student life

The employment wilderness – finding work as a graduate.

Within the last week I have been lucky enough to escape the vast wilderness that I call six months of unemployment.

Within the last week I have been lucky enough to escape the vast wilderness that I call six months of unemployment. I want to painfully play the broken record and share my own experiences, whilst taking a look at the advice handed out to the unemployed to discover the challenges faced by newly qualified graduates.

After gaining my degree in 2011 I went on to study for an NCTJ diploma in multimedia journalism. Throughout that course I had grand and hugely naive ideas of newspapers and magazines welcoming us fresh faced graduates, and nurturing us into the power force of future journalism. How wrong I was. The end of the course was a whirlwind; I had gained some fantastic copywriting work experience and then a dream job interview in which I unfortunately came second out of the applicants. Still positive I charged forward thinking my time was coming soon…

One month and approximately fifteen job applications later my idealistic shell began to crack quite monumentally and I faced the cold reality that I was in a barren land where I could not call myself a student or employed. So, I took on some freelance work and began the search for work experience whilst still applying for jobs relevant to my experience. Most people might believe businesses would relish in having a qualified and enthusiastic dogsbody to undertake all the work they just don’t want to do, but that was not my experience.  I contacted several newspapers, magazines, publishing houses and media companies and not one was willing to offer me unpaid experience without me being placed at the bottom of an extensive and year long waiting list. To a certain extent I was willing to accept this, I even dismissed my emails being ignored but I was not prepared to accept being fobbed off with ridiculous excuses as to why I could not gain much needed experience. Here are three of my favourite received reasons denying me work experience.

“Unfortunately for health and safety reasons we currently cannot take you on in our office.”

“I am not sure what we can offer you in terms of experience”

“Regrettably we don’t have the space to take on juniors in the office”

I am sorry, but you did read those correctly. Needless to say I did not reply with promises to wrap myself in bubble wrap, lose weight or come in a with a note attached to my head assuring the company I would not take legal action if I were to walk into the vending machine. It is obvious that my experience is fortunately a rare one, but unfortunately not unique. The work and pensions minister Mark Hoban described work experience as a: “powerful tool in helping young people into employment”. Yet Mr Hoban has this week voiced concern that there is a danger that the planned target of getting 160,000 young people into work through work experience is most likely to be drastically missed. That must leave one questioning is this because work experience is not as approachable as you would hope?

So what is left when you’re in this scenario? I have pulled together a couple of alternative options for the unemployed provided by Job Centre Plus and recruitment agencies to try and help answer this puzzler. 

  • Take a further education course
  • Start your own business
  • Lower your expectations

In an ideal world it would be wonderful to be able to start your own business or take another education course.  In reality though the financial repercussions of both scenarios are severe, and they both seem quite unrealistic options especially if you have already attained a FHEQ qualification level five or higher. Lowering your expectations is quite possibly the most disheartening option. As a graduate it is reasonable to suggest there is an understanding that the individual will not walk directly into a management style role, yet surely after three to four years of study you may expect to be offered a position more inspiring that insurance telephone sales. Looking at the suggested options surely it can be suggested that there is a need for a greater level of transparency provided to graduates regarding gaining work after University especially as a non STEM student.

To finish my story I remained unemployed for a further 5 months and tallied up a hefty one hundred and twenty three job applications, maybe I should have started my own business. It is worthwhile to highlight that my experience is based on being a humanities student searching for work in a tough to break industry in a city with a high student population. Having said that I know that someone in my position would have greatly benefitted from realistic guidance from government run advice services, recruitment agencies and to an extent the University I attended.

So what is the answer to unemployment? It is all too easy to churn out text blaming our economic climate, but in reality can that really be responsible for all the blame? It is reassuring to see that Universities have begun to put a heavier emphasis on predicting the likely employment prospects in their promotional material sent to A-level students. Surely this is a positive move as it may mean some school leavers may consider alternative options of education to employment such as apprenticeships. However, no University is sensibly going to advise people not to attend after all they are businesses. Although Universities are beginning to pave the way in providing honest advice it cannot just be left to them. Unquestionably there needs to be a more forceful and countrywide adaption to our economic situation in terms of offering guidance to graduates. In what format this comes in is debateable, maybe more advice on creating the perfect web based CV or better schemes to enter graduates into work placements or unpaid experience whilst they wait for full-time employment. In whatever format this comes in it is vital that a change happens to assist the current unemployed.