When do graduate scheme applications open and when is the best time to apply?

Last updated: 11 Jan 2024, 12:18

Find out when graduate job deadlines are, plus when to apply to be in with the best chance of getting a place on a graduate scheme starting in the autumn after you finish your degree.

A desk of a graduate getting ready to apply: discover when to put in your applications

If you’re wondering when to apply for graduate jobs, you’ve come to the right place. Here we answer commonly asked questions around the timelines for graduate recruitment, including at what point during your degree you should start applying, how soon you should get your application in before the deadline and whether you can apply for graduate schemes after you have graduated.

Read on to find out:

  1. When is the best time to apply?
  2. When do graduate scheme applications open and close?
  3. When are graduate job deadlines?
  4. When should I start applying?
  5. Do I need to get my application in well before the deadline?
  6. When is it too late to apply?
  7. How long does it take to get a graduate job?
  8. Should I apply before or after graduating?
  9. How long can I apply for graduate jobs for?
  10. Should I delay applying until next year?

Or go straight to our job search if you want to dive right into applying.

When is the best time to apply for graduate positions?

The answer largely depends on whether you want to apply for a formal graduate programme with an annual intake or a one-off job vacancy. Our ‘What is a graduate job?’ article outlines the difference between a job and a graduate scheme in more detail.

For graduate roles that recruit annually to start the following autumn, the best time to apply is generally the autumn of your final year, though some roles are advertised year round and sometimes employers extend the deadline or reopen applications at a later date. The following two sections explain this distinction.

When do graduate schemes’ applications open and close?

The application processes for graduate schemes tend to involve several stages and can take months. The traditional recruitment timetable for these can be summarised as follows:

  • Most employers offering formal graduate programmes open for applications in September/October , with a view to graduates starting work the following September/October.
  • Applications for graduate schemes in investment banking often open in August and close as early as October.
  • The law profession works on its own separate recruitment timetables for solicitors and barristers , with fixed deadlines.
  • Many employers set application deadlines in November and December . They may well extend the deadline or reopen the vacancy if they do not receive a sufficient number of quality applications. In some sectors, deadlines are fixed – although an employer might do a bit of top-up recruitment if their job offers aren’t accepted. Generally speaking, if you miss deadlines in these sectors, you have missed the boat until next year.
  • Some employers do not set a deadline and keep their graduate programmes ‘open’ all year or have ‘ongoing recruitment’ – but they still expect to receive most of their applications by Christmas . By the spring and summer, typically only the less popular schemes in the less popular locations tend to still have vacancies; more popular programmes will have been filled.

Those recruiters who set deadlines in November and December typically hold first-round interviews and assessments in January and February . Assessment centres are usually held in March and April and job offers made in April, May and June . However, each employer runs its own timetable depending on the nature of its process and its resources, so may not follow this timing exactly.

Search for graduate schemes on targetjobs to see when specific schemes open and close their applications this year.

When are graduate job deadlines for individual vacancies?

Individual entry-level and graduate jobs are typically advertised as ‘immediate start’ vacancies, which (as the name suggests) means that they would like the graduate to start as soon as possible and so are often aimed at those who have already graduated or are in the final months of their course. The recruitment process tends to be more rapid.

These vacancies usually appear on an ad hoc basis when the organisation requires someone new. However, some follow the same annual recruitment timetable as the large graduate employers, as outlined above.

Keep checking the targetjobs job search for the latest vacancies.

When should I start applying for graduate jobs?

Start applying for jobs and graduate schemes at the beginning of the final year of your course if you want a job starting the following September. The above section on when graduate schemes open and close their applications explains more.

If you’d prefer to find a job with an immediate start than have something lined up months in advance, you can wait until you are approaching the end of your course but it’s worth looking out for vacancies sooner to get a sense of what you’d like to apply for and the skills you would need to demonstrate.

It’s never too early to set up job vacancy alerts on employers’ websites and platforms such as targetjobs, particularly if you already have some preferred employers in mind.

Do I need to get a job application in well before the deadline?

Not necessarily: you can, in theory, apply any time before the deadline. Some employers wait until the deadline before assessing all applications, but others start reviewing applications and making interview offers before the deadline, so it does no harm to be at the front of the queue. Recruiters may also question the time management skills of those who submit an application at 11.59 pm on the day of the deadline.

