There is a great deal of pressure on ‘university graduates’ these days – and at the ripe-old age of 23 I catch myself sounding just like my father. The pressure in my mind is to succeed: to get a great job right from the off. Why? A number of reasons… The first, and the most obvious one: since 2008, the economic climate has been barbaric – job scarce for skilled workers, let alone those fresh out of university with little or no salient experience. Decrease the availability you necessarily increase the demand. Second, I believe is a more long-standing… Parents have paid a great deal for their children. It is unfair in many cases to use the expression “return on investment”, but I believe it lies in the most part in parents (particularly fathers) wanting to see their children doing well. Third, it is drilled into the university mindset that the only way to have career success is through one of there many graduate training programs – offered by all financial firms, most large technology ones, consultancies right down to the food industry – the likes of mars coca cola and unilever to supermarkets and fashion chains. Why are these graduate programs so popular? Because they are well paid, because they are secure job opportunities, because they promise career advancement and perhaps most importantly – because these big names, but corporations are good names to have on the CV as a first job!
While hailed as the holy grail, are these jobs just that? It depends on your objective, and this ties into social, peer and parental pressures. How is success to be measured? If success is measured as material success, then yes – these jobs pay well from the start, and provided you are sensible enough to move up and on when the early opportunity arises, they provide the perfect platform from which to launch a great career. In terms of experience, how much do these jobs really provide the great skill-building that a young ambitious graduate wants? Big companies can afford the generic training programs recognised across the job market, the likes of Prince2, Accounting qualifications, coding training in C++, java or whatever your poison is. But for the other part of learning – that on the job – you will not be thrust in at the deep end to anywhere near the same degree as you would if working for a smaller company. The question then is: do I want to control a project working with a local bookseller, or do I want to be a smaller cog and observer on a transformative project at a national chain? Each to their own is perhaps the most pertinent response.
But if it is not so tangible, why such hype around graduate training programs? Clever marketing and peer pressure. These companies fill career fairs at universities. As such they are on the radar of those who have no preconceived ideas of what they want to do. Once your peers begin to apply for roles, start to receive offers and a guaranteed job after university, a flurry of activity begins. Somewhat like when boarding a plane like easy jet – you want a good seat – so you get up as soon as the gate is open! I recently flew Easyjet – and waited till last calls before getting up… No seats left in economy – I was told to sit in economy plus! Hopping one the band wagon because others do so is not necessarily the right move!
Is there an alternative? Yes – in the mighty words of Fleetwood Mac – you can go your own way… Not startup a company (unless you have this propensity), but not fall into the trap of mediocrity. Even within the parameters of succeeding I venture that greater success is to be had outside the graduate scheme where you do have greater control and input.
However, the concept I wish to consider most is that of success. Hitherto we have spoken about success as a material thing… There is no way around it: why do you want to succeed in a large multi-national corporation that sells toothbrushes? Money. You could argue that it’s the perks that come from this particular company, the work-life balance, colleagues, maybe working abroad, etc, but ultimately these are secondary considerations – the first and foremost aim of ambition is the money.
I hear my fathers words ringing in my ears – my subconscious projection of him pre-emptying what I am about to write, (no doubt terrified that this is a pre-cursor to me quitting my current graduate role – ah) “Charlie – you cannot have your cake and eat it!” I agree – but that presupposes you want this particular cake. What I mean by this is the following: upon finishing university one has fifty years of work ahead of them… Why on earth have we all rushed into the job market. Why have I rushed to get on the plane? In this case it is to actively not see the world, My advice: do something that stands you out from the crowd, do something you want to do rather than something you think you should do! Shun the pressures of parents and peers and try new things! Aged 75 I wonder what success will, retrospectively, look like.
Will I do this? Ask me in six months where I am!