Monday, 6 September 2010

Businesses Can Only Exploit Graduates Lacking Initiative

I thought it was a shame to read that graduates feel they are being 'exploited' in PRWeek last week. Just two and a half years ago I was in the same position many graduates find themselves in today - out of work and wondering what to do next.

Having completed two work experience placements throughout my years at university I was fairly sure I wanted a career in PR. But, before I planned how my career would span within the communications industry, I thought it best to call (yes pick up the phone) a few of the top local agencies and find out where the opportunities were.

After some tactical Googling, I was presented with an index of all PR agencies in Birmingham. I went through the list over a course of two hours, checking out the company website and creds until I had narrowed the list from around 45 to 10. I then began to call around and have a chat with the appropriate person at each agency and it wasn't long before Willoughby PR asked me to come in.

After a short chat over coffee (which is an occasion where you never know what to wear!) I was invited for a four week work placement. There was no talk of wage and, to be honest, I didn't feel I was in a position to ask for one. This to me, wasn't 'exploitation' but an agency offering me the chance to go behind the scenes at their workplace and begin to build up the skillset required for the job.

Having said that, I understand certain companies may be taking advantage of the graduates and their hunger to get onto the career ladder. Alex Try for instance, who worked for three months at a national newspaper and two months at a Westminster think tank was left frustrated when, both unpaid instances, left him jobless and in debt. He then went on to set up a website to see who else had suffered similar experiences and was shocked when hundreds of people began to log on and share their work experience horror stories.

The site now aims to connect those on the hunt for a job by sharing news and opportunities - it's certainly worth a look.

And I have found there are some other great places where those looking for a job can go for support:

Moving back to PR specifically, Ben Cotton a recent graduate working as part of Edelman's digital team is a great advocate for those looking for their first break in the industry spreading the word about intern opportunities and jobs for new starters as well as offering some invaluable advice.

Being region specific for a moment, in Birmingham we have BHive a network that aims to connect creative professionals with interns and, as part of a competition mechanic, offers several paid internships at some of the best agencies in the Midlands. A few weeks ago we enjoyed the presence of a paid work placement of a girl who had won a regional competition.

Ao I would say that whilst exploitation is going on, I don't necessarily believe it is happening (on a widespread level anyway) in PR and certainly not in PR in Birmingham (all of you out there may be able to give me a better idea of other regions).

Are graduates sick of busting their guts at an unpaid never-ending work placement that turns out to be fruitless? Yes.

But all we can do as a business is reward those getting involved with competitive work placement schemes (such as BHive) or be ready and willing to accept that call with a difference or CV that leaves us blown away.

Our MD recently blogged about graduates today (to great success) criticising the way in which some of the graduates go about their job hunt. I am inclined to agree.

It was reported that up to 40,000 graduates would join the jobless role from the class of 2009 and a number of my own classmates (from 2008) remain jobless today.

I think more than ever you have to be sure about the career you want to work in and be able to justify it until you're blue in the face - sending out one pleading email filled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors to an undisclosed number of industry heads just won't cut it.

And I believe (and please disagree if you do) that in the long term we will be thankful that such a hard search has forced us to pick an option we can really rally for. Where we have to live and breathe it until we can go in and show our prospective employers initiative which, if you as me, is the core most important quality when you are looking to employ someone new.

So rather than scale the job sites and continue the fruitless hunt, why not take a moment and remember what you love?

Then, from that, find your calling and use your head to make yourself stand out.

The jobs are out there - you just need to ignore the path that everyone is travelling down and try a different tact.


  1. Fantastic blog Hannah - couldn't agree more. Degrees are worth very little now a days, it's all about going that extra mile whether it's through volunteering or work experience.

    I achieved my first placement exactly the same way as you did; I did my research and rang people. Not at any point did I feel like I was being exploited, in fact I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity they gave me.

    I don't deny that there are graduates out there who are being exploited but I think they need to wise up to the fact that a degree does not mean an instant job after uni.

  2. Certainly - it oftens feels like people are applying for jobs just to be employed as opposed to really going after what they want to do or thinking about it first...

    Thanks for the comments Chris!