There's a strange mix of emotions when leaving University: joy, pride, exhaustion, but above all else -- fear. If you're one of the students that failed to secure a work placement before handing in your final assessment, it's time to start sweating, because competition for entry-level jobs is fierce, with an estimated 600,000 leavers joining the job market this summer.
HECSU has charted the unemployment of graduates since 1975. Their graph shows that unemployment after six months is levelling off at around 8.5 per cent. This year there should be a slight improvement over 2012, with a rise in the number of jobs targeted at graduates. This sounds hugely positive at first, but if you visit Guardian Jobs and scan the 1059 graduate jobs, there are 419 jobs in education, 313 in recruitment, 167 in Media (most of which are media sales) and only handfuls in other sectors. It's the same story on Reed, with a majority of the graduate jobs in education, recruitment and sales. If you want to become a teacher, headhunter or salesperson you're in luck, but if you want to become a journalist, designer or something more aspirational then it's an uphill struggle. In addition to this, companies realise that due to the surplus of desperate graduates they can lower wages and still remain competitive. It's not looking great.
I studied English and Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. In May when I handed in my final assessment and set about looking for a job immediately, I desperately tried to avoid the 'unemployed after six months' statistic. No one wants to be a statistic, especially in the current economic climate. I knew it would be tough but I was optimistic; I set a goal of gaining paid employment by August. After many applications, emails and rejection letters, this target is slowly sliding out of the window.
I'm not alone in this situation -- out of all the recent graduates I speak to, one has lined up a paid graduate scheme; three are beginning teaching degrees in August; several are still working in bars and supermarkets, and most are unemployed and living at home.
I have narrowed down my failure to one thing (and I can tell you in a couple of months if I was correct), lack of experience. I did well at university, took a wide range of courses, received a good grade, worked in a supermarket to supplement my student loan and when I finished I felt ready to get a job based around my degree. I've always said English is a great degree to have because it opens up a wide range of employment opportunities. I quickly realised that even though this may be true, it's more of a pain than a positive. When I left university I had no idea what I wanted to do -- I was open to marketing, PR, journalism, copywriting, etc. Of course I have long term goals but the immediate situation was more...cloudy. Originally I applied to a variety of jobs, anything that looked exciting. After months of no luck I decided to narrow my search and gain experience in a specific area.
This lead to me sitting in Giz Towers typing away at this column. At first I was hesitant to apply for internships as I know someone who had her time wasted while interning. I can honestly say I've learnt so much in the past two weeks I'm angry I haven't done it sooner. In a short two-week internship you learn about various job functions, how the office runs, technical tools, as well as make contacts. (A note to all current undergraduates: arrange work experience BEFORE you finish university, beat the crowd, and start it one or two weeks after leaving, that way you're primed to find work with a great head start on the competition.) Even if you know you're ready to start your career, the most practical way to show an employer this is with recent work experience (rather than making some tenuous link between work and your degree).
Unfortunately work experience isn't perfect. It can be expensive; commuting every day quickly eats away at your finite cash reserve. Also, while I'm sure a majority of the companies that get interns treat them well, some people may take advantage of the free labour (there's none of that here at Gizmodo though, before you ask). It's important to make sure you get out as much as you put in. If an employer is using you as a free tea monkey, polity ask them if you can do more relevant tasks.
So I'm nearing the end of my time at Gizmodo and starting the search for a job again, but this time I feel much more confident in where I'm heading. Maybe I'll need a follow-up column in six months to chart how I get on.
Spencer Hart is Gizmodo's most recent intern. He is still trying to become a journalist and has long-term aspirations of becoming a writer for stage and screen. If you happen to know any vacancies going, he tweets at @SpencerHart23 or blogs here.
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