Guest post: A beginner’s guide to PR graduate schemes

Last September, the dawn of the final year of my PR degree, I decided to conduct a social experiment: In an aim to get hired, I would apply to every graduate scheme in the communications industry. Sounds crazy? Well, it was. I don’t really want to know the amount of time I have spent on application forms, mini-essays, questionnaires, videos and interviews that I could have put towards my dissertation (or getting an extra hour of sleep). But today, I am not here to complain, I am here to depart my wisdom onto anybody who might consider applying for one in the future. Because one thing is for certain – I sure have learned a lot in this past year.

#1 Go for it!

Grad schemes are known to attract a high number of applicants, and the bigger the company, the bigger competition will likely be for you. But even if you tend to critically squint at your CV for being so short, if you look at a company’s website and can picture yourself working there, always apply. You need to remember that they want to hire somebody just out of uni, so why should that person not be you? And it doesn’t matter how big they are either – I have applied to comms giants with half a heart in it and gotten a response, yet never heard back from other small ones and vice versa. The only thing I do know, is that if you mean your answers on application and you feel good yet a little bit silly writing them, you’ll usually hear back.

#2 Clear your schedule

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Applying to graduate schemes can feel like a full-time job by itself. Now try balancing a dissertation, general university projects and maybe a part-time job along with it and you start asking yourself why you couldn’t wait until summer before applying to anything. (I can’t answer that question, I am personally too impatient to not do everything at once.) The longest application form I have filled out in the past was roughly 15 Din A4 pages, featuring 6 mini-essays and background information on my entire education history, and the shortest required me to upload my CV and write a one page mini-essay on a certain topic. One of them rejected me immediately after the initial application, for the other one I eventually got in the final round. Guess which ; )

Applying to graduate schemes can feel like a full-time job by itself.

#3 What to expect from the process

To drive you slightly mad (would be the short answer). The way a grad scheme application process is structured depends on the company and often also the type of work that they do. What might follow after the general application could be a telephone interview, a request for an essay or a creative task like a video. If you are applying to a more corporate agency/consultancy, you can expect them to give you a particular topic related to their practice, if the agency focuses on consumer or digital services, you should be given more leeway to explore your creativity. After this second stage most agency will invite you for their first assessment day. If you have made it until here, you can give yourself a small pat on the shoulder – most companies narrow the number of people down immensely before inviting anyone and you have made it through that process! I have more “experience” applying to corporate roles, but I don’t think any graduate assessment passes without a writing test, a group exercise (usually involving a campaign), a personal interview and a presentation of some sort. The writing test (surprise, surprise) is usually a press release or news story, and in the personal interview you will get asked why you want to work in communication and what you’re doing in your studies. (One more reason to make your dissertation topical.)

#4 Determining if a Grad Scheme is right for you

Grad schemes in communications consultancies and PR agencies are, like most grad schemes in other industries, designed to give talented and ambitious students a leg up into a particular industry, even if their degree was not specific to it. It is therefore worth noting that if you are doing a PR degree, a grad scheme might just not be the best option for you. If you have spent the past three to four years learning all about the industry, worked in placements and maybe already with journalists and clients, you are in a really good position to start out your job search. Grad schemes will be a recap of a lot of those things and the often arduous process of getting in results in something you probably could have gotten with a standard round of two interviews: a job.

If you are doing a PR degree, a grad scheme might just not be the best option for you.

If joining a certain agency is important to you, however, and you enjoy the thrill of a multi-step application process that will at times assemble a reality TV show (*cough* Edelman *cough*) – then go ahead!

I hope some of my thoughts on grad schemes and the graduate scheme application process have been helpful if you are planning to apply to some, and if you are not, well, then I hope the read has been entertaining nonetheless.


This is a guest post from Henriette Stoll. You can connect her on Twitter, @henriettest_. Make sure to check her blog, too. 

If you have any suggestions, would like to guest post or give me a feedback, feel free to email me at kl.marcel [at], tweet me @marcelkl or connect with me on LinkedIn. Thanks for stopping by, have a splendid day!