessing you.

Step 3: first-round video interviews

Your first-round video interview could be a live video conversation with an interviewer, held via Zoom, MS Teams or a similar platform. Some employers may still prefer to hold it as an old-fashioned phone call rather than via a video platform.

Alternatively, your first-round interview could be pre-recorded. A pre-recorded interview involves you recording and uploading answers to questions that appear on screen.

Questions for both pre-recorded questions and in-person conversations are likely to focus on your reasons for applying, your understanding of the role, and your skills or qualities.

See our expert tips on video interviews for both live video conversations with recruiters and pre-recorded interviews.

As mentioned above, however, employers following a strength-based recruitment process may run virtual job simulators as part of their first-round interview stage instead of their psychometric test stage. Virtual job simulators involve watching a work-based scenario play out on screen and indicating how you would respond to it, either by selecting a multiple-choice answer on screen, recording and uploading an answer or writing an answer in a text box on the platform.

Step 4: assessment centre

Assessment centres are essentially group interviews, in which employers bring together a number of candidates to complete a series of exercises that assess their suitability for the role. The exact structure and the nature of the tasks vary according to the employer, but they usually include an ice-breaker activity, group exercise (which is often based around a business case study ), a group or individual presentation and an individual interview . Alongside this, there will be opportunities to meet graduate-level and other employees, in order to get to know the organisation better. Some employers may invite you to a separate final interview after the assessment centre, but this is rare.

Discover in-depth advice by reading the graduate’s guide to assessment centres and gain specific advice on how to prepare for assessment centres .

The recruitment process for a graduate job

Employers recruiting for a graduate job will typically be looking to fill one vacancy as opposed to, say, 100 places on a graduate scheme. This means that the recruitment process for a graduate job will likely consist of fewer stages and be less centralised, with more being done earlier by the individual line manager rather than a HR assistant or specialist early careers recruiter. It is also much more likely to vary between employers, which makes it difficult to predict exactly what to expect. That being said, you will need to submit an initial application and complete at least one interview.


The way in which you submit your initial application will vary between employers. It could involve emailing your CV and covering letter to a recruiter or it could involve completing a straightforward application form – this may ask you to answer application questions or to just attach your CV and covering letter. Submitting an application via LinkedIn is not uncommon either – read our advice on creating a great LinkedIn profile to help your application.


Interviews can take place via a live video call (held over a platform such as Skype or Zoom), over the phone or in person. Before the pandemic, you would typically have a first-round interview to assess your suitability over the phone or via Zoom, often with your future line manager. Then, you would have either one or two face-to-face interviews – these could have been one-on-one interviews or panel interviews . They may have included a chance to meet your new team.

These days, you may follow the same process – or you might have all of your interviews via video call (especially if you are applying for a remote-working position). You may have more or fewer interviews. Ultimately, the number of interviews you sit (and how they are conducted) will depend on the employer.

Interview questions

In an interview, you may be asked any of the following types of questions:

  • motivational questions (for example – ’Why are you interested in this position? ’)
  • employer-focused questions (for example – ‘What do you know about us?’)
  • CV and career aspiration questions (for example – ‘Talk to me about your internship with X’ or ‘What is your career goal?’ )
  • hypothetical questions, asking how you would respond to a specific scenario (for example – ‘What would you do if a client complained?’ )
  • competency or values-based questions that ask for previous examples of when you have used specific skills, demonstrated values and how you approach tasks or challenges (for example – ‘Give me an example of when you worked in a team to solve a problem’, ‘Give an example of a time when you showed initiative’ or ‘Talk us through a situation where you were successful – why was it a success for you?’)
  • strength-based questions that focus on your natural strengths and what you are good at (for example – ’What motivates you?’ or ‘Do you prefer starting tasks or finishing them?’)
  • technical questions (for some technical roles, for example in IT or engineering), to assess your understanding or knowledge of matters required to do your job – engineers might be asked basic physics-related questions or IT developers might be asked about their understanding of different software. In most cases, you will be given a task to complete instead of being asked techniqual questions (see below).

For more advice on answering interview questions, see our article on the top nine tricky interview questions and how to answer them .

Interview tasks

You may be set an activity to complete during your interview process – this is so the interviewer can really see how you think and assess your ability to complete tasks similar to those you would be doing on the job. You could be asked to prepare a task in advance of an interview (for example, by preparing a presentation on a given topic) or you could be given it during the interview. The task should be relevant and appropriate to the individual role you are applying for. For instance:

  • trainee journalist or editor interview candidates may be asked to write a short story based on a press release or undertake a proofreading test
  • software developer candidates may complete a small dev task focused on a specific tech stack and talk through their thinking
  • graduate data analysts may be asked to evaluate different data tools and prepare a presentation on their findings
  • graduate structural engineers may be asked to review a design diagram or answer questions on how to make calculations
  • graduates applying for a role in desktop design may be set a ‘take home’ exercise to complete and come back with – this could be a presentation or other relevant design project
  • graduates going for a commercial role (for example, in sales or business) may be asked to undertake a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of the employer’s competitors
  • graduates going into marketing or social media might be asked to create some content or asked to present on how they would promote a product.

Check with employers

Neither of the processes outlined above are definitive lists of the recruitment stages for a graduate job and graduate scheme; these are just the most common structures. It’s always best to check the individual employer’s website, or ask the recruiter, for a clear understanding of what to expect.

What happens after the final interview?

Once you’ve reached the end of the recruitment process, you may (or may not) be offered the job. We have advice on handling all possible scenarios:

We also set you up with the tips and advice on how to impress on the first day of your new job and from then on in our article on how to succeed in your first job after university .

Get even more help from targetjobs

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targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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