Whenever I do any recruitment, it makes me realise what a tough job market it is for graduates. The jobs I’m recruiting for aren’t particularly high-powered, but I almost always find that the vast majority of applicants I have are graduates with good degrees. It seems that they were unable to find *the* job and so settled for *a* job working on our contact centre or something like that.
When I applied for graduate jobs way back in the day, the only work experience I really had was working as a waiter or a barman. When I was helping to interview for my company’s graduate development programme last year, there was not a single candidate we put through who had not taken a sandwich year in industry during their degree, or spent their summers working for nothing on internships at major firms in London – which meant that if you don’t have these things, then you are probably doomed . If I was applying for graduate jobs now, I don’t think I’d even get an interview. Perhaps not even a reply…. Rightly or wrongly, studying for a degree sets certain expectations about the kind of career prospects that you will have, and it seems that it’s getting harder and harder for these expectations to be met as the number of graduates grows and the number of jobs declines.
When I was working in one of our shops in December, I was on the fragrance counter and I spent a lot of time with one young lady in particular who seems to be a splendid example of how you really shouldn’t judge someone by the job that they are currently doing (which should always be true anyway, of course, but it shows how some really qualified, remarkable people are working in relatively unqualified jobs...which of course forces other people out of those jobs in turn). She was in her early 20s and working as a Christmas temp, spending a couple of months on the shopfloor earning some cash. I don't know if you have a mental picture of the kind of person who fills this sort of job or not, but what is for certain is that these guys don’t get paid much, in the grand scheme of things, it's a short-term job only with few long-term prospects. In addition, working in retail means that they are asked to work long hours and weekends, all the while wearing a not-especially-flattering uniform. Working on a fragrance counter isn’t dreadful – there are certainly worse jobs in the shop – but neither is it an especially glamorous or high-powered career.
Anyway. This particular girl, was very welcoming from the moment I signed into the shop and she went well out of her way to show me the ropes and to make me feel comfortable. Over the three days I was there, we spent a lot of time passing the time larking around and making each other laugh. She was fun. She was, it turns out, working in the shop so that she could earn the money to fly out and join her partner in Washington DC in January to both campaign for women’s rights (mostly around pro-choice issues, by the sound of it). She planned to spend three months or so out there, and when she returned, she was going to start studying for a Masters degree in Gender Studies, with a dissertation focusing on the rights of sex workers. It seemed slightly remarkable to me that someone like her was working in a job like this… she’s was clearly a bright spark as well as a hard worker, and we were lucky to have her.
What did we talk about? Well, actually I was quite flattered that she felt comfortable enough to confide in me about her partner and what she was going to do in Washington (apart from anything else, she was a touch frustrated at having been apart from her girlfriend for six weeks and somewhat keen to talk about that. Sleeping alone, apparently, is not her thing. I must have a friendly face or something). We did have a very brief conversation about gender, but I was clearly wading into deep water beyond my conversational ability (and, dear reader, I have read “The Female Eunuch” and “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” and I think I've understood them. They're about girls, right?). Instead we concentrated on in-depth discussion on important issues like: does having a Prince Albert piercing mean that you never pee straight again? Does the fact that urine is sterile mean that it heals faster than any other piercing? (although, we did for some reason feel the need to clarify “only your own urine”…) Is it worth a lifetime of damp shoes?
Sometimes I'm amazed that my career hasn't gone further. I really am. Then again, perhaps it's more remarkable that it has gone as far as it has.