Most management trainee programmes are similar in that they expose graduates to the company as a whole, but which will be the one that makes all the difference in your career? Find out by asking the right questions, says Lauren Ling.

Most corporations have a management trainee programme. It is an entry-level programme that allows the participant to get to know the business and what the company is all about. Graduates are recruited on a full-time basis, and are inducted into a programme that usually involves on-the-job training in various departments within the company.

The objective of such a programme is two-fold. It allows the employer to gauge a recruit’s strengths and talents, and therefore gives them insight as to where best to place him or her. Likewise for the recruit, he or she is given the opportunity to try out different job scopes to see where he or she best fits.

If you are considering a company based on its management trainee programme, then the answers to these questions will help you make the right decision.

How long is the programme?

It can last from three months up to two years.

During this time, you would be expected to learn the ropes fairly quickly. Admittedly, three months is a short period to know the entire organisation so this is probably a very preliminary programme with limited scope. You could only be exposed to one aspect of the business, which can be limiting.

Look for a programme that has a mentorship system.

Short management trainee programmes could just be a fancy name for a probation period, in which case, the job you interviewed for would be the one you end up with. For example, if you interviewed to be a marketing executive, and they put you in a management training programme for three months, chances are at the end of the three months, you will be confirmed as a marketing executive.

However, when the programme runs for a considerable period of time, ask yourself this: What kind of exposure will you be getting during that time, and how valuable are they to your career growth? If the programme allows you the opportunity to go deep and wide (that is increasing the depth of your knowledge), then it is worth sticking it out with lateral movements over a few years because you will be able to leverage this experience when you complete the training. Otherwise, consider if it is worth your while to miss out on career advancement opportunities elsewhere.

An ideal time frame would be six months to two years.

Always choose programmes that offer you job rotations. This way you will learn about the business as a whole.

Is there a job waiting for you? Will you have a job at the end of the programme?

This is a very important question. Most management trainee programmes in this country will place recruits in the company when the programme is completed. But it’s still worthwhile to ask. If you’re participating in programmes where unsuitable candidates or those who do not reach a certain level are terminated, you might want to have a contingency plan in place.

Look for an organisation that is expansive and offers many areas of growth.

Are you paid during the programme?

Management trainees are considered hired employees of a company. Interns are not. So be sure what you sign up for. If you’re taken on as an intern, you are usually there for a fixed amount of time, and you may or may not be paid a salary. If they take you on as an intern, you will likely sign a short-term internship contract, if at all, and not an employment contract.

As a management trainee, you will sign an employment contract, which states your salary, working hours, and other terms and conditions of the job. Your notice period is stated in the contract, as is your probation period. As mentioned above, some companies regard the duration of the management trainee programme as the probation period.

If you’re a fresh graduate, you would probably expect the salary scale of a graduate out in the workforce. There’s no reason to pay a management trainee less than what a fresh graduate would be paid, as you would experience the same learning curves.

Are you given a choice?

Programmes that run from six months onwards will give you a reasonable coverage of the various opportunities available. Say you are a business graduate and get recruited into the management trainee programme of a corporation that runs for six months. During this time, you will be expected to rotate between four departments. That is a fair programme, as it gives you the opportunity to choose between the four at the end of your training.

Always choose programmes that offer you job rotations. This way, you will learn about the business as a whole. You will also be exposed to career aspects that you may not have thought of before. For example, a marketing graduate may discover he or she has an affinity for finance during a management trainee rotation, and choose to specialise in financial consultancy.

What’s the mentorship like?

Look for a programme that has a mentorship system. This is when a senior personnel from the corporation is assigned to mentor one or several management trainees. The mentor will be there to guide and advise you during your programme. You will gain valuable insight from someone with hands-on experience in the industry.

Usually, trainees will follow their mentors out on the field or assist in projects that they’re handling. This gives them exposure to the real world. Graduates know in theory how things are done; imagine how far along they can move if they’re shown how those theories are applied with experience.

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