You don’t need to hurry and cut corners to get your application in as soon as the vacancy opens, though. Taking time to research the company and write thoughtful responses to the application form questions (or a well-crafted covering letter) will serve you better than rushing, but you should be prompt and submit a researched, tailored and proofread application as early as you can.

When is it too late to apply for graduate jobs?

Because the deadlines for graduate schemes starting the following year are usually before Christmas, any later than this is likely to be too late. However, you haven't totally missed your chance if you didn’t apply in the autumn term or weren’t successful with any of your applications.

  • Although the most popular graduate schemes are likely to be filled by the spring, you may still find some programmes available: employers sometimes extend the deadline or reopen the vacancy if they do not receive enough applications or if their job offers aren’t accepted.
  • Individual graduate jobs are advertised on an ad hoc basis all year round. For jobs requiring an immediate start, you can only apply when you are approaching the end of (or have finished) your course anyway.
  • Applying speculatively could lead to a job at an organisation that is not advertising graduate schemes or vacancies. This can be done at any time of year but is best left until you are approaching the end of your course.
  • Alternatively, you can wait and reapply the following autumn for graduate schemes and jobs that have an annual recruitment cycle – see our sections on applying after graduation and how long you can keep applying for .

Our article ‘I have a degree, now what?’ has some helpful tips if you’re not sure where to begin.

How long does it take to get a graduate job once you start applying?

Some people are fortunate enough to be offered the first job they apply for, but it’s not unusual for students and recent graduates to spend six months or more applying for jobs and attending interviews. If you are in that situation, you’re not alone – and our advice on dealing with job rejection may help you persevere.

Get yourself prepared by finding out what the recruitment process is for graduate jobs and schemes.

Should I apply for a graduate job before or after graduation?

If you want to have a job lined up before you graduate, you should apply during your final year. However, you can continue to apply for job vacancies after graduating, with the advantage that you are now available to start work immediately if required. You could also apply during the next graduate recruitment cycle for a graduate scheme starting the following year.

Don’t miss our advice on structuring your job hunt after graduation and what to do if you’re struggling to find a job after graduating .

How long can you apply for graduate jobs for?

There is not a consistent limit on how long after graduation you can keep applying for graduate jobs, especially those that are open to anyone with a degree rather than those specifically aimed at recent graduates. Graduate schemes usually allow you to apply during future recruitment cycles if you didn’t apply or were unsuccessful in previous years, but some specify that you must have graduated within a certain time limit (such as three years). Check individual job descriptions and the FAQ pages on employers’ graduate careers websites to check if you’re eligible.

Should I delay applying for graduate jobs for another year?

Each year the Cibyl Graduate Research UK survey asks more than 60,000 students and graduates what they are most looking to do after they graduate. Each year around six in ten plan to look for a full-time job or graduate scheme. Around two in ten plan to do a postgraduate degree, while around one in ten want to travel, go on a gap year, get a part-time job or volunteer. The final one in ten don't commit to a plan of action.

Lots of people around you – family, lecturers, careers advisers, friends and so on – will have a view on when you should start job hunting. But the truth is that this is something that only you can decide, with some proper self-reflection. If you pushed us for some advice, though, we’d say that taking time before you apply for graduate jobs (or start up your own business) can be a good thing if you want to pause to:

  • discover what career is right for you
  • develop your skills and knowledge (which could be via postgraduate study, taking online courses or gaining work experience)
  • gain more industry-specific work experience to enhance your CV
  • look after your mental well-being.

If, however, your sole reason for not applying for jobs is either procrastination or a fear of the competition (or a bit of both), we sympathise but would urge you to take the plunge. You may well find that the level of competition is even greater next year anyway. The same applies if you’re waiting for your ‘perfect job’ to come along – there is no such thing. Your first job is simply a springboard into your career, which will give you valuable experience no matter what you go on to do next. Read our ‘How long should I stay in my first job?’ article for more advice.

Are you considering doing a masters? There may be very good reasons for this, including the desire to pursue a different career path than your undergraduate degree equips you for – but first check out our answers to the five questions to ask yourself before doing a masters and reflect whether it will help you get to where you want to be.

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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