This is a turbulent and uncertain time to complete your degree. Our alumna, Claire Johnson, had a similar experience when she graduated with a BA in Nutrition and Health in 2009 during a recession. Recently we caught up with Claire to see what advice she had for current graduates.
You graduated during a recession, which must have been extremely difficult – can you tell us what it was like?
In July 2009, leaving my student title behind, I didn’t realise being an unemployed recession graduate would start the most humbling and worst year of my life thus far. Me and my fellow Class of ‘09 grads set off on the job hunt, but we weren’t alone. Friends in their mid-to-late 20s had also lost their jobs, which made for an extremely saturated market of candidates for very limited roles with ever decreasing salaries.
Competing for entry level roles, I was measured against candidates with 5+ years’ experience, yet the only way to get the experience required was to get my foot in the door – a seemingly impossible feat. Even unpaid internships were like gold dust! An exasperating catch-22: unpaid experience to get unpaid experience to get a dream salary that you’d struggle to live on in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
Since securing a graduate-level role in September 2010, 14 months after graduating, I’ve been employed full time. Most recently I was hired (as a result of LinkedIn) for the largest healthcare company in the world, Johnson & Johnson, and lead Communications & Public Affairs as a Director for our Services & Solution function.
How long did it take you to overcome the impact of the recession?
A chance meeting via a friend of a friend lead to an unpaid internship. Even the £5 lunch allowance in Soho and a travel card was a practically unheard-of luxury. But I grabbed on with both hands! Around 14-months later a recruiter called out of the blue and said I had enough experience on my skinny CV to get a temp freelance position. A few weeks later this became a full-time permanent position!
How did your time at Roehampton help you in your career?
There were very few Universities in the country with my choice of course and even fewer in or around London. Growing up around the rolling hills and fields of South Staffordshire, I wanted to feel as close to clean air and nature as I could. When I visited Roehampton for the first-time, I knew ‘this is the one’ and it became my first choice.
Interestingly, it was the diverse modules within my degree that I really came to love and for which I grateful to Roehampton for. I think knowing exactly what you want to do with your life at 18-years-old is extremely difficult. Through modular lecture options such as psychology, sociology and statistics, I was able to diversify my academic interests in areas that I enjoyed the most. I continue to grow my knowledge in these areas as part of my professional development over a decade later.
If you could offer any advice to current students studying, what would it be?
Take every opportunity to gain experience! This could include volunteering or even using the internet to learn a new set of skills that interest you. If there’s a subject matter/business area/topic that you love you, become a sponge for that subject and find companies and people on LinkedIn who position themselves as experts in whatever it is. Start reading what they’re putting out there. Comment, like, connect with them. You never know where it could lead.
You can also never know enough people. Take opportunities to expand your network however you can, although I know this is more difficult in a more ‘virtual’ world. In 2009 I’d never heard of LinkedIn. It’s grown exponentially since and is probably the first-place fellow professionals would turn to or recommend to an unemployed friend. Last year however I spoke in front of a group of graduates and was met with mostly blank faces when I mentioned LinkedIn. I implore grads to use online professional networks at your disposal. Put ego of the ‘perfect role’ to one side, and don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there. There’s nothing to lose.
Similarly, if you could offer any advice to graduating students about to enter an uncertain market, what would it be?
I was blindsided and I only hope 2020 graduates are aware of and actively taking steps to position themselves optimally for what seems to be on the horizon once again. It’s time to get resourceful, drop any ego, ask for help and know that what is happening this year is not personal. This too shall pass.