I can still remember the end of my university experience in vivid detail. I can remember handing in my dissertation, knowing that in 1 short month, I would get the grades that would help me land my dream job. It was the beginning of summer, the sun was finally out after a torrid period of snow and rain, and I was feeling truly optimistic. When I got my grades, I was ecstatic; I’d exceeded my own expectations and done far better than I ever thought I deserved to do. The effort I’d put in had paid off.
Oh what a difference 9 months make…
The snow has been and gone, the rain is back and, somehow, I’m no closer to that dream job than I was 4 years ago before starting my degree. Perhaps 9 months is the period of hard work it takes to get to a point where employers will take you seriously. Alternatively, and seemingly far more likely, perhaps it’s the exact amount of time it takes for expectations to drop and reality to set in.
What was it that led me to foolishly believe that a degree was the guarantee to getting that dream job? Was it my own arrogance? Did I think I was entitled to it? Or was it naivete, misunderstanding the message I was being sent? I very much feel the narrative I was sold as an impressionable teenager was that I only had to defer my gratification for a little longer and, once I had done that, I would be in a position to get that dream job. But, as I have quickly found out, this isn’t the case. That degree doesn’t automatically get you anything.
The death of the degree
Part of the issue lies in the number of people now choosing university as an option when they simply shouldn’t be. Student Finance has made it possible for anyone to get to university nowadays, and that’s a remarkable accomplishment as it opens the door to people who were unfairly locked out due to economic factors, but it also means that people are getting in to university without the academic rigour required to compete. The education marketplace is forcing universities to offer places to students who can afford to go, but who’s grades would not have got them in otherwise. As a result, the degree no longer invites graduates into an exclusive club of the intellectual elite; it’s just another piece of paper that employers are getting used to expecting.
Experience over education
I read an article recently about an employer in Australia who was complaining about the lack of young workers who wanted to work for free. Ridiculous, I thought to myself, who on earth would want to work for free? And then I remembered that I’ve been doing the exact same thing since I finished my degree in an effort to boost my job prospects.
As more and more people have degrees, the demand from employers for first-hand work and life experience is growing. In fairness, this makes logical sense – employers are finding that a graduate isn’t a guarantee of a passionate worker, but seeing the lengths a candidate will go to find work experience could be a much better indicator. The trouble with this is obvious: to get experience, you need experience, and I’ve found this paradoxical beast to be unbeatable. I’m fortunate to be able to work for free in an effort to get the experience I so desperately need but, as I’m rapidly finding out, that isn’t enough without the formal experience you need more formal experience to get.
The personality test
Imagine for a moment that you do everything that’s expected of you; you get good grades at school level, you work hard at university and get good grades there too, and you work hard when you leave to get some viable work experience to put on your CV. Imagine, just a for a second, that this is enough to get yourself an interview. Getting in the room is certainly an achievement but, once again, that degree isn’t going to be worth anything if the interviewer doesn’t take to you. The number of hurdles you have to jump over just keeps growing and never seems to stop.
There’s always someone better than you…
You got the degree, the experience and you seemed to get on well in the interview. Unfortunately, none of this can legislate for the simple fact that there is always someone better than you, waiting round the corner. Someone funnier, better qualified and with more experience, someone who you just can’t compete with. Have as good a degree as you like; it won’t match up to their charisma.
Where are the dream jobs?
At some point, I decided job satisfaction had more value to me than money or workplace mobility, but the knock-on effect of that is that it simply means the job I’m searching for doesn’t exist. This is another misconception of the university narrative; the dream job you studied to get into isn’t going to magically appear from nowhere. The fact may be that you simply have to work hard at a job you don’t really want before you’re able to get into the industry you truly want to be working in.
I know this presents an overly-negative view of the dream job market right now, but I feel the story I was sold of hard academic work getting the job was false, and if one person who feels they were given the same reads this and tempers their expectations just a little bit, then I’ll call that a win.