Why I love my shit graduate job
By Eleanor Turner
We rarely land our dream jobs straight-away, but that's fine. Sometimes, a less-demanding role can be a blessing in disguise. Eleanor shares how she came to this realisation after months of gruelling job applications.
When I graduated with my law degree almost two years ago I thought it would be the start of an exciting journey up the not-so-greasy pole of human rights law. I imagined myself running around courts carrying papers for my legal heroines, or starting out in a human rights organisation, fighting the good fight in 80s power suits with shoulder pads for days.
The reality was somewhat different. Straight out of uni I was knackered. My degree was intense and I’d been desperately trying to cope with my own personal mental health cocktail of anxiety, depression and OCD. I ignored the third year VAC Scheme, BPTC and masters application rush, instead opting to pretend that, after June, everything would somehow magically fall into place in my lap.
Luckily, post-graduation, my lovely mum let me move back in with her in Brighton and encouraged me to take a stop-gap. After many evenings of tears, days of Judge Judy and three existential crises on the beach, I started working in a restaurant and a jewellery shop. I had fun, made friends from around the globe, enjoyed no responsibilities and lived half the year in the pub. I was basically experiencing with what uni life could have been like had I not done a fucking law degree.
By Christmas, I started to get the itch. I felt restless at home and was bored of spending days opening and closing jewellery cabinets and trying to listen to “The Guilty Feminist” in between telling customers that, “no, you can’t touch the massive Amethyst geode in the corner, but you can put your hands between it and soak up the energy”. Come January, I began writing graduate job applications while drinking glasses of chilled white wine, pretending I was some kind of literary agent.
After three months, and on my birthday, I got a call to say I’d got a job.
No, it wasn’t one of the 24 sexy criminal paralegal jobs, one of the 12 human rights organisations or any of the training contracts I had lovingly applied for. I call these jobs “sexy” because they’re majorly competitive, cool as fuck, interesting and important. And, you know what? 21-year-old me really wasn’t qualified to do them.
Once I realised this, I felt so much better.
If you’re straight out of uni, you’re unlikely to have dazzling examples of your capabilities in your back pocket, or even basic examples like leading a professional team or coordinating projects. You may have an impressive degree, or even a masters, *gasp*, but while it might be hard to admit it, you’re not super special.
Trust me, you’re not going to get your moment, a la Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman when she goes back into the boujee shop and proclaims, “big mistake, HUGE.”
Why? Well, because the organisation probably hasn’t made a mistake. If you’re unsuccessful, you probably just aren’t experienced enough...yet.
According to University UK, there were 1.76 million undergraduates and 551,586 post-graduates in 2016-17. But, you’re not only competing with them, you’re competing with all those who went before you. A good example of this is an experience I had during the period I now call Application-Gate; I’d applied for an unpaid part-time role at the Red Cross.
When the interviewer called, telling me I hadn’t been selected, she informed me that the successful candidate also had a law degree… as well as a PHD in the relevant area. This moment gave me some much-needed perspective. I thought to myself, how bad is the job market right now / how competitive is the field if a successful woman with a Doctorate has gone for the same part-time, unpaid internship as me, a mere graduate? I realised then that I was trying, and failing, to massively over-sell myself. That even if I got any of the jobs I was applying for, I wouldn’t know what the hell I was doing.
Not grabbing some kind of mega-star-wonder-woman-incredible-snazzy job straight away does not make graduates failures. That couldn’t be a less feasible expectation to place on our own, and each other’s, shoulders. We also probably need to get over ourselves. As graduates, we are highly educated. We are therefore privileged. We are told to think the world of ourselves. We are told we can do anything we put our minds to, as long as we reach for the stars and know our worth. I am white, I have an RP accent, I am living and working in London, and I have a salary that is above the national average. I’m not working at PWC, The Guardian or Liberty, but I feel so lucky and, like a lot of us, I need to check my privilege every day.
It’s also fine to take things easy once in a while. Last week I was talking (whispering) to a colleague about this article, and he said, “I’m just not a very motivated person,” and I thought, “I respect that!”. It is really refreshing to hear this in-amongst our burn-out work culture, which glamourises trainees sleeping over at their law firms, makes a meme out of exhaustion, and traps grads in never-ending loops of excessive working hours, social-media addiction, BNOs and UberEats.
Graduate health and self-care are getting suffocated under the wave of career pressure and expectation. We feel like we’re doing something wrong if we’re not drinking our 28th coffee of the day in our £80 & Other Stories work dress, updating our LinkedIn with photos of our new project with a super-cool-sustainable-overpriced-brand and posting our fancy work do’s on social media, while secretly crying from fatigue and stress in the loo.
In many ways, my job is boring. It’s repetitive. I edit and write reports everyday for a journal. I don’t get to be creative or to think independently. I don’t have any power and I am 100 per cent replaceable. However, my 9.30am - 6pm job is also great. It’s chill. Everyone here is in their 20s. Everyone is sociable and funny. The office is nice and most of the people in it go for pints after work.
I get paid £23k a year which allows me to live in a nice houseshare in London, be independent, do swimming and yoga, meet friends for drinks, see films and buy the odd vintage purchase and slowly, slowly, pay my mum back some of the money she lent me while I was trying to find this job.
I’m not even sure what I want to do anymore, but this job is a great starting place. Most months, one person here in their mid-to-late 20s leaves to pursue something else - training to be a paramedic, leaving for a promotion, gaining a Legal training contract, a job at a think tank etc. The job I have is my springboard. Or, if you’re like my colleague, it’s simply a comfy career.
Taking and doing this job is not me deciding to give up my dreams or aspirations. It is me recognising the limitations of my current abilities and taking the time to build those up. It is me accepting that, whilst I do see the exciting and the ground-breaking in-amongst my future achievements, I have to work my way up to that. It won’t come instantly. It will take work and it will take time.
My advice? Don’t be too picky. Don’t get down if you didn’t get that amazing internship. Don’t waste your time and energy applying for things you’re not qualified for. Go for anything you think you can do. Start at the bottom.
Once you have a job, you’re on the ladder. You can wear your shoulder-padded suits and you can look for future opportunities from there!
In reality, my job’s not shit. It’s not shit at all. Good luck comrade!
Image: author's own.