Overcoming the overwhelming; getting your first job.

6 mins. to read
Overcoming the overwhelming; getting your first job.

What they don’t tell you in freshers, but what every graduate needs to know about getting a job in the real world. 

Summer is over, Autumn is here and Winter is coming. With it comes the cold harsh reality of finally finishing university. It’s time to pack the tatty old suitcase, leave the throngs of university life behind and dip your feet into the icy waters of the real world. The sadness of saying farewell to cheap pints and cheaper accommodation is offset by the prospect of finding that perfect job you’ve spent the past 20 years of education preparing for. There’s nothing quite like the freedom of finally earning your own living, standing on your own two feet and being your own person, away from the ties of parental funding. You expect brand new horizons; choosing food based on its taste and quality, rather than on the only value items you can afford. Farewell three years of Lidl, hello a lifetime of Waitrose! You might even be mad enough to find yourself looking forward to paying tax, as it signals the reality of finally moving towards being in the black. But with 2015 graduates being the first to have completed university under the new £9000 a year tuition fees, competition for employment is at a record high. According to a High Fliers Research survey earlier this year, the bun fight for jobs is starting earlier than ever before; a staggering 48% of first year students are already searching for theirs.

This might come as a shock; freshers year is usually thought of as a total doddle whereby if you can muster up the intellectual ability to write your own name, you’re half way to passing the year. UCL freshers were this year treated to a free t-shirt with “F**k me, it’s Freshers” emblazoned on the front; one presumes they are amongst the 52% not searching for jobs and are undoubtedly making the most of what some call “their extended gap year”. But last year the NUS Services studied working habits at university; over half of all students take part time jobs and 13% take on full time work. The reason? Over 53% of those working hope it’ll boost their post-studies employment prospects. And how right they are. Aside from the transferable skills learnt in the work place, working brings maturity. We all remember arriving fresh faced on our first day at work, naive to just how tough it was going to be. But that doesn’t mean working at university is a negative experience; far from it. Getting fired from a Saturday morning coffee shop for being continuously late is far less life-ruining than it happening on a grad scheme when you have £30,000 worth of debt looming over you and monthly rent to pay. Not to mention having to explain at future interviews why you only lasted a month at your first real employment opportunity.

I was one of the lucky ones at university. I learnt from an early age how brutal the working world can be; my single mother wasn’t in a position to help me financially, and my father chose not to. He had the admirable yet tough approach that the best thing you can do for your child is to make them work for their own money to teach them the value of it. Although your life might have seemed woeful at the time, and you pitied yourself every time you step foot in a supermarket, you learnt, perhaps unlike those funded solely from the bank of mum and dad, real life budgeting skills, and you learnt to value every penny. By now, you’ll likely be seasoned in CV writing, in job application rejection, and you’ll be used to feeling utterly useless for at least your first month in virtually any job, regardless of the sector or skill level. You’ll know there’s no easy route to the perfect job; if it’s interesting, it’ll be highly competitive.

For the half of graduates who now face the daunting prospect of their first job being one of post-university financial necessity rather than a learning experience, in a city with your parents’ safety net no where in sight, don’t panic. Contrary to what your grandparents will tell you about working life, no one will expect you to stay in your first job for the next 40 years. Accepting a job you later find out you don’t enjoy, or that doesn’t suit you, is not a life sentence. In many ways it is a positive experience. It can take graduates years to find their true passion, and the only way to find out if you like a job is to experience it. At 28, most of my friends are still pondering whether their current career is the one for them. A National Union of Teachers (NUT) study last week claimed that 50% of all UK teachers are set to quit within two years, yet in 2014, 17,350 former teachers decided to return to the classroom and give teaching another try. Very few degrees lock you into one career alone; there is so much flexibility in the workplace now that a diverse career path is no longer frowned upon, in fact it is desirable to many employers. Unless you are in one of the rare immovable professions whose career path was chosen by 16 before A Levels such as medicine or dentistry, you have a choice. For most of us, moving to Australia for the good life is not the only way to finding career satisfaction between now and our 65th birthday.

So how to go about getting this first graduate job that seems to be the Holy Grail of all under 25s? Roll your sleeves up and get stuck in. There’s no use sitting around waiting for your Father’s cousin’s colleague to get in touch with that all important ‘contact’; focus your CV to useful experience and skills, write your cover letter and get applying. Jobs breed jobs, and in this climate, expect to start at the bottom. Once your foot is in the door, you’ll find it much easier to move within a company. University seminars, essays and presentations might have taught you an array of skills that make you far too qualified for the lowly jobs you’ve seen online, but once you show you’re hard working and enjoyable to work alongside, changes will happen. When a new position becomes available, you’re better being the devil they know than the devil they don’t.

Don’t underestimate ‘soft skills’ within the office. They are the buzz word of all employers at the moment; just this week leading education expert Sir Anthony Seldon gave a speech on their importance over exam results, quoting “grit, teamwork, empathy and resilience” which determine the future successes of a person in business. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg similarly stated his marker when interviewing candidates is to ask himself “Would I like to work under this person”? You can have all the technology skills in the world, but if you don’t play the office team game, you’ll never move up the ladder. So take whatever job or internship you can get, and begin learning how office dynamics work. Start gaining skills that university can’t teach: punctuality, professionalism, and juggling multiple deadlines. If you hate your first job, join the club. Change can be daunting, but there are always other options. London is a global economic hub, full of opportunity, if you go out and seize it.

Follow Caroline on Instagram: @carodrewett 

Read Caroline’s début piece for Master Investor: “Millenials and Finance- Why no one ever had it any better” in this month’s issue.

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