My friends and I often talk about jobs, mostly because we currently do not work, either by a trick of fate or by personal choice. One friend in particular gets me to think about the job market by casting a gloomy light on it, not because she is negative, but because her experience, combined with my experience and the experience of many others who only graduated a few years back, are opposites and yet yield the same peculiar result.
When we graduated and started to send out application forms, CVs and spec letters, our efforts often plummeted into the Well of Unanswered Queries, whereby we never really knew whether any of the above ever reached its destination. Many job adverts these days state that 'if you do not hear from us by x date, we wish to thank you for your interest and wish you well in your job search'. Not even the old classic 'thanks, but no thanks' applies any more at present (and by present I do not mean right now, but over the past five to ten years). It is not normal anymore to be polite, not even in that detached HR-way that relegated a printed line to a compliments slip, so consider yourself lucky if you are applying by email, for at least you will get an automatically-generated receipt that will confirm that your efforts have at least reached their destination. It does not mean they will be read but they did go from a to b. Expect no more beyond that.
And so it goes that very many graduates take a very long time to land a first job (if at all, and I am not overstating this claim), so much so that they eventually hit the If Only weeping wall. If only I had done nuclear physics instead of geography. If only I had done history of art instead of history. If only I had done dentistry instead of cardiology. If only I were an accountant instead of a teacher. If only day were night. If only the left were in power. If only the right were in power. If only nobody were. And so on. While all these offer interchangeable sub-options according to mood (if only I were a hippie instead of a yuppie at heart, I would not need to work OR if only dad were a count, I would not want to work), one of them eventually befalls every single graduate in the world: if only I had some experience.
We beat ourselves up because job descriptions (that are not advertising graduate schemes), are all about experience. Six months. Two years. Five years. Three days. One hour. To a fresh graduate, anything feels better than no experience to speak of, even though accruing relevant (by which I mean, not in the students' union pub) work experience while studying full-time is impossible. We continue to navigate the job market with this lack of experience hovering above us like a whiff of plague, embedded on our foreheads like a scarlet letter. Yes, I got excellent grades, we say dismissively, but I bet that if only I had some experience, I would get that job, *insert fit of rage and/or tears here*.
Fast-forward by ten years or even twenty, like my friend I spoke of in opening, and you are flying very high on the wings of certitude. You're certain that your efforts are going to pay off. You're certain that you can go for a higher-paid, bigger, better, closer job. You're certain that you're the best manager the world has ever seen. You're certain that Excel will not screw you around any longer... except you're old. Not old for real, else you would be retired somewhere and would not be seeking a new occupation, but just old enough to be discarded in favour of someone else. You're not mathematically old, you're just... old hat.
Why giving a job to you, with twenty years' experience, when we could give it to an intern that will cost one forth instead, no matter how little she knows? But wait a minute, doesn't this potential intern need some experience, the one we spoke of above? In fact, isn't she kicking herself right this minute for having got a degree and now finding herself in the Real World with a piece of paper not even good enough for polishing windows but no work experience to speak of? Hey, so which is which? Is experience good or bad?
I don't have the answer my friends. All I know is that the more I speak to people and the more the job market, in any industry, acquires the aura of a guarded secret held by a sect that lives in some rocky mountains in some country I couldn't pick out of a map if my life depended on that pin. I do not know how people change jobs, let alone careers, and I consider myself, all things considered, super-lucky, for at least I know what I am seeking, a position as lecturer as opposed to anything else. Because quite frankly, job descriptions such as 'creative consultant' or 'director of first impressions' or 'engineering account administrator' or 'strategic client financial control analyst supervisor' mean jack shit, with or without experience.