January 11, 2012 § 2 Comments
The student stereotype never dies. We think of students as being lazy, disorganised and more inclined to an extra hour in bed than their only lecture of the day at 10am. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to everyone but the stereotype does exist for a reason; the most honest of us will admit that it’s founded in truth. But it got me thinking – this stereotype of the typical student is well-known, but what do we think of people once they stop being “students” and start being “graduates”? For those few who find themselves on graduate schemes or jobs immediately on graduating, the transition is pretty clear cut. Almost overnight, they stop being lazy students and become fully-functioning, tax-paying members of the working world. But what are the perceptions of graduates who don’t find a job immediately on graduating, but instead find themselves clinching at the occasional part-time unpaid internship whilst trying to fend off weeks at a time on Job Seekers’ Allowance…? We are no longer students, but we are also not yet a part of this grown-up working world; instead, we hover in this in-between state wondering exactly how to take our next step.
Maybe job-seeking graduates aren’t given enough credit. Yes, we’ve had 3 years of constant socialising, long lie-ins and extended holidays but the majority of us have also worked incredibly hard at our degrees, are several thousand pounds worth in debt and at the limit of our generous overdraft without even a whiff of a career to show for it. Finding a job is a daunting task at the best of times, but settling on a career and managing to take that first step into the working world is perhaps the hardest job of all. After all, we aren’t just looking for a job but for long-term career prospects, somewhere we can utilise the skills we’ve developed and really grow as individuals. But with little experience of the real world outside of the university bubble, how can we possibly make an informed decision? We are left with few options. Researching and assessing possible careers; applying to jobs and work placements; spending hours tailoring each individual job application, CV and covering letter; preparing for interviews and travelling across the country; or working full-time or part-time to pay off debts. But what makes being a unemployed graduate so hard is that these options are not mutually exclusive. Many of us are doing all of these things simultaneously.
For example, I work through a temping agency in a full-time position in a bank. I am also working part-time as a distant intern for a fashion brand in New York. Every day, I wake up at 7am and go to work. I look for work experience and entry level jobs in my lunch break, create a document of relevant links and email it home. I get home at 6pm, eat and then sit at my computer. Most days, I spend 2-3 hours doing freelance (read unpaid) writing work and tasks for the part-time internship. Then I set about looking at jobs again and start applying. By midnight, it’sjust about time to get some sleep.
Graduates working in stop-gap jobs perhaps have one of the hardest tasks of all. Applying to jobs these days is practically a full-time profession all by itself. A good tailored CV, highlightling your experience and relevant skills against the person specification and an engaging cover letter can take over an hour to write. But with the sheer number of people applying to each job, a quality application isn’t enough. Applying for a job is still a numbers game and will always depend on luck and factors outside of your control. Writing one quality job application is great but doesn’t guarantee a response when tens (if not, hundreds) of other just as suitable candidates are applying.
The majority of job rejections for graduates will always stem from “a lack of experience”, whether the jobs are supposedly entry-level or not. But I think it’s time that graduates were given a little credit for the difficult job that they are doing. Not only are we in a seemingly hopeless position of being unemployed in today’s dismal job market, but the majority of us are doing several jobs simultaneously. In fact, simply by applying we are exhibiting the required excellent organisational skills (you should just see my job deadline and freelance work deadline lists), time management skills and a go-get-’em initiative and passion for just about any job. It’s not easy to shoot off a covering letter and CV that perfectly fits the job description – in just applying for the job, we are showing a serious commitment to the industry and position. We are already multi-tasking, working late nights and standing strong in the face of near-constant rejection.
Sure, students can be lazy. But job-seeking graduates? They may be some of the most driven, determined and passionate people I know.
December 7, 2011 § 5 Comments
It’s a funny thing, rejection. It can set you back a long way. After spending many weeks in my final year of university, pointlessly applying to jobs that I was not qualified for and didn’t want to do, I finally came to realise that it is about the quality of your application not the quantity. Each job application should be tailored, aimed specifically for that job role and emphasising exactly how you meet the person specification. I only apply to jobs now that I absolutely 100% want to be doing.
I know all the rules. I’ve applied to enough jobs by now to know exactly how it’s done. So when I applied for an internship at The Guardian, I was incredibly hopeful that I would at least get an interview. Having received the generic rejection email today, it’s clear that I did not. The email states that I am unable to reply, and unable to ask for feedback – leaving me with no idea where I went wrong. Obviously, as we all keep hearing, the jobs are very competitive, but you have to wonder what it is that is making other people stand out when you get overlooked?
