Four things preventing graduates from exploring careers they might enjoy

View of the city from CRUK building 250 pxKaterina (@katalexpas) is a recent Cambridge law graduate who decided not to follow the city law route. She is currently getting work experience in the various sectors she’s interested in. Here Katerina talks about the pressures against this approach. 

Stepping toward the escalator

Sometime during my second year at university I found myself sitting in an internship interview at a city law firm. “Why corporate law?”, they asked me. “And why our firm?”. Both were fair, and predictable, questions. Yet the best I could manage was an impressively generic response, mainly consisting of buzzwords lifted from their website.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get that internship. More surprising was how categorically unmoving I found this rejection.

Anybody who has been passionate about something will know that pit-in-your-stomach fear that however hard you try, that thing will not work out. I have met people who are this engaged with city law (or banking etc.), but I wasn’t. And it shouldn’t have taken an awkward interview scenario for me to question whether I had any justification for pursuing that career.

So why did I start down this route?

And why did the other passionate, opinionated people whom I graduated with feel they had to indiscriminately apply to these jobs which weren’t compatible with their interests beyond being paid?

“Our civilisation’s most precious resource: the time, passion and skill of its people” – Eric Ries, The Lean Start Up

We were told to choose a degree subject based on what we enjoy. That if you’re actually interested in what you study you’ll push harder to learn about your subject and achieve more. Why is choosing a job any different – this added sense of drive in everyone’s careers can only be a good thing?

Four things pushing us from exploring careers we might enjoy

The Monopoly on Advertised Options – With a pretty full-on course, I didn’t want to spend my scarce free time extensively researching careers. This meant companies that could afford flashy recruitment were the only ones on our radar. (some examples…)

Careers Fairs Representatives- Oh only 30,000 other applicants? For the 2.7 places on the pre-Internship Open Day you’ll never get a job without? As corporates compete for our attention they create a mass panic that we’re already behind in a race we didn’t even realise we entered. You come out clutching a year’s supply of branded stationery and feeling the pressure to apply first and ask questions later.

Lack of paid non-corporate internships – If you can’t commute from a family home or sleep on someone’s sofa then getting experience at companies that are interesting but can’t pay anything – or pay only limited travel expenses – just isn’t an option.

“It’ll only be for a few years” – It can’t be that bad. You might learn to enjoy it! Everyone hears this from relatives/friends/Careers Advisors at some point. I’m not expecting to find ‘my calling’ straight out of university, but I’d like to at least care about what the company I’m applying for works toward.

Careers Fair Haul



Careers Fair Haul 2


How to avoid following the ‘default’

Maybe the most important thing you can realize in your life, is that every aspect of your life is a choice. But there are default choices.” – Bret Victor, Inventing on Principle.

Websites like Escape help, posting the stories of those who have been there, and publicising alternatives. But more is needed:

Employers – Don’t target students for recruitment so early. Leave them to develop to become the well rounded and passionate people you’re looking to hire, instead of encouraging them to fall into a career without thinking.

Employers (again) – Pay your interns. London living wage is around £18,000 pa if you need a reference point. You’ll get your pick of candidates who aren’t defined by whether they can afford to work for free.

Soon-to-be/Current Grads – Think about if you’d enjoy that company or role before applying. It sounds obvious but the question of ‘is this a good fit for me?’ can get lost amongst the recruitment process. Get work experience and talk to University alumni there where possible. This will help prevent you getting in a position you have to escape from to begin with.

People advising that it’s just a few years – Most of those few years will be spent working and that individual is better off doing something they care about. Be supportive.

Apathy doesn’t foster productivity. Therefore it’s in the interest of employers to hire people passionate about the work they do and graduates to work on something they enjoy. Leave that other role for someone better suited to it than you ever want to be.

I’m trying to follow these principles and have just finished an amazing three months interning with Cancer Research UK in their Corporate Partnerships team. I’m currently looking for my next interesting placement in the social enterprise development sector. If you’re interested in meeting me – please get in touch.

What is Escape the City all about then?

Frustrated by climbing the corporate ladder, we decided to build a community to help people build meaningful careers doing work that matters – to them and to the world. We help talented people find fulfilling work by making big career changes, building businesses, & going on big adventures. We’d love you to come with us on this journey.

How do you get involved?

1. Job Seeker? Create an Escape Profile to get matched to exciting jobs.

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