Going to university doesn't guarantee you much any more. You'll probably still learn how many rum and cokes you can handle without being hospitalised, but what was once a given - a good degree leading to a good job - is now far more ambiguous. Youth unemployment may be falling, but from April to June of this year 767,000 young people didn't have a job, and with the next batch of graduates starting to fire off CVs at the nation's already overwhelmed HR departments, that lot are even more fucked than they were before.
Tactics have had to be upgraded to suit this new climate, and the primary strategy that graduates of the Instagram age seem to have latched onto is standing in train stations holding signs that tell everyone how under-appreciated they are. You'll have seen stories pop up in the Metro every now and then about signage success stories; Omar Bashir, for example, in July of this year, or Alfred Ajani, who made (online) headlines yesterday after advertising his 2:1 degree at Waterloo Station.
Alfred was apparently flooded with offers from "impressed executives" and secured a marketing job with a recruitment firm just a day after pulling that stunt. So to see whether getting a job in post-recession Britain is really as easy as airing your qualifications to a bunch of commuters, I went to Liverpool Street and held up a few signs touting my various imaginary skills.
"FINE ART GRADUATE (BA HONS), 2:1 ST MARTIN'S, ASK FOR A CV"
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People always say mean stuff about fine art degrees, which is probably because employers would rather hire trained accountants than someone who spent their higher education swallowing and regurgitating acrylics onto a canvas. With that in mind, I thought I'd see whether the sign strategy would help elevate this lowly degree to something worth anything to anybody.
As soon as I held the sign up, passers-by began wishing me well, and within a couple of minutes someone approached me and took a CV. He was a nice man who told me his friend was the head of a recruitment agency. Seemed promising. Another guy, Geoff, walked over. He was dressed like a dandy and smelled of furniture polish. Geoff's business card said he was a Charities and Education Officer. I didn't know what that meant at first, but made a good guess of it after he offered to pay for me to do an MA.
IRL, I already have an MA, but it's done little to increase my creative industry job prospects, so I thanked Geoff for his huge display of kindness, but told him no thanks. It was time to move on. (While swapping signs, Jake, the photographer, told me one guy stood near him had said, "Bless her, all she wants is a job," which made me want to find him and hug him tightly.)
"FALCONRY, MASSIVE EXPERT, TRUST ME MATE, ASK FOR A CV"
Next, I advertised my expertise for falconry. A little niche, perhaps, but the first thing they tell you at business school is to find your USP and exploit, exploit, exploit.
Once again, it wasn't long before someone came to my rescue. A gentleman in a red tie, suit and unbranded baseball cap asked what kind of job I was after. I told him something in ornithology. He suggested I come and join him at his accountancy firm. I didn't feel qualified for that, so declined, but at least I've now got a decent backup plan.
A man in a Lonsdale hoody told me he was also looking for a job. I asked him if he wanted to join me. He laughed and said he did not.
"PITHY OP-ED WRITER, PRETTY BIG OPINIONS, ASK FOR A CV"
From animals to editorial, next was an ad for a pithy op-ed writer with pretty big opinions.
The only person to approach me was that same red tie and cap guy. This time, he asked me out and tried to give me his number. Again, I declined, and with that he retracted his original job offer.
What did I learn from this? No one wants a writer. In hindsight, this was a little close to home.
MARKETING GRADUATE (BA HONS), 2:2 COVENTRY, ASK FOR A CV
Slightly downtrodden, I went where plenty of failed young journalists go: to the world of marketing and PR.
This sign was a little slow at first; presumably marketing execs are already tired of this method of self promotion. I asked a nice Scottish couple if they were looking for a marketing graduate. They said they were looking for a train. I told them they were in the right place. In return, they called me a good wee bairn and said they'd hire me if they could.
After that, the job offers came bulldozing in. A guy took my CV and told me his firm were doing interviews all week and that he'd call me in. A very busy, flustered lady from a PR and marketing agency took my CV and said she'd be in touch. Next, a guy told me his firm was hiring and he'd get me in.
'Fuck writing,' I thought. 'The time is nigh to throw in the towel on this dying trade and dive headfirst into the hot, bubbly jacuzzi of confectionary marketing!'
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"HUMAN TROLL, REALLY RUDE, ASK FOR A CV"
On a high from my recent success, I was ready for my final job hunt. If a 2:2 from Coventry could get me three potential jobs in as many minutes, then so could being a really rude human troll.
Or so I thought. Holding that sign up, the offers weren't exactly rolling in, but it did at least get me the most attention.
Before my hunt could begin in earnest, the police came up and stopped me. The conversation went like this:
Cop: What are you doing?
Me: Just looking for a job.
Cop: You can't do that here.
Me: Why not?
Cop: [Silence] I don't know.
Me: Can I stay then?
Cop: Well, you're only selling yourself aren't you?
Me: Yes, I suppose I am.
Cop: [Turns to second law enforcement officer and TfL security] So, why can't she stay here again?
Cop 2: I dunno. This bloke says it's against the rules.
The TfL guy then said that if I registered where the buskers and charities register - and went through the evacuation process - I could come back and try again. It seemed a lot of effort. I wasn't there to raise money or make a quick couple of quid with a bad acoustic cover of a Clean Bandit song; I was just a graduate with two degrees living in London and looking for a job.
- - -
I'm part of the last generation to be told, with conviction, that if you do your A-levels you'll get a job, and if you go to university you can be anything you want to be. Of course, we now all know that to be a lie, and I have no idea how long - if ever - it'll become a truth again.
For now, though, there's this. I was only holding signs up for a couple of hours, but it still made me feel pretty drained - worse than the feeling I get every single morning after checking Gorkana to find that no new entry-level journalism jobs have been added. Admittedly, it was quite a good way to attract the attention of potential employers, but I wonder if I'd have had the same rate of success if I was a boy. All the people who approached me, bar one, were men. One even offered me a job I was blatantly unqualified for (I was holding a sign touting my falconry prowess), then took the offer away when I wouldn't give him my phone number.
But hey, if you're a marketing graduate? Go ahead. At the very least, someone will write an article about you.
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