At an interview at DDB London last year, us interviewees were waiting to go in for our second interview of the day when the conversation got round to what other interviews everyone had coming up. It was graduate scheme season in Advertising, and we were all comparing applications and stand-out tricks. I remember this one girl telling me that she had got an interview at JWT London by sending her application by courier, in a shoe box with an old shoe so that – and I quote – she could at least get her foot in the door. Now, if I were a recruiter, that would scream cliche, desperation as well as the fact that the girl is obviously rich enough to send every job application hand-delivered by courier. But hey, it’s not my advertising agency.
I’m very aware that I’m starting to sound bitter but I have a point, I promise. Not every recruiter would have given shoe-girl (as I so fondly call her now) an interview, and not every interviewer will want to see a job application that perfectly presents and ticks every box of the job description. Maybe in a bid to show off my skills and make them obvious and clear to potential employers, I have made applying for jobs a science, stupidly believing that I have found the formula that will get me interviews. But it’s not that simple, really, or we’d all be doing it.
In the end, I guess that’s the point. The graduate job market is tough, and as much as we don’t want to face this reality, there really are tens of people going for every job advertised. If everyone applied in the same precise and organised way that I did then it becomes much harder to distinguish between them. Job applications aren’t a science, they aren’t even an art or a talent. Ultimately, they are down to luck.
You need to be lucky to have figured out exactly what they really want you to say. Lucky to have that little bit of previous experience that you happened to mention to tick that invisible extra box. Lucky to have that person read your application just after their morning coffee, and just before reading all the others the same as yours. Lucky to have someone who finds you readable, who relates to your experience, who can follow and be drawn into your narrative. Or just lucky to have found someone that finds your old shoe-in-a-box routine original and enjoyable.
But if job hunting is just about luck, then shouldn’t we be trying to increase our odds? Surely we should play as many hands as possible, on the off-chance we might just get lucky. Logically, it makes a lot of sense, but I don’t think it’s the way to go. Better to play the hands we know, the ones we have faith in to do well and can follow through on even when the house raises the stakes. Gambling analogy-aside, it’s important that we keep focused and channel this passion and self-belief into our job search so that when we finally reach our goal, and finally find ourselves in a graduate job, that it is still absolutely the job we always wanted.
December 6, 2011 § Leave a Comment
No one ever warns you about the soul-crushing, all-consuming fear that suddenly comes upon you in the weeks after graduating. It’s hinted at, of course, what with all the news features about graduate unemployment and the bleak outlook for the future, but on a personal level, it’s never really mentioned just how scary and disheartening the whole process can be.
I suppose for me, life after university was an even bigger culture shock. I’d secured this great internship for my ideal career and was working in London full-time. Pret lunches, creative brainstorming sessions and free breakfasts on Fridays; suddenly I was living the graduate dream. But just as suddenly, graduation came, the internship was over, I’d turned 21 and I was sat in my room, on the dreaded Jobseeker’s Allowance and feeling like I’d just taken a huge step back. Where were the free breakfasts and the brilliantly busy working-girl lifestyle now? But more importantly, where were all the prospects we’d be promised as we started university?
I guess that’s the bit that hurts the most – at school and throughout university, we’re told that if we work hard and stay focused that it will be worth all the money and time and effort. As someone who graduated with a good degree and plenty of extra curriculars, volunteering and responsibilities to show for my time, this was all starting to feel like a big, fat lie. I was focused on copywriting throughout my time at school and uni, worked incredibly hard and still here I sit months later with little to show for it and no further along on my path to becoming a writer.
Except that’s not necessarily true, is it? Just last month, my writing was published online at Guardian Careers. Over 100 people read and shared my article (and not just my Facebook friends, promise) which is pretty exciting stuff. But whenever people ask me about it, I play it down, telling them how simple it was to contact the organisers and offer my ideas. I think we are all a little guilty of this, especially as job-seeking graduates; we play down potentially our biggest achievements out of modesty or through our own lack of self-belief that we could actually be as good as people say we are.
If there was some kind of career food chain, I’d put myself pretty near the bottom. It’s not because I don’t believe I’m a good writer, just that I probably don’t have enough experience to rate myself higher. And yet, after my article was published online, I had several people contact me, and ask me for advice on pursuing a career in writing. I mean, what do I know? After all, I’m struggling just as hard as everyone else to find my niche, to develop my contacts and hopefully get that lucky break. But people were delighted to hear back from me with advice, and suddenly I realised that maybe I am further along my path to pursuing my dream career than I realise or give myself credit for.
