Cast your minds back to final year of University, where we sat in huddles co-calculating the practice Aptitude tests, pulling our hair out over which Psychometric personality we should pretend to be to fit into Goldman’s ethos. It was a time of little sleep, elaborated summer “internships” at our parents firms, and mysterious “extra curriculum” that could not be found on the University website. The logic behind leaving your essays until the day before because you had to apply to over 20 big corporations so that in the future even if you got a 2.2, you might earn over 40k, made complete sense. Having now gone through the grad scheme era of my life, having experienced a range of resignations, gardening leaves, “sabbaticals,” returns to university, and involuntary withdrawals from a range of my peers, one has to wonder, was it really the best idea ever joining a grad scheme?
Let’s start from the beginning, the tests. Having applied to 17 Grad schemes in London, I am no stranger to the banks of numerical reasoning, Apitute, Psychometric and English tests that claim to filter out the free riders from the cream of the crop. There are three approaches to the test phase of your life. Option A) you complete the entire bank, of all 4 tests, and perhaps even screen shot your journey in doing so. Saturday night SHL – one to one alone time, to determine your mortality levels in the situational judgement test. Would you leave your work phone in the front of the car, when it was locked? Would you put a client file in a bin or a shredder? If someone were leaving 10 minutes early, would you tell your boss? Are you a brown nosing bum-licking slave? You can option A) all you like, but you may never get it right. Then there is Option B) complete the test with a group of people also panicking about getting into a grad scheme. You are more likely to collectively get somewhere closer to the interview than alone. There is of course the illegal Option C) Call the dude who is amazing at the tests and pay him £20 under the table. If he fails it, troll him online. Regardless of which option you take, it’s the Pinocchio paradox, it is not the true you.
If haven’t lost interest from the tests, and you have got to the point of interview, you can then prepare yourself for a Hunger Games-esque show down in central London. I recall going to 4 interviews and facing 3 mental breakdowns. After walking in loops shouting at Google Maps for 35 minutes around Bank, you stroll into the clinical reception area and eye up your competition on the red leather sofas. The dress code is teenagers dressed like CEO’s: shiny suits, polished shoes, pocket squares and unnecessary glasses. You spot someone else in the same M&S suit jacket your mum got you 4 years ago.
Everyone is clutching their CV’s of “experience” they have gained in their childhood, and repeating the buzzwords like team player, initiative, and analytical. If you survive explaining how your summer placement at a local nursery taught you how to delegate and solve creative problems in foreign environments whilst using your GCSE French and Spanish, you often have to battle it out with 9 other people who have identical degrees and qualifications to you in a group exercise. You can play the time keeper card, to show that you take responsibility and you are organised, or you can take on the role of delegator, to show that you work well with people. If you missed these two roles and you have not been cast thus far, why not be the listener, and say hey foreign person, you’ve not spoken, speak up. The diversity/ethical/ I really care position. Again in this phase it’s the Pinocchio paradox, as your nursery placement and time keeping role are not a true reflection of the person you are or will be in this company.
You get the call in Tesco’s at 11am on a Tuesday – you’ve got the job. Drop your bags of washing up detergent, all University lectures are on hold, your parents send you flowers and chocolates to celebrate the Bank of Dad closing down. You can dip into your overdraft and book a summer travelling around South East Asia, because at the end of summer you are getting a signing on bonus. You are in a false state of reassurance that you will now become rich and fulfilled if your life, your children will go to Eton, and you will have an 8 bedroom house in Surrey – because you are on a grad scheme. The rest of your life will pan out exactly how you imaged it. Couple of years in London living in a penthouse suite in Notting Hill with 3 of your best friends. 2 years in, you get promo – WOOHOOO go you!!!! The company love you, you are managing a team of 15. Bam, you’ve hit 30, found a partner at work (classic met at the Christmas party) and you are buying your first house in Balham. 34, promo again, the money just keeps coming, and you love your job! 35, its time for Surrey, maybe go part time on the old grad scheme job. This is perhaps the greatest Pinocchio Paradox about getting the grad scheme. Whilst your sipping your Pina Colada in Bali at Potato Head beach club the summer before it all begins planning what cars you will buy when you get promo, this contract has fully tricked you.
You rock up day 1 – I’m every woman playing on full volume on the tube, wearing heels and a tight Reiss dress, ready to make a lot of money. The bubble quickly bursts when you are submersed into a month of power points about company values and email templates across a range of random corporate venues, its hitting home now you are not saving the world. It becomes clear that your real day to day office is not zone 1, it’s in fact very far away from your Notting hill penthouse. When you get to this real office, you are the only grad scheme person in your new team, and you cry in the toilets occasionally when you hit send all and your email had spelling mistakes, a meme reference and was not meant to go to the project lead. The expression “you are a little fish in a big pond” realistically translates to you are a miniscule translucent carp floating along the seabed of the Atlantic Ocean. Not even a HR hook could spot you.
There are some positives in the depths of training desperation – you will meet 200 other little translucent carps who have also been lured into this false sense of life achievement. You and your fish clan may have minimal impact on the Atlantic ocean of the company, but you will endure life training, together. Whether you want to or not, you will learn excel algorithms and how to build “impactful” infographics. You will travel to other universities around the company and convince them that yes, the Notting Hill Penthouse could be on the cards if they apply! And you will experience how a massive organisation operates, and determine what school of fish you could fit into within it.
In my two years of Grad Scheming, I have learnt a lot about the world, met some great people, and met some complete idiots. I can now be endorsed on LinkdIn for virtual reality meetings, taking minutes, and excel functions; three things I never knew I wanted to be good at when I was applying aged 20. I have smashed the +500 connections, but I think I may have met 10 of them. I have worked in 4 countries, 10 offices, and with 6 teams. I have mislaid one laptop, 2 phones, and cried to HR over 4 times. 3 of my best friends have left, and I do not doubt that in the coming year that number will double. Whilst the grad scheme lays down a foundation of false security and life fulfilment, it does allow you more time to work out what you are really good at. If you are good at hopping up the corporate ladder, then fantastic. If you hate it but you cant leave because you spent the bonus in Bali, then you have time to play with and skills to gain.
Applying to a grad scheme takes time, energy and resourcefulness – you will lose sleep over it and you might cheat. You will be a carp, but you will meet other carps. You will learn excel, you will make money, but you will not be in the Penthouse unless Bank of Dad re-opens interest free. There is no shame in trying and quitting, just do not be a Pinocchio to yourself.