With many options available to young people following university, are graduate programmes the best option for all?  For some students they definitely are.  However, I now believe many students could benefit from operating outside of these types of talent programmes.

Let’s be clear on what I consider to be a talent programme.  They often have rigorous selection processes including assessment centres.  Individuals are hired over the preceding year to join on a specific start date.  Participants in these programmes would be treated as a cohort and receive training specifically created for them.  Talent programmes often last between one and three years.  They sometimes include placements in a variety of roles or across departments to support development.

So, it’s clear that individuals who thrive in environments that provide structure and guide their development will benefit from talent programmes.  They have an instant network and are on the radar of senior management simply by being on the programme.  It’s incredibly effortless, allowing them to focus on doing a great job.

Yet, there are some potential concerns that most don’t consider, and here are a few…

  • Standing out from the crowd isn’t easy when everyone is incredibly bright & capable.  It’s not the most important objective.  However, if you want the best opportunities, managers need to see you as being the right person for the job, not simply an option.
  • There are high expectations of everyone on a talent programme.   You’ve been hired to meet the future requirements of an organisation.  They’ve already invested heavily in the recruitment process and development interventions.
  • It’s too easy to get caught up in being a “graduate” and do enough to meet or exceed performance objectives.  However, there’s so much more out there.  Projects at the forefront of company growth, involvement in high profile CSR activity, building a broader network that could lead to career progression etc
  • The business will sometimes see participants as a group rather than as individuals, often in an effort to appear fair.  This can lead to restricted reward, development opportunities, and potential roles.  Some participants may consistently out-perform others yet their salary and bonus may not reflect this.  Others will attend training for skills they already have and not receive training that can support their development.  Some may even end up in roles that have no connection to their future career goals.
  • Completing the programme in the timescale defined by the business could restrict some who are ready to progress sooner. Competition is rife, especially for the most coveted roles during and after the programme.
  • There are often strategic objectives associated with entry-level talent programmes.  However, many participants do not consider these or are unaware of them.  They then struggle when their personal career objectives are not seen as a priority.

Talent programmes can offer incredible opportunities, especially for those who are fully aware of how to manage themselves through the structures.  However, I suspect those who choose to sit back and simply take what is offered won’t reach their full potential.

It shouldn’t be the company’s objective to ensure participants achieve what they want from their careers.  That’s part of an individual’s job.