As University undergraduates we are stuck in a vicious cycle of making ourselves more appealing to potential future employers through extra-curricular activities and career path relatable work experience, and getting the grades for them to even consider our applications in the first place.
How do you get around this tricky situation that thousands of students across the UK are facing? At a time when more jobs are apparently becoming more available, yet the competition for each position is tighter than ever. How do you make yourself stand out?
I have always hated that question: “What makes you unique?”. You seem to come across it for every online job application that you complete. Truth is; I am not unique. I am one of thousands of English and History students across the UK (well, maybe they’re not all joint honours like me), who will most probably find myself falling into the stereotypical pile of finishing with a 2:1 at the end of my studies. Is a 2:1 even an achievement anymore? It’s what most people seem to end up with after their three painful years (okay, maybe two painful years) minimum of study. Therefore meaning that when you are applying for jobs, you need to make yourself stand out from an ever increasing crowd.
“Give us some sympathy, travel subsidy into London and a soggy sandwich just is not enough.”
So how do you do this whilst still keeping on track of your studies? Forget the part time job that is earning you enough to buy Uncle Ben’s rice instead of Tesco Value Basmati: that is no longer a priority. And who needs money anyway?! Employers seem to think we all come from fortunate backgrounds where Mummy and Daddy will pick up the bill for our journey through life. Experience. I recently enquired into graduate jobs within the publishing industry, to be told I would need “at least three different work experience placements or an eight week internship with a local publishing company” to even make it past the ‘chuck your application in the bin’ stage.
But then, undergraduates come to the next inevitable hurdle: how do I find and achieve a career related work experience placement? It’s hard. Again, you are competing against thousands. Moreover, future employers don’t seem to realise that at the end of the teaching year, we are poor. Poorer than a poor undergraduate is for the rest of the year. Give us some sympathy, travel subsidy into London and a soggy sandwich just is not enough.
“I recently enquired into graduate jobs within the publishing industry, to be told I would need “at least three different work experience placements or an eight week internship with a local publishing company” to even make it past the ‘chuck your application in the bin’ stage.”
If you are lucky enough to get a placement over summer, like I have eventually (after months of applying, being rejected, and pleading), fantastic. But is it really all that great? What if it has taught you that your destined career path is not as glamorous and attractive as it had once seemed? Yes, it is a positive in that you “found that out for yourself”, to quote parents who just do not understand our situation, but will you really get those eight weeks back? And would working 9-5’s in retail have actually provided more satisfaction? At least you would have been able to have a semi-leisurely summer and go out with your mates in the evenings, rather than being forced to use the horrifically lame excuse of “Sorry I can’t, I have no money”, at least twice a week.
So what do employers want? The impossible. Before beginning University, I saw a diagram of three things you need at Uni; sleep, studying time, and a social life, the joke being you can only choose two options. I think this ‘joke’ can also be applied here: a serious attempt at a 1st class degree, a social life, or work experience, but pick one instead of two. The sooner employers start realising the ‘joke’ that is the preparation for applying for jobs before the climax of university, the better. Give us more guidance, let us and our talents speak for ourselves more than our clichéd two weeks work experience and 2:1 degree do.
Image: John Walker via Flickr