Crossing the Career No Man’s Land in 2014

There was an article on the BBC yesterday saying that there will be a 9% rise in graduate recruitment with  100 big employers suggesting that they are ‘planning to increase the number of new graduates they take on this year…many of the jobs will go to people who have already worked for the organisations, either on work experience or placement.’

That’s wonderful news for recent graduates or people about to start university, as God knows that in the face of increased tuition fees and seemingly insurmountable levels of student debt, any career help will be welcome.

But there’s still the group of twenty-something job seekers who got a raw deal graduating into the beginning of the recession, who have spent the last five years scraping by and are now nearing 30 with no pensions or savings and, dependent on their industry, limited career progression.

Let’s face it, there are few firms who’ll hire a 28-year-old to their grad scheme, I got enough funny looks interning last year aged 27 from permanent staffers who were at least four years younger than me. I’m also rapidly approaching the vaguely awkward age that makes some employers nervous. To them, 30 means babies and babies mean maternity leave and maternity leave costs them money. I once worked for a reputable sales firm who were advertising for an accounts administration role and rejected any females of ‘marriage and baby age’ outright. Yes, it’s illegal and highly unethical but it still happens and it’s still rather hard to prove in an employment tribunal.

When I first heard about the recession I was travelling around Asia. I remember sitting in an internet café in Agra and scrolling through all of the English news headlines, blithely reading headlines and articles that were screaming of the doom and gloom to come. At the time I just shrugged it off, so confident in our economy that I was convinced that what ever had gone wrong would fix itself by the time I got back home in a few months time. Obviously I was wrong.

By the time I had landed back on home soil the jobs market, and in particular the media industry, had stagnated. Businesses were freezing employment, letting go of freelance staff and waiting to weather the financial storm. Thus began the next five years of my career as I bounced from one internship and temporary job to another, working for an NCTJ qualification in my spare time and hoping that the next unpaid media job I applied for would lead to a permanent job.

That’s not to say that I don’t regret a single one of my placements, I know that being an intern is almost a prerequisite for the modern graduate and that they give you invaluable industry knowledge and contacts that you can draw on (abuse) later down the line.

I’ve had some fantastic experiences, amongst them meeting the excellent travel writer Chris Moss and working with the intimidatingly clever Nina Caplan; I briefly had a books column in Time Out London (back when you had to pay for it); I’ve covered Vintage at Goodwood with Laura Trant; interviewed Ricky Gervais and David Tennant on the red carpet; written and reviewed for the wonderful but sadly now deceased Wexas Traveller magazine; watched Fred Dinenage record ITV news and tried out the trapeze for a circus feature in my local newspaper.

The trouble is that I’m stuck with an impressive CV but haven’t had a job for longer than six months. It means that I’m overqualified for paid intern roles and under qualified for editor roles. I am in media no man’s land.

Last year I was offered a six-month paid internship at minimum (not London living) wage for an international newspaper that came with the hint of a post at the end of the stint. Six months later it was the same story: no roles, no funding, no contract renewals so I became a freelancer *cough*unemployed*cough* and stony broke. I’m not talking ‘oh I really can’t afford another cocktail’ broke, I mean the miserable, ‘I need to sell some things on eBay to buy Christmas presents’ broke.

I enjoy freelancing, it just the unanswered pitches and emails, the delayed invoice payments and the publications using quality, free blog content instead of paying for a freelance writer that makes it near impossible to squeeze a living out of it.

I struggled so much at the end of last year that I found myself battling against the deeply ingrained middle-class stigma of benefits and signing on at the start of 2014. I spent an hour at what my mother charmingly still refers to as ‘The Labour Exchange’ today trying to explain to my jobs advisor, the irrepressibly cheery Mr Albright, why I couldn’t find a job.

I tried to describe how journalism is about contacts and being in the right place at the right time and how most of the big newspapers and magazine companies (The Telegraph, Hearst, Condé Nast) fill any vacant roles with one of their own trainee scheme graduates or existing staff or freelancers. So not only am I competing against new graduates, I’m fighting for roles alongside freelance journalists with 20 years of experience behind them. One of my dream publications, Condé Nast Traveller advertised a fantastic job at the end of 2013, it went to an editor from Condé Nast Brides. The vacant job at Brides went to someone from the Condé Nast promotions team.

I’m not in any way suggesting that they should have gone to external candidates, it’s reassuring to see that once you’re in that companies promote loyalty and push for promotions, it’s just an absolute bugger when you’re on the outside looking in.

Mr Albright had some good news for me. After my interview he looked at me sympathetically…if a bit like he thought I was faintly delusional, and said that the government was piling money into recruitment this year and the jobs market was picking up. He told me I was doing all the right things and to try not to worry quite as much as he thinks all I need is a small break-through. He smiled at me and said he hoped he wouldn’t be seeing me for too long although I could always come and chat if I wanted his advice.

Frankly, after three months of rejection emails, banging my head against a wall of silence from editors and  false starts, it was all I could do to stop myself from launching myself across the desk and hugging him.

You can read the original BBC News article here.


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