In the grand scheme of things, career-search wise, I’m doing OK. I have a degree, I have experience including an internship, I actually know what I want to do, and I’m not subject to racial discrimination in my job search. However despite my constant searching and applying on Indeed all I’ve got back in two months is a handful of rejection emails from the few companies who actually bothered to send them. Oh, and a call from a company offering teaching work in China which I absolutely don’t want to do but genuinely considered.
Inamongst all the thinkpieces calling millenials entitled, or making fun of them for having ‘fake’ sounding jobs involving social media or having ‘digital’ in the name (someone took the time to make an actual sitcom on the topic), few seem to question why so many of us still live with our parents. I know one person my age with the same education level who is in full time work. The rest are doing masters degrees or working menial jobs in the hopes of finding something more fulfilling. My sister graduated in 2012 and found every job she wanted demanded years of experience and every job she applied to as a short term money maker felt she was overqualified and would have no loyalty. I’ve found the same problem, despite the fact I have a three-month journalism internship under my belt. In truth, the hunt for a job feels like a fruitless, crushing dirge.
Dramatic-sounding perhaps, but hear me out. My recent internship (a piece of driftwood just about keeping me afloat in a sea of career hunting) was not my first flirtation with intern-ing. Back in the summer of ’16, towards the end of my degree, I was delighted to get a call from a local company in Hull who were interested in getting me to work as a content writer for 8-12 weeks. Unpaid, of course, I couldn’t possibly expect to get paid now could I? Their promise was 8-12 weeks with a ‘very real chance’ of a job at the end. Twelve weeks is a long time but it would just about cover the rest of my student flat contract and I was almost guaranteed a job at the end. I went along for the interview in high spirits, it was a nice office in the city centre, and the staff seemed laid-back with lots of freedom. I was told that I was the most qualified candidate. I had a second interview, involving a basic competence test, all was well. I got a call from the recruitment agency woman who had called me in the first place saying they were offering me a week-long trial to check I was right for them. A little annoying, considering I was repeatedly told I was the best candidate, and it was an unpaid internship (I was essentially being offered a trial FOR a trial) but it was still amazing to get such an opportunity considering I hadn’t even graduated yet.
So I went in with my coffee and pencil skirt feeling very business-like. I wrote some blog posts, transcribed a few radio bits they did, had to do some ‘business to business’ copy which was about the most soul crushing thing of all time but hey ho. I felt all was going well. However, after going home on the third day the recruitment lady called me again. ‘They don’t know how to go about training you’ she said (they perhaps should have thought of that before they hired an intern). She told me to take the rest of the week off while they worked out what approach to take. With a furrowed brow I agreed, but told her I felt fine with how things were going.
Two weeks later, I had heard nothing. I emailed the recruitment agency woman asking her if, when I did come back, I would be coming back to an actual job or I would still be expected to work 12 weeks on zero pay. She told me it was the latter. ‘They’re only a small company, so they can’t offer pay at the moment’. I was tempted to point out that this was at odds with how often I had been assured of their rapid growth as a business, and to ask if everyone else who worked their was lucky enough to actually get paid. I replied that I had to decline coming back at all, that 12 weeks of no pay would essentially leave me homeless for a while. She understood. Oh, by the way, that ‘job’ was at a company running a search engine FOR JOBS.
I’m happy to report the second internship went far better. It only required one interview, I was able to work from home, I was paid £70 a week, given one-to-one training, and had to the opportunity to do cool stuff like interview comedians and write previews for art exhibitions. I came out the other side with solid skills and a sturdy addition to my CV. One month later, I still have nothing. Trawling through Indeed.com every day is a Groundhog-day like affair. Content writer, marketing, social media executive and so on and so on. Most are offering more internships, usually only pointing out halfway through the job description that they won’t actually pay you. Particularly with any kind of creative endeavor. They offer ‘experience’ and ‘exposure’, but such things do not put tofu on the table. Those that will pay are rare, and mostly require a candidate with 5 years of experience in the exact same job, preferably at the same company, and a relocation to London.
When you find one that seems imperfect, but you actually have a chance of getting, it sends you to a 10-page application form that needs filling out. You have a CV with all the same information the form is asking for handily put on one page, but they still want you to fill out the form. Call me a lazy, entitled millenial, but when it’s the fifth job application of the day and you don’t particularly want it in the first place, the impulse to give up on page 4 of the application is very strong.
Also while these companies ask a lot of their candidates, the effort is not reciprocated. Job descriptions are often quite badly written out, some with glaring spelling mistakes. Plus, they are often written so cryptically, so ridden with vague business jargon, that it is impossible to tell what the company does and what they want you to do. Take this for example:
“The role of Digital Marketing Executive will be to implement the content marketing strategy for this prestigious business, devising creative campaigns which will help to increase awareness, brand and drive sales and play a key role in driving the next phase of growth.”
Can anyone tell me what the even heck that means?
So where does this seemingly incredibly unsustainable system lead? Ultimately, it means only the children of the rich can get jobs. If you can’t find an internship you can do from home like I was lucky enough to get, you have to hope Mum and Dad are willing to pay your rent. After several such internships, you may finally get a full time job that pays, congratulations! Better yet, a close relative of yours works at the company, instant stability!
This market ultimately has to collapse in on itself. Denying many young people the chance to support themselves for the convenience of businesses who are somehow disgusted at the thought of paying a living wage simply isn’t sustainable. It isn’t just Wetherspoons that takes advantage, but cozy white-collar office jobs. It’s a symptom of late stage, unregulated capitalism. Everything to appease the bosses, even if it means literally not paying a wage. Recently, a screenshot of an unpaid job at a London anti-slavery charity went viral. It’s gotten so bad that even my classically conservative grandma is shocked and appalled at the state of things. Colliding with other problems like the eye-watering rent prices in most cities and the accumulating student debt of those doing masters degrees to stave off the daunting search for a job, something has to give. And when it does give, I just hope it’s not the workers who bear the worst of it.