Watching Young Apprentice recently, what really struck me was not the contestants’ arrogance or immodesty but instead how people so young could have so much self-belief. Each of them was responsible for a project or business of some description, but instead of playing it down, they’ve made it seem amazing, emphasising how difficult it was to achieve and cementing the idea that they have beaten the odds to become the business brains of the future. All this made me wonder just how many of them are actually only running the occassional cake sale in their school hall.
I think we could all learn a lot of good lessons from these bunch of seventeen year olds. Instead of playing down our achievements, or sharing out our responsibilities and leadership to a team, we should take hold of exactly what we did and make it the best that it can be. Obviously, I’m not condoning outright lies or exaggeration in our CVs, but simply the truth, without the modesty or lack of self-belief, highlighting the brilliance of what we have actually achieved.
Here are some examples posted on The Guardian Careers website of award winning graduate CVs. These people have all done similar things to most of us graduates and yet their CVs convey the sheer amount of effort that this took as well as a range of purposefully selected, focused and quantifiable examples of their work experience. If I was an employer, I’d hire them in a second. They are obviously passionate, committed and focused on their goals. More than this, they just shout, “I’m the best – pick me!”
Maybe all we really need to be sucessful in the current job climate is just a solid helping of serious self-belief.
With this in mind….
“Hi, I’m Jenna – a brilliant English graduate with original work published by The Guardian.”
What employer could resist that?
October 31, 2011 § 3 Comments
We all remember that childhood conversation with our parents. The one where you’re told that you can be anything you want to be, just as long as you put your mind to it. I’ve always believed this to be true. After all, as children we are blank canvases, able to collect and create a multitude of experiences and opinions that make us ideal for our own futures. But thinking back to our childhood dreams, you have to wonder how plausible this idea is. Surely, it must be very few people that end up doing what they dreamed they would when asked the pivotal question, “What do you want to do when you grow up?”
I always wanted to be a marine biologist, convinced that this meant playing with dolphins all day rather than the reality of boats, labs and seawater. But if someone offered me the chance to be a marine biologist today, I’d have to turn them down. My sister on the other hand, answered that classic childhood question with similarly classic childish honesty. When she grew up, she wanted to be able “to drink Bacardi Breezers”.
Ask a class of kids today what they want to do when they grow up and you’ll get a lot of the same answers; the lures of pop-stardom and space exploration make for seemingly brilliant career choices. As adults we know the truth. With fame comes hard work, pressure and a near-constant hounding from the press; with space exploration comes isolation, intense physical conditions and an indelible helping of life-threatening danger. Not the best 9-to-5 career choices.
There comes a point in our lives, however, when our ability to do anything and to be anyone comes to pass. It’s difficult to say when that point is, and obviously with every door that we close on possible future careers, we open hundreds more with our commitment to a set route. When I chose to take no science subjects at A-level, I firmly closed the doors on medicine (and my misinformed dreams of marine biology), but opened up a world of opportunities to careers in the arts.
But at the age of 21, just four months after graduating, I already feel like my choices are incredibly narrowed. I’m a creative person and have a passion for advertising, for branding and for communications in general. In my ideal job I’d get to write and be a little bit creative every day. I have varied experience in all sorts of jobs; from writing yoghurt campaigns to tracking down financial criminals, as well as the more standard office and admin work along the way.
You’d think that this wide range of experience would make me an ideal candidate for any of the entry level marketing/design jobs I’ve applied for so far, and yet after several interviews I always hear that I’m a lovely girl, but just too creative for the job. Apparently creativity doesn’t work when you’re supposed to be doing admin day-to-day; I guess nobody wants a spreadsheet with panache. But do companies really need to employ the same old person to file, copy, print, repeat? Maybe employers are under-estimating the passion and commitment that today’s graduates have to break into their desired field, and can bring to any level of a business. We are well aware that we’ll have to start at the bottom, but are committed to making the most out of our opportunities to ultimately get to where we want to be.
All this raises an interesting issue. As a recent graduate, I’ve tried to make myself as employable as possible and am looking for an entry-level position to get into a company and progress. Yes, I have experience as a creative but that’s not all I’ve done, it’s not all I do, and I’m not even sure it’s all I want to do. I still feel very young, know that I have a lot to learn, and just want an opportunity to develop all my skills. What if I want to work as a project manager? A magazine journalist? A book critic? I have an excellent English degree and experience that makes me suitable for all these jobs – does my passion for advertising and my creativity mean I am any less capable of doing them?
So – can you really be anything? The job market today seems to think that you can’t. I’m determined to prove them wrong. Marine biology, here I come.
Just kidding. But arts, media, design, advertising, branding, marketing, PR, magazine and literary world – look out!
As seen on The Guardian Careers website: