Zach completed a Masters in Management at Leeds in 2015, following an undergraduate degree at another university and now works as a Data Support Officer at the NHS in Leeds. In this post he shares his experiences of finding his way in a challenging graduate job market, developing self-confidence, and how he benefitted from accessing careers support.
The modern, conventional graduate is an interesting, enviable breed to behold. They flood the job market every July; they are the peak of their game, usually at a time before mortgages and child bearing clamp in: Usually, their experience is at rock bottom, but their enthusiasm and sheer innovation is sky high. And pre-2008, employers would have awarded contracts to many on the basis of this enthusiasm and innovation alone.
But when cuts, redundancies and job losses were rampant after the 2008 banking crisis, financial budgets were often a fraction of what they previously were. So no longer were employers allowed to recruit these wildcards on this whim. Thus, 2:1s became de-rigueur rather than an accessory, experience was essential, and a collection of internships seemed to be a bare minimum to suffice.
Gone were the days you could sell your enthusiasm; in this dog eat dog world, not only did you had to prove it, but make it shine brighter in an already diamond laden sky.
Into this less than idyllic scenery entered me; a cautious albeit slightly awkward graduand with the aim to survive in any way possible. In the breaks of putting the finishing touches to my controversial 2015 master’s dissertation, I sat cross legged on my bedroom floor with a sea of printed job vacancies in front of me. Whilst trying and failing not to feel overwhelmed, I worried that I was in a much more vulnerable state than many of my peers who were in aforementioned graduate job market.
The reasons to worry were plentiful: I had a below-par, non-accredited, Bachelor of Medical Sciences degree from another university that did not equip me with the skills needed, more experience than some, but very bitty, and to put the final nail in my doomed coffin, I had a disability that hindered me in understanding the delicate “interview” scenario. Indeed, only 15% of those with my type of disability are in employment.
Clearly, the odds were not in my favour.
No doubt, in my mind, I had already succumbed to the scenario of being a cringeworthy candidate for prospective employment. This staggering lack of confidence showed in a series of botched pre-graduation interviews where my ineptitude was evident. As I sunk into a spiral of despair, I wondered whether there was any point in applying for the powerhouse organisations that dominated Leeds (Asda, NHS, Department Of Health) particularly when I had no spark of my own.
Realising that I needed help, I approached the careers service at Leeds University. They sat down with me, listened to my hysterics, added some introspection and cleared the thick smokescreen that had become my insecurity. They made me see that my enthusiasm and innovation had already been proven: I had work experience, I had a scholarship, I had numerous awards and most importantly, I had a master’s degree that I had completed. They could easily see the problem. Now their job was to get me to enact a solution. I needed help to tease out my experiences, especially in an interview scenario.
They were a tour de force, with interview prep, CV help, mentoring and coaching that allowed me to secure a job at the biggest powerhouse of them all, the NHS. Moreover, the job was a 360 degree spin from anything that I had done before. Throughout my education and previous work experiences, I had cringed at the prospect of anything involving numbers (harshly labelling myself as inept), yet my current role at the NHS has me revelling in it. Working with healthcare data is a fundamental component of both my role and my data-driven team; it is something that I now have a passion for.
I would advise any student/graduate at Leeds University to work with their careers service and get the support that they are entitled to. I know that I would never have got my job and my recent promotion, were it not for the outstanding support that I received from them and from the talented managers that I currently work with within the NHS. I realised that these individuals are always trying to instil – particularly surrounding my disability — a degree of integrity and openness in me. I believe that this is a feature that is so often overlooked in the graduate job market and the wider workplace in amidst the mix of innovation, experience and enthusiasm, which generally takes greater precedence. Based on my own personal experiences, I feel that fellow graduates would do well to emphasise this much underrated feature as they navigate through the storms of a post 2008 job market.