I was really excited the last week; I’d decided that I was going to buy a lottery ticket for the first time, and today was my lucky day. Back at home, I sat there watching the draw with anticipation, giddy with excitement and mentally spending my windfall…and then the weirdest thing happened. My balls didn’t drop (stop sniggering at the back), and I couldn’t believe my eyes…

I didn’t win.

What went wrong? Every week people win millions on the lottery, so what happened? I just couldn’t understand. The guy in front of me when I was buying my ticket bought a scratch card and won £20 – so where’s my top hat full of cash, glass of champagne and shiny Aston? A crushing disappointment, but don’t worry I’ve got this one covered – I’m going to buy another ticket next week. That’s bound to fix it. Right?

Believe it or not, this scenario isn’t far from the truth for many grads like you right now when it comes to applying for work. Let me explain…

Half of my business at Project Me is dedicated to helping people perform awesomely at interview and the other half works consultatively with businesses to design interviews and assessment centres (eg for grad schemes) – as a result we get to see the full spectrum of issues from both sides of the interview table. What we find time and time again from speaking to employers and candidates alike is that there’s something wrong when it comes to graduate employment…

There’s a myth that I want to bust wide open right now, and that’s to do with graduate schemes. So many of you with 2.1s and above are investing a lot of effort into getting a place on one of these, and I can see why. There’s the allure of working for a big organisation; the prestige, salary, progression opportunities, professional support and so forth…great. So what’s the problem? It comes back to my lottery ticket scenario…

We get told how many applications come through for these grad schemes, and you know what it’s a miracle anyone is ever successful sometimes. There can be hundreds of applicants per place, and that to me looks like serious competition. Not great odds, right? You’re competing against the ‘best’ grads that year, so it’s always going to be tough. I say ‘best’, as from our experience of recruitment, screening grads’ initial eligibility based largely on their university grade is slightly ridiculous – we believe candidates are far more than just a number on a CV, but hey that’s the way things work right now.

Back to the myth – many 2.1 grads we speak to seem to think that getting onto a scheme is the only way into the world of work, and the only way to forge an excellent career; that only by getting one of these few places can you enter the job market, and that to work elsewhere in an SME for instance would be tantamount to career suicide. This is simply untrue. By doing this you’re limiting your opportunities enormously, playing the job lottery and setting yourself up for a long job search. Now, of course I’m not saying that trying to get onto a grad scheme is a waste of time – far from it, they can be superb…but remember that there is a whole world of employment out there that talented grads can tap into. It just takes effort and time.

You’re ambitious and competitive, right? Well think about this for a second. Your mate from your course who got a 2.2 and who’s not eligible to apply for a prestigious grad scheme has spent the last few weeks applying elsewhere. And you know what – chances are he’s going to succeed sooner or later. He’s bought a scratch card instead of a lottery ticket, and the odds of winning are better.

Ok, you’ll win less on a scratch card, but think about what your objective really is right now upon leaving Uni. Is it to launch head-on straight into a glittering career…or is it to get work and establish yourself with a base of experience from which to grow? You can be ambitious and realistic; your career’s a marathon not a sprint.

I’ll leave you with a final thought: by all means follow your dreams and apply for what you believe to be the best opportunities for you. Bear in mind that your job search is a numbers game, and you alone are in charge of the odds based on what you choose to apply for.

So what’s it going to be to get you started; lottery ticket, or scratch card?


Ben Smithwell is founder and El Presidente at Project Me Consulting, and author of Interview Black Beltwhich will be published this September. Like us on Facebook, follow on Twitter and Pinterest