Work in hard times

Emerging from college or uni into a challenging, competitive and disrupted job market… All is not lost.

The natural pathway from my undergraduate degree would have been into DfID, the Foreign Office, Oxfam or Unicef. However, I had my head stuffed with so much Edward Said, Noam Chomsky and Arundhati Roy that I graduated disillusioned and changed course completely, heading off into publishing instead.

I had just settled into a business-to-business publishing role, when it became clear that our customers at IBM and Deutsche-Telekom were no longer spending money. Serving an international market as we did, the US and EU recessions of ’00/01 bit hard, and after a year and a quarter in that role I was made redundant. 

I freelanced in various roles for the next few years, mainly in publishing-related fields. For a while, I managed a restaurant off Berkley Square, delivering breakfast to investment bankers in plush boardrooms — unaware that they had probably caused the recession that had knocked many a graduate off-course.

Eventually I joined an NHS job bank, and started right at the bottom in medical records, sticking labels on files and typing numbers into a database. A short while later I secured a permanent job as office manager in a busy training department. Later IM&T Projects office manager — which I nearly did not get because the interviewing panel thought I was over-qualified. 

A few years later, a move back towards something resembling publishing: digital publishing, web and app development. Over the next decade I slowly worked my way up the ladder, through a combination of determination, hard work and the mentorship of an excellent manager. 

Twenty years after completing a Masters in Publishing, I find myself doing a job I love, supporting clinicians and the public alike through the provision of digital services that are improving access to healthcare.

I will be the first to admit that such a circuitous route was far from ideal, but in a challenging job market we are rarely masters of our own destiny. You should never be too proud to take menial work in pursuit of your ultimate goal. Sometimes it is the only way to gain the illusive experience employers demand as they filter a million graduate job applications each year. 

There are some who will gain a head start through graduate training schemes or apprenticeships. Some who secure soulless roles in the city that will enable them to retire early to buy an organic homestead at forty. For the rest of us… patience, perseverance, hard work, dedication… ah, yes, and humility. 

And when you have made it: become a mentor then, to smooth the way for the next generation seeking to make a positive difference in the world, despite a challenging and disrupted job market.

Go forth and prosper.

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