Job Market Trends and News

How I made it: three successful young graduates share their stories

A Radio 1 DJ, an MP and an entrepreneur call on new graduates to work hard, aim to be the best and never give up
Greg James
Greg James advises graduates to fight the urge to compare their progress with their peers. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian
Greg James

I genuinely think that the majority of people will decide that their dream job is too hard to achieve, too competitive and "oh well it's all about luck". All of these are true actually, but why should that stop you? The really determined people will always succeed and, in many ways, need people to give up and find it too much like hard work to make way for them.

Of course it is a very tough time economically to find employment straight after university, but it is by no means impossible. It might take several months longer to find a job after graduating than maybe it did five years ago, but there is work out there. My chosen career has always been competitive but I never thought about other people going for the same jobs. It's human nature to compare your progress to your peers but I suppose my advice would be to try not to. Be focused on what you want and how you are going to get it.

You have to have a plan in place, even if it's a sketchy one. Have short-term and long-term aims. In my final year at university, my short-term aims were to gain experience at BBC local radio, work on the local community station, try and get some real FM presenting experience and get a meeting/pilot at Radio 1. My long-term aim has always been to get a show on Radio 1. It sounds easy for me to say it now, but I always thought that with really bloody hard work, dedication, a willingness to put myself out for them and a load of luck, I could get to Radio 1. You also have to be a complete nerd about the business you want to get in to. Know as much as you can about it, then you can feel part of it and understand how it works.

I hate saying this to people but really, this piece of cliche advice is key. You must never get down-trodden by the knockbacks because there will be loads. You can achieve your dream job whatever it is but … here comes the cliche … you simply must not give up on it. Be prepared to work hard and for long hours and at the start probably for little or no money but it will be worth it in the end. The best jobs aren't supposed to be easy, that's what makes them challenging. If you like a challenge, don't listen to the nay-sayers, just keep your head down and go for it. And look, one day, you might even get to write your own sanctimonious Guardian article.

Pamela Nash, MP for Airdrie and Shotts, 27: 'Keep clear goals'

Pamela Nash

I do not envy anyone graduating in 2012; it was difficult enough when I graduated in 2006; even then there were not many jobs for new social science graduates. I was living alone and found it difficult to stay afloat, and was surprised and embarrassed about the situation I found myself in.

I knew it was important to balance earning with improving skills and employability but I found it hard to get a part-time job. While job hunting I wrote to my MP to have a moan about the situation for graduates generally, but also to ask if there were any opportunities in his office. He asked me to meet him and offered me an internship. This was lucky; but also a result of me trying everything I could do to get on. Eventually, I landed a part-time job in House of Fraser, Glasgow which allowed me to earn money three days a week and gain relevant experience the rest of the time. After a year I was promoted to a full-time position as a parliamentary assistant.

Pressures on graduates this year are higher than ever before with the number of opportunities being squeezed. At a time like this it is important that you keep clear career goals and do everything in your power to get there; taking on voluntary work or learning additional skills is vital. Get as involved as possible with organizations in your field of work; for example as well as being active in my local Labour party, I also joined associated campaigns and thinktanks and stood for election to the Scottish youth parliament.

Do not worry when you have to take on a job you'd rather not to make ends meet. Sort out your finances as soon as possible and make sure you are getting the benefits you are entitled to if you are still looking for work, and live within your means.

Most importantly, do not lose heart. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity, so be ready.

Jonnie Shearer, Pussy energy drinks founder, 30: 'Aim high'

Jonnie Shearer

University was great fun, although it didn't really help much with setting up a business – so looking back I wish I'd gone straight to work.

It was during university that I tried to sell a food concept to various airlines. None of them went for it, so while still a student, I spotted another opportunity.

I decided to create a natural energy drink. At the beginning, we had no money to spend on marketing, so I thought of the name Pussy to get us noticed. Being normal gets you nowhere and if we had a normal name I felt we would have a 0% chance of working. We were competing against brands who spend tens of millions on marketing.

It took about a year to get the £30,000 I needed to create the product – I borrowed the money from friends and family. During this time I worked out of my bedroom at home. It was a bit of a nightmare, my mum would be hoovering in the background as I took important sales calls or would accidentally pick up the phone on my behalf. During my first sales pitch I sat down with a burly nightclub promoter who told me he wanted me to pay him £10,000 a year to stock the drink, or take it for free: "Piss off Pussy I'm busy," he said. Clearly, it's difficult to get yourself taken seriously when you're young and just starting out. But eventually we negotiated a decent deal and now the company sells 500,000 cans a month and is worth tens of millions of pounds.

But it is those first years, where you evolve so quickly, where you really have to go for it, that are the most invigorating. My advice to young graduates eager to make in the world of business? Always aim to be the best at everything, and just go for it.


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