Thursday, 9 July 2015

Rant || Life After University

Exactly two years ago, I graduated from University.  It’s crazy how quickly time has flown and it’s got me thinking about my current position.  Many of you have just finished your first or second year or are perhaps waiting to graduate from your final year.  Some of you are likely to be embarking on the university dream come September.  Some of you might be younger and weighing up the pros and cons of university, where to go and what to study if you do go?  A few people have recently asked me about my time in university and in all honestly I do tell everyone that if I had my time over again, I wouldn’t go.

University is an expectation, which is pushed down your throats if you go to sixth form/college. “You can’t get a good job if you don’t have a degree” was something I was told many a time when I was in sixth form and there is a sliver of truth in that.  At the time, I didn't feel particularly forced to go to university.  It was the done thing to do but it was also something that I wanted to do for myself. I wanted to go in order to secure better job prospects in the future.  

I wanted to study Business and Management as it had been my passion for years during school and I set out to gain a first class degree, which I achieved.  However a degree alone will not get you your dream job.  Many people have their lives mapped out and future doctors, dentists, scientists etc do NEED a degree in order to get onto the first step of their career ladder.  However I wanted to work in marketing and the bane of my life from day one of job hunting has been the word EXPERIENCE.

As my degree was coming to an end in my final year, I started to hunt for full time work.  I was already working part-time in a shoe shop, which kept me going during my time at university.  Despite still having assignments to do, as soon as I finished my dissertation, which was the bulk of the work, I put a focus on searching for a job.  The first position I applied for was a marketing role within the university, with the student’s union.  I remember looking at the job description and thinking that I didn't have a hope in hell but I applied anyway, listing every little bit of relevant experience I had and detailing the fact that I was a current student therefore had a vast knowledge of the university and its services.  

To my surprise I was short-listed for an interview.  The most I could have hoped for was that they would consider me for an internship or something later on, but here I was being given the opportunity to interview in front of a panel of four and to present my ideas of how I would improve things within the union.  I sacrificed precious revision time for my final exam in order to concentrate on preparing a presentation for the interview, as the interview was the day before.  

I was terrified on the day, it was by far the most formal experience I’d had at that point.  However I managed to remain calm and delivered my presentation to a standard that I was happy with.  I think I stumbled slightly on the interview questions but I remember that the panel were very happy with my ideas and I left the interview feeling positive.  The next day I had a phone call to tell me that I didn't get the job, “just due to a lack of experience”. I was crushed and I cried for a few days.  In the end I just felt cross with them for raising my hopes, when they knew what experience I had beforehand from reading my CV.  I would have been happier had they just written me off before the interview stage.  To frustrate me further, they wanted a copy of everyone’s presentations so that they could discuss further between the panel – a few months down the line, I saw a number of my own ideas being used on the union website and social media pages by whoever got the job!

Not to dwell on that experience, I then decided to change tactics and look for placements that would give me the relevant experience needed.  In the end I was given an interview for a marketing position at an online builders’ marketplace.  I had a bad feeling about it as soon as I stepped out of the interview room, but desperate for experience and feeling under pressure I took the ten-week placement.  I hated my first week and I regretted taking the placement but I’ve never been one to give up.  I loved the marketing side of it, using social media, writing blog posts for the company, designing leaflets and posters etc but I loathed having to cold call people to sell advertising packages. I was often left on my own in the office and without any real support it was difficult to motivate myself.  By the end I didn't want to leave – not because I grew to love the place, but because I was in the mind set that I was getting relevant experience when to be honest I really wasn't.

One of my biggest regrets was three weeks into my placement when I had a day off for my graduation.  During the day the university were advertising a six-week role involving social media. As I already had a placement I didn't feel the need to apply.  In hindsight I should have at least applied – several people from my course went on to do it and were offered permanent positions afterwards.  After my rejection from the union, I think I was also in the mindset that I didn’t want to work for the university at all.

Back to the placement, my main issue was that the business itself wasn't very good; hence why the experience I gained didn't really make much of an impact when I applied for jobs later.  After the ten weeks were up, my boss wanted to keep me on but couldn't afford to so he found a grant scheme, which would keep me in employment with him for another six months.  Despite it not being ideal, it was something I wanted to pursue, as at the time I was desperate for just any kind of marketing experience.  In the meantime, my gran had lined up a job for me as a receptionist for a local company that sells fire alarms.  Not to sound ungrateful but I didn't want it, so I stuck to my guns as I had the mindset that once I got into an office job like that, I would never leave it.  I don’t regret doing that at all as I knew that it would be monotonous and would leave me de-motivated.

