Work experience just isn’t enough any more

As most of you who read my blog will know, I am now in my third year of university and fretting somewhat about the impending doom that is ‘being a grown up’.  Granted, I have already done the real world thing once before, being a ‘mature student’, but this time I know what I want to do with my life.  I don’t know exactly how to get there, but that’s another matter.  Several of my house mates are sharing my trepidation at entering the full-time working world, and not a single one of us is entirely sure how to make our degrees work for us.

Of the seven ladies I live with, only two have come straight from school into university.  The rest of us have taken anything from one to five years out of education to really decide what it was we wanted to study.  For this reason we have all chosen subjects we are genuinely passionate about and want to follow into a career.  However, we have all found one massive problem.  Good grades and work experience just isn’t enough for employers any more.

Everyone in the house has had a job from the age of about sixteen.  None of us are from particularly well-off families so it was never a matter of choice if we wanted to have any kind of social life as teenagers.  Even now, studying in our final year of our degrees, six of the seven of us are working to support ourselves.  Some of us have more than one job.  Yet in meetings with careers teams we are all hearing the same thing.  Work isn’t enough.

Volunteering is the magic word these days.  And not any volunteering, but specific roles that are relatable to the job you want to apply for.  For some of us even that isn’t enough.  One housemate, currently studying history and wanting to go into heritage upon graduation, has been categorically told by her careers mentor she will need a good degree, volunteering experience and most probably a masters degree to even be in with a chance of getting a paid job somewhere.  So only about £20,000 worth of education and countless unpaid hours.

I can almost understand for some of our degrees.  I want to write.  My roomie downstairs wants to be an actor.  There’s another journalist, a costume designer and a film director among us.  Yes, granted, experience and portfolios are crucial for us all to show our competency.  But there’s a wannabe teacher too.  And – you guessed it – she needs volunteer experience.  Actually, she needs classroom experience, but without teaching qualifications all she can do is volunteering.  So she’s essentially forced into giving up her time for nothing.

I know what you’re thinking – if you really want these careers then why do you begrudge giving up your time to give yourself a better chance at it?  One word – time.  As I previously mentioned, we are third year students holding down jobs, families, friends and relationships – often over long distances.  In most cases we are volunteering for positions that would otherwise be paid roles in most jobs.  The biggest problem with needing experience in certain fields is that those fields get to benefit their own businesses and organisations by having free labour to do with as they please.  And we will do whatever is asked of us, because ‘it looks good on the cv’.

There is no solution to this.  University internships go some way towards helping, offering funded, short term jobs that give you experience and (in creative industries) items to put in your portfolio.  But it is almost enough to make a passionate love for a subject die.  I run my blog, voluntarily write articles for another website, review plays for another website and write for my university newspaper.  But I am still losing out on jobs to people with ‘more relevant experience’.  I guess you can’t know it all.

Have you any experience of this?  Ever had to have volunteer experience for a job role?  Share your volunteering stories below.

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2 thoughts on “Work experience just isn’t enough any more

  1. I completed a degree in English and Historical Studies wanting to become a teacher. At least one day a week and sometimes whole weeks during my holidays for the entire second and third year of my degree I volunteered at a school. I also volunteered at other children’s activities as and when I could. Despite this when I applied for my PGCE I was turned down as not being experience enough. I then got a job as a receptionist in a hotel and volunteered on my day off in my local school. Again I was turned down for PGCE. However the school had an opening for a teaching assistant and offered me the job. So although it IS possible to study your degree, work, have a social life AND volunteer it doesn’t always help you get where you want. I think the problem is lack of jobs which allows employers to be so damn picky! Catch 22 unfortunately

    • That’s a good point. I think also a big part of the problem is we’re brought up being told we can do whatever we want, then we get to university and are dealt a massive dose of reality. Early warnings that volunteering is a pre-requisite would be a big help I think.

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