While the UK trend towards rising unemployment for young people has been building since 2000, I have to confess to being a tad unsympathetic.
“Lots of young people are downgrading their aspirations and taking second best. We’re seeing graduates who take on possibly not the job they hope to achieve,” says Paul Brown, director at the Princes Trust, in this article.
And when I left college I wanted to be editor of the New York Times, live in Manhattan and sip cocktails after an exciting day on the news desk. It was never going to happen.
So young people shouldn’t be defeated when they don’t get the job they aspire to straight away or if they have to settle for second best; we all have to start somewhere and that’s usually at the bottom. That’s certainly how it was for me.
What’s missing in this day an age – a time where school sports days are seen as stressful and unnecessarily competitive – is the sense of reality, the bigger picture. That if you want to become a fashion designer, a corporate director, a banker, then you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. And you have to start early.
Walking out of university with an English Literature degree and saying “hey job market, I’m reading for that career in publishing now” isn’t going to work. What experience do you have? What qualifications do you have? And best of all, have you got a combination of experience and qualifications that absolutely support the path you’re choosing to take?
I’ve read CVs from people who say they’re desperate for a career in media, yet their qualifications and experience say they’re more interested in marketing and sales. The two need to tie up.
And experience is a must. 14-year-olds should be working in some capacity, whether it’s sweeping up hair in a local salon, serving customers in the mini market or waitressing in a café; it adds to your perception of the world of work and teaches you valuable skills, whatever profession you choose to go in at a later date. And it teaches you the value of money, that sometimes you have to work quite hard for not very much.
Yes, it’s potentially stressful to think about a career when you’re just 14 but if getting onto the job market is becoming increasingly competitive – and figures seem to suggest that’s the case – then it’s so important to make sure you stand out.
This isn’t a an attempt to blow my own trumpet but read my CV and you’ll see that all I ever wanted to be was a journalist. From work experience on the Kidderminster Shuttle when I was 14, to the subjects I studied at A Level and to the trainee reporter job I started out in when I was 19, and everything I did in between to support that ambition. No one reading my CV could misinterpret that I wanted to be anything else – so not only is it about qualifications and experience but there needs to be an element of passion there too.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I knew I wanted to be a journalist from very early on – after dismissing the idea of being an FBI agent and then an Olympic runner, of course – and did everything possible to make that happen. And I didn’t see it as stressful at the time, or pressured, or even unrealistic – not even when the careers advisor almost fell off her chair laughing at the fact I thought I could become a journalist, rather than the dog groomer role a useless careers-type survey had predicted for me.
So, I made sure I did my work experience (arranged via school) at two local newspapers and, despite being painfully shy at 14 I asked the reporters there what to study at college, whether to go to university or not, and the best options for getting a job. And that’s what I did.
I also whittled off letters to lots of local newspaper editors and asked them the best way to get into journalism. And I got lots of feedback, from the people who knew, the people who’d already been in my position and were now doing the job. You can’t get any better advice than that! And I’ve been working as a journalist since I was 19 – so it worked.
It’s tough out there, no doubt about it, and I’m not suggesting every case is as cut and dried as I’m making it sound, but there are things you can do to give yourself the best possible chance and that means making connections, creating opportunities and gaining experience as early as possible. And social media is a great enabler.
PS I know this doesn’t apply to all graduates and that there are some super talented folk out there who can’t get a job and it utterly sucks. And I’m only referring to journalism here because that’s the career path I chose. It’s tough deciding what you want to spend the rest of your life doing and I am lucky, I knew from an early age and followed a path. For those who don’t know what they want to do, it’s even tougher. So maybe the title of this blog is harsh; my lack of sympathy is only towards those who expect the world for very little effort. If only.
Picture by Evil Erin via Flickr under Creative Commons licence
PS Be grateful for opportunities presented to you, make the most of them and be prepared to start at the bottom. And NEVER get your mum to write your work experience letters for you!