A couple of weeks ago the BBC aired a documentary called ‘How to Break into the Elite’ (you can still watch it on iPlayer), and it really resonated with me. As a recent graduate, who has not got a graduate job to waltz into in September, I know the struggles of breaking into the world of work. 

As already mentioned, I have just graduated from the University of Essex with a 2:1 (with honours) in BA International Relations. Essex isn’t a Russell Group University, but is from the generation of Universities that popped up in the 1960s. As a politics student, at one of the best universities in the country for Political Science, Essex is an amazing university. However, the challenge arises when countless job descriptions ask for a ‘2:1 or above from a Russell Group University’. I have a 2:1, I just didn’t go to a Russell Group University. As mentioned in the BBC documentary, the premise is based around class, and how the privately educated have more opportunities for the top jobs, and thus are probably attending Russell Group Universities. Now, I wouldn’t class myself as working class, I would say i’m lower middle class – I’ve gone to a good university, got a degree, worked my entire way through University, but because I didn’t attend a Russell Group University, I’m excluded from certain jobs. Surly this isn’t fair. You could be an exceptional student, have amazing A-Level Results, and gain a high first in your degree, and have work experience, but because you didn’t attend a Russell Group University you can’t apply for certain jobs. 

However, the one part of the documentary that I personally related to the most, was the section about breaking into the media. I want to work in sport media, communications, or digital marketing, however, I have no connections. The documentary interviewed graduates who were entering a career in media, but all had some type of connection – they knew people who worked, or work in the industry. Then you have me, zero connections to anyone in the media. Well, actually apparently my Dad’s cousin’s son works in Football media, or something to do with Football, but I don’t know him enough to even ask for a hand to get into the industry. 

The issue with getting a step into media is that for graduates, graduate schemes are very rare. Not just in media, but also jobs in the sporting industry. Over the last six months I have been applying for a ridiculous number of jobs within Football marketing / social media / media / communications / PR, and I haven’t even had an interview. They state they want entry level, but then claim you don’t have the experience. I’m not normally one to pin point firms or businesses but Chelsea Football Club put out a job description a few months ago and it did bemuse me. It stated something along the lines of ‘minimum six years experience, but this is also an entry level job’, so it isn’t an entry level job. Then you get other Football teams including Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Manchester City, and Liverpool for example asking for Interns. Now, I have applied to three of the four football teams I have just mentioned – I have only heard back from West Ham (I was unsuccessful). Tottenham and Manchester City, who both I matched the requirements, I never heard a whisper back. 

However, I may have been so far unsuccessful getting a job in sport media, but I have been somewhat successful in other industries. At the start of my final year of university, I applied for probably around 40+ graduate schemes, you name a firm and I probably applied; from BA, to Barclays, to Lloyds Bank, to Civil Service Fast Stream etc. Now, I have been to three interviews, which admittedly isn’t the most, but I have learned a-lot from all three. 

My first assessment day came in December, for FDM, for the role of Business Consultant. Okay, I never wanted the job, but primarily went to the interview with an open mind, and I was prepared. I turned up smart and chic (in business wear), and well researched about FDM and the job. I hated the interview, and there were three interviews in total. The numerical task was alright. However, I never even heard back. No email to say ‘thank you for coming’, and no email or phone call to tell me if I had been successful or not. I don’t care about not getting the job, but it was the simply fact I never heard back. 

The second assessment day was in early February 2019, for the Department of Transport, a graduate scheme that was open for anyone that had a degree over the years. It was an assessment day I throughly enjoyed. The interview went swimmingly, as well as the written assessment – both I passed. However, then there were two role play activities. No real explanation of what was going to happen, and you weren’t in a team. An actor was brought in into both scenarios. It was all very strange, and I have no idea what they were trying to test me on. The only thing that went wrong that day was my zip broke on my dress. I didn’t get the job, because I failed the role play. 

My last interview as at Arcadia head office, for a merchandising admin assistant. I passed the interview and the written / numerical task. I didn’t accept the job, not because I didn’t want the job, but because I knew it wasn’t in what I really wanted to do – sport communication or sport marketing. Don’t get me wrong, I love fashion, and working in Burton Menswear has really opened my eyes, and I love getting creative, career wise it isn’t something I want to do for the next 40 years. 

The one thing that I only noticed while watching the BBC documentary was ‘class and polish’. At the Department of Transport interview, I was the only candidate not from a Russell Group University, and most had a posh accent. The same at FDM. Don’t get me wrong, I was probably the only women that looked professionally smart, in a tailored black pencil dress, blazer, appropriate heels, and my camel Jack Wills coat, however, my accent didn’t fit in. I’m an Essex girl, which I am proud about, but I do have an Essex accent. My accent isn’t ‘TOWIE’, but the accent is there. I don’t have a posh voice, and my accent doesn’t necessarily fit it with elite professions. Funnily enough, a recruiter that was interviewed on the documentary talked about an Essex Girl – had everything right on paper / CV, but because she had an Essex accent the recruiter was finding it hard to get the lady the job. Again, is this just ridiculous ‘you can only apply for this job if you went to a Russell Group university’. Yes, yes it is. 

Now, I may have a degree in International Relations, but due to failing to land a job in sports media / communications, and having no connections, I have chosen the option of postgraduate study. Now, this isn’t always assessable to everyone, especially as some universities charge over £20,000 for a masters. Luckily, with Student Finance England, the cost of my masters is covered. I’m off to study MSc Sport Marketing at Loughborough University London. Primarily I choose this course because of the modules, but also because of the location (Olympic Park, next to BT Sport studios), the links to the industry (Collaborative Project with Chelsea FC and West Ham Foundation to name a few), and to further my skills. However, there is no guarantee that I will get a job in sport marketing / communication / PR / social media, come September 2020. Although, hopefully I will be able to build up my connections, and try to get more experience. 

University may open up the doors for some, but elite jobs are still going to the elite – the privately educated and Russell Group and Oxbridge students. 

3 thoughts on “The Struggle of Getting A Graduate Job – ‘How to Break into the Elite’

  1. Alicia, this is such a great post. I have found the same thing graduating with a 2:1 from Oxford Brookes. People want Russel Group and good A Levels – despite the fact I graduated 3 years ago and finished school 6 years ago! Don’t get me wrong I enjoy what I am doing and have found a career path I’m happy with, but I still cannot understand how my choice of university still affects the jobs I can apply for!

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  2. I find it so strange to hear about Russel Group unis, in Scotland we do have them but it really isn’t as big a thing as it is for English students. I haven’t seen any jobs in Scotland specifically asking for Russel Group. I hope you can find a job in the field you want after your postgrad!

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