Graduate scheme application process

There are generally many common elements to the application process for graduate schemes; however, don’t seem surprised if some miss stages out or maybe even add more stages! This is just a rough guide to what you can expect and some tips.

Application form

Usually the first stage is an application form (or maybe a CV and covering letter). There is plenty of help with how to do these on TSR and many other websites. An important thing to consider before you apply to a graduate scheme, is their minimum requirements. These can include:

  • UCAS points;
  • Degree classification and type;
  • GCSE grades.

If you are unsure, or have proof of extenuating circumstances, then ring or email HR and see if they will consider you.


  • Draft your answer to their questions into a Word document and then copy and paste it when you’re happy – there will often not be any way to spell check in the form itself!
  • Provide examples to show when you have used particular skills they are looking for;
  • Check their word/character limits for each section, but don’t think that you have to use them all;

Online tests

Most likely, the next part of the process will be some form of tests that need to be completed online. These may come in a variety of forms, including verbal reasoning, mathematical ability and competency questions. With the competency questions, they will most likely give you a scenario and ask you to choose out of options what you would do in that situation. Some may ask you to rate the suggestions from best to worst, others may ask just for one answer, and some may ask for your top and bottom answer.


  • Make sure you know what they want you to answer;
  • Be sure to have everything to hand (paper, calculator etc);
  • Try the practice questions so you know what to expect!
  • Read the question carefully;
  • Be truthful with your answers;
  • Be careful with how long you spend on these tests too, as you don’t want to find out that you have run out of time at the end.

Telephone interview

If you get good enough marks on the online tests, the most likely next step is a telephone interview. This will probably be competency based (i.e. skills), so prepare beforehand with examples, strengths/weaknesses etc. However, be prepared to answer questions such as ‘why this company?’/’why this role?’ etc.


  • Make sure your phone has plenty of battery;
  • Go somewhere where you will have good signal;
  • Ensure that you will not be disturbed;
  • Have notes in front of you to briefly refer to during the interview;
  • Although it could be tempting to lie down on your bed for your interview, you will sound far better if you’re sitting up, so I suggest sitting at a desk;

Assessment centre

If you score high enough on the telephone interview, you will most likely be called to an assessment centre. These have a few elements to them, which can include:

  • Interview;
  • Presentation;
  • Written exercise;
  • Group task;
  • Role play.

Try and remember that you are not competing against the other people there - you are competing against what the company are looking for. Everyone could get a job from your assessment centre, none of you could, or any number in between!

The tasks are generally designed to simulate the real job as much as possible.

General tips for the day:

  • As with any interviews, dress smartly;
  • Remember that you are being assessed all the time, including at any meals;
  • Read the information they give you carefully and use it to prepare as much as you can;
  • Arrive in plenty of time for the day;
  • Keep an eye on the clock – you may not be called to each exercise when it’s time, and you don’t want to be late!
  • Following on from this, make sure you know where you’re going; don’t be afraid to ask;
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions to clarify anything about the exercises;
  • Each exercise is as important as the others. Even if you think you didn't do well on one, that doesn't mean that you won't get the job;
  • Try and be yourself during all the exercises.


As part of the day, you will almost certainly have another interview. This may overlap with the telephone interview and extend on it. Read our general interview tips here.


Some assessment centres may ask you to prepare a presentation, either on a particular interest of yours (related to the industry), or on an aspect of the company.

Some general tips for presentations:

  • Practice, but don’t let it sound rehearsed;
  • Make sure it fits into the time limit;
  • Check what you will be allowed to have in there. If there is no projector, consider handouts for the audience;
  • Maintain eye contact with your audience;
  • Be prepared for questions (general and ones specific about your presentation).

Written task

This could be similar to online tests, or more essay-based. They want to check that you can perform well under more formal test conditions. Most likely, this (along with the group exercise and role play) will not relate directly to the company that you are applying for, so that any prior knowledge will not be an advantage in the exercise.


  • Read the information carefully;
  • Look for links between the information presented;
  • Be decisive with any conclusions drawn;
  • Keep an eye on the time;
  • Cross anything out that you don’t want to be looked at.

Group task

This is where you will often have to work with other candidates, under the premise of a meeting. You will get time to read the brief and prepare notes for the kinds of things to discuss. It may be that you are all given the same information and have to come to a conclusion, or it may be that you are given different information and have to try and convince the others of your angle, while still coming to an overall conclusion. The information given to you may link with the written task or roleplay, so consider any information you can.


  • Keep an eye on the time – you will often be told that you have (e.g.) 30mins for this meeting and you must have finished it in that time;
  • Ignore the observers as much as possible;
  • Try and involve all participants, especially those who may be quieter;
  • Don’t shout over each other! Cooperation is key;
  • Obviously try to reach a conclusion that the majority are happy with;
  • Consider writing notes to refer to when summing up the meeting (although not everyone needs to do this).

Role play

Often, you will be asked to hold a pretend meeting with an actor who works for the company. You will be given a brief and some time to prepare your points that you want to bring up in the meeting. This is a big ‘unknown’ as the assessors can really try and test you.


  • Be prepared to lead everything, from inviting the actor in, to asking them to sit down!
  • I found it good to just quickly ask the actor simple things like ‘do you know what this meeting is about?’, ‘have you had a chance to read the report?’ at the beginning. This gives you an idea of how the actor may react to you and means that you don’t just lead straight into what you want to say. Maybe even ask their opinion on what you’re talking about before launching in with your own opinion, as that may help get them onto your side!
  • Be prepared to encounter confrontation from the actor – they may be primed to test you. Don’t confront them yourself though! Remain calm throughout;
  • Be animated in your voice and actions (even if it's just hand gestures), although not overly so (i.e. be natural);
  • Don’t be afraid to ask them questions to clarify things that you don’t know in regards to the issue – you may find that the suggestions you thought of are irrelevant with new information presented to you;
  • Leading on from this, think of contingency plans;
  • Write notes in the meeting to refer to later;
  • Talk about next steps – imagine that (for example) you’ll have another meeting to discuss further – even talk about a time frame;
  • Be prepared to talk to an observer about what you thought went well/what you would do differently.

After the assessment centre

Most likely, they will give you a rough time frame when you can expect to hear a response. Hopefully it's good news! If it's not, then ask if they can give you feedback so that you can work on your performance for next time. Good luck!