Friday, 9 July 2010

A decent job's worth waiting (and working) for

"70 GRADUATE APPLICANTS FOR EVERY JOB" screamed the headlines this week. "The only way to get a job is through unpaid work" bemoaned one recent graduate, who is currently working for free in PR. But not everyone is lucky enough to be able to live rent-free for months on end whilst getting a foot in the door (the ethics of whether businesses should 'employ' someone on no salary is another issue altogether, which has been debated in great depth this week due to one particularly cheeky internship advert). I'm afraid that I completely disagree with the assertion that working for free is the ONLY way for graduates to end up with a decent job. What about good, old-fashioned perseverance, patience and determination?

The sad truth is that there just aren't enough graduate jobs out there for everyone to land their ideal position straight away. But what is a 'graduate' job? The Association of Graduate Recruiters survey, which has led to the '70 applicants for every job' furore, "is based on responses provided by 199 AGR members in May 2010." These members include big companies like Cadbury, Marks & Spencer, JP Morgan and Vodafone, so presumably the survey is only talking about graduate 'schemes', rather than job vacancies as a whole. The competition for such schemes has always been fierce, and the evidence is there that it is now even more difficult to snare such a coveted and relatively well-paid position straight out of uni, but what about all the other jobs out there?

This is my experience. I graduated at 21 with a 2:1 degree in journalism. I'd considered doing a post-graduate journalism qualification but the bottom line was that I couldn't afford it, so I ruled that out. I happily moved down to Hampshire that summer to be with my then-boyfriend. I knew no one, I had no job and had no idea where life would take me. It was exciting, but within a few days that excitement turned to fear when our letting agents started pressuring me to get a job once we'd signed the lease on our little house. Of course, they were right; I needed to be able to pay the rent, after all. So I started job hunting.

This was 2003, and even then finding a job was a lot harder than I thought it would be. But I got myself a full-time admin position in a sales office. Not the most interesting job in the world and certainly not well-paid, but I earned just about enough and I used my holiday allowance to do a couple of work experience stints at local radio stations. The fact that it was a six-month maternity cover contract gave me something to aim for and plenty of time to look around for other opportunities.

That opportunity arose at a local newspaper, which was advertising a receptionist vacancy. Again, a maternity cover role, so I went for the job with the naive notion that perhaps I could get into journalism that way instead. To an extent the plan worked; I was interviewed for a trainee reporter role after a few months on reception, but the editor (correctly) sensed that I wasn't cut out for the death knock, and although I did some freelance bits and bobs (I got to interview NOEL from HEARSAY!!!), I quickly cottoned on to the fact that a career in journalism wasn't for me. Gah - what now?

PR seemed like the natural next step, so over the next three years I worked in two further education colleges doing in-house PR thanks to the contacts I had made at the local newspaper. Then life changed a bit and London beckoned. And after 18-months doing more in-house education PR for a small organisation in the West End, I found myself at the Guardian, doing a job I'm good at within an industry that fascinates me and for my favourite newspaper.

Who knows, maybe I was just lucky. I certainly consider myself fortunate now to be doing a job I love and without major financial worries. But getting here wasn't easy; nothing was ever handed to me on a plate and I never got a job because I 'knew someone' who could help me get a foot in the door. But I also know that I wouldn't have the job I've got today without a degree, and without giving up my holiday allowance in the early days to get some unpaid experience to pad out my CV. So although my degree may not have provided me with opportunities straight away, ultimately my three years at uni paid off.

I rarely write such personal / preachy blog posts, and I don't want to underplay how difficult it is for anyone - not just graduates - to find a job in the current climate, but my annoyance is summed up neatly by the aforementioned PR intern, who justifies her decision to work for nothing as follows:
"I've signed up for lots of websites and recruitment agencies, but there's nothing that fits what I want to do – just administrative jobs and call centres." 
I'm sorry, but get real! It goes without saying that my experience is entirely irrelevant to many students who are looking for a different kind of job, but my advice to media / creative graduates would be to think about your career in the long-term. Don't expect to get your dream role instantly, or to even find any kind of job in your industry of choice, as it took me six years to get to where I am today, and without my so-called "administrative jobs" I may well be still clinging to dreams of a career that ultimately I wasn't suited to.

Life is tough in all respects, and one's professional life is no exception, but plug away, work hard and stay positive because - quite a lot of the time, and in my experience - things tend to fall into place in the end.


Anonymous said...

I had a similar route in to you - working my way up as I couldn't afford to study after leaving Uni. I used to quietly resent everyone I met similarly-aged who took it for granted that they'd be supported through their NUJ training, work experience etc. Heaven forfend they had to do some temping to get by in the meantime.

But now I just think it's human nature. Journalism, like all the middle-class industries, is very inward-looking, and filling desks with people's privileged friends and offspring is the way it will always be.

When it comes down to it, if I can afford to spend money on my kids having better careers, I probably will. Which means my principled resentment is just jealousy, really.

hayjane said...

Good points. Though I think I value my job more *because* I had to work for it, and I would like my kids to have that experience too. I guess it's hard to comment on such things without actually having any children first!

Nic said...

"What about good, old-fashioned perseverance, patience and determination?"

Amen to this. And also to the idea that you shouldn't be afraid to deviate from the path you've set out for yourself. I do think that too many graduates continue on a path just because they've had it in their heads for so long that straying from it seems terrifying. But what was right for you once, might not be so in a few years time. There's no point in going for graduate jobs that aren't right for you any more, just because it's a familiar idea.

Pallavi said...

I currently have a career in fashion. I found it pretty difficult in finding a suitable position. Fashion jobs have been decreasing in my experience ver the last several years when I was looking for part time work. I finally managed to find suitable vacancy within a womens clothing brand so I am so glad and very happy in my current role.