My decision did backfire when one week before I was supposed to start my six-month placement, I was basically told that I would no longer be needed as they decided not to continue with that side of the business any more.  Needless to say, I was gutted and once again stuck in a rut but I just kept applying for jobs whilst working part-time.  The last three interviews for marketing placements and jobs will always stick in my mind.  Firstly with a local council, I felt very positive during the interview and I did think that I would be able to do it.  However I received an email a week later to say that I was unsuccessful, again due to lack of experience, but that I had been in the “top 3 candidates”.  I later found out that the job had already been promised to someone internally.  The second and third interviews were just horrendous.  The second was supposed to be an informal chat but turned out to be a panel interview, fully in welsh.  Despite being fluent and having welsh as my first language, it was awful to have to think so formally and to find the right words for terms I only remembered in English.  The third interview was just appalling; I crumbled because I was just so desperate for someone to give me a chance.

Honestly it is such a catch 22 situation.  How on earth are you supposed to get the right experience if no one will give you a chance?  It really got me down for a good six months, I was tired of hearing the same spiel all the time from different employers when all I wanted was for someone to take a chance on me.

I remember talking to my boss at my part-time job at the time as I was at the end of my tether.  It was her that suggested that I look at full time retail roles as I had over six years experience of working part-time.  A week or so later, mum saw a job advert looking for a Shop Manager for a local charity shop in town.  Without my boss’ words of encouragement I would never have even considered applying.  For all the times I've studied human resources in business, I never once thought ‘oh yeah, I’d love to be a manager’.  I applied for the role just before Christmas 2013 as my last shot really. Had I not got the job, I don’t know what I would have done.  Luckily after a presentation and two interviews, they took a chance on me and over a year and a half later I'm still enjoying the role.

However, all the rejections and working in retail management has changed me as I am now unsure of what I want to do with my life.  Don’t get me wrong, I love where I work at the moment but I have no intention of staying there forever.  It suits me just right for the time being but there will come a day when I’ll need to move on and I have absolutely no idea where I’ll be wanting to go.  I think it’s okay to be like that, as I'm still moderately young in career terms so I have time to decide but I hate the uncertainty.  Whilst I do elements of marketing in the role on a daily basis, I know that if I were to apply for any of the posts I was previously rejected for, I still wouldn't get them due to not having enough of the right experience.  

At the moment I'm taking every day one step at a time - I enjoy my work and every day is a mystery in terms of the donations we receive and the customers we meet.  It is also a great responsibility being in charge of over 20 volunteers. On the other hand no doubt there will come a time when I'm ready to move on.  I'm lucky in the respect that I'm pretty much left to my own devices as it’s a standalone shop – I can choose how to market the shop, what offers to put on, how to display windows etc but it has changed my perspective on things, for example whenever I do move on, I don’t think that an office job would suit me.

I've rambled on here but the point I want to make is that EXPERIENCE IS KEY.  If you’re going to or are currently in university, PLEASE try and get as much experience in your chosen field as possible as it will help you immensely when applying for jobs.  I left university with a first class degree yet I'm in a job that didn't require a degree at all.  In my situation, the degree I have means nothing.  Whilst all experience will help you in one way or another, also trust your instincts.  I knew something didn't feel right with my placement before I had even started but I was so desperate to get a job that I’d have taken anything.  

Some of my younger friends decided against university and went into apprenticeships instead and I honestly couldn't be any prouder of them for going about things the right way.  Not only are they getting the relevant experience but also it can often lead to full time work once the apprenticeship has been completed.  I was talking to one of my twitter friends the other day who told me that she was doing a placement year in university and I was so happy to hear that, there is no doubt that it will her help her immensely when looking for work after graduating.

If you want to go to university then go and do it but for the right reasons.  Yes, the social life is fabulous and you will make loads of friends and get drunk every other night blah blah but you also have to knuckle down at some point. It’s no easy ride – the third year in particular will break you if you let it.  I lost count of how many stress induced fits I had and I was so close to packing it all in on numerous occasions.  University will be an eye opening experience and will make you stand on your own two feet.  The university I went to was only small and they pride themselves on being able to treat students as names not numbers, but even we suffered during the final year.

One of the reasons why I wouldn't go again was the uncertainty we faced in our final year.  My university was far from being the most top rated, but by any standard my course was let down in the final year when half our lecturers were made redundant.  My dissertation tutor took off to Italy for nearly two months at the most important time of the year!  I can laugh about that now – I remember hearing past students saying that your tutor will check over your dissertation numerous times, sometimes they will scrap half of your work and all these other horror stories – my tutor came back from Italy a week before my deadline and only saw 90% of my work for the first time three days before I submitted!  

Needless to say, everyone’s experience will be different and most people enjoy and learn so much during their course.  If you do decide to go then I'm sure you’ll have the best time! If you've made it to the end of this post then well done!!! But let me preach to you one last time about work experience, if you only listen to me once in your life then please let this be the time that you do. Experience is equal to a degree when applying for a job after university.  I am an example of what happens when you don’t have the right experience, I took what I could and now I'm following a different path to what I’d hoped for and there is nothing wrong with that!  However if you have your heart set on a particular career then please help yourself now as it will be of so much benefit to you in the long run, I promise you that.

Hwyl am y tro ✌️