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If There’s One Thing I’ve Learnt Since Graduating, It’s The Importance of Perseverance

This time last year, the future felt like an ominous place. Everything felt like a near-impossible feat, getting a job most of all.

July 12th marks a whole year since I graduated from the University of Birmingham where I studied Classics, and consequently a whole year since I was fully propelled into adult life.

There’ll be many of you out there right now who are going through what I went through exactly a year ago. The university bubble burst and I suddenly realised I had absolutely no clue what I was going to do next.

It’s hard to envision how you go from being a graduate to an “adult” with a real job and real responsibility when you’re freshly capped and gowned and still secretly waiting for that eureka moment where the obvious path just lights up in front of you.

One year on, I’ve learnt that there is no obvious path when it comes to the future, but you’ll still get to where you need to be.

Most importantly, I’ve learnt that perseverance is the key to getting there.

Graduating with a degree that many would class as “useless” with no work experience whatsoever and no clear idea of where I wanted to go next wasn’t exactly a great starting point for me as a graduate.

photo provided // Alex Cook

photo provided // Alex Cook

Classics is a very broad subject, something that can be very freeing, but it also gives you little to no indication of what comes next. I had told myself that, for the time being, I didn’t want to get into teaching, not least because it was what everyone seemed to expect of me.

I had high hopes, as many fresh graduates do, that the professional world would open its arms to me regardless and give me any job I wanted. After all, a degree is very valuable, right?

Definitely. Experience is more valuable, though.

In order to get the experience I desperately needed, I didn’t go home. Not that going back to live with mum and dad is a bad thing – it’s a great way of saving money – but because I know myself, I was fully aware that if I went back to my family home, I would never escape it. I knew that I would end up getting used to home-made food and free/cheap accommodation and it would be very difficult to leave that lifestyle for the daily grind of a 9 to 5 job.

I was lucky enough to borrow a small amount of money from my dad in order to rent out a tiny flat for a few months, thinking that this would buy me more than enough time to start applying and receiving offers for jobs.

I quickly realised that getting a job after university was going to be as difficult as I feared it would be. If not more so.

I would send out applications and never hear back. Not even for a rejection. It got to a point where I became convinced that something was wrong. After all, who wouldn’t want to hire me?!

What worried me most of all was how I was ever going to have the necessary experience for a role if no one would give me any experience.

Growing tired of being supposedly ignored, I decided to try to work out what it was that was standing in my way. I revisited my university’s careers department and sought advice on my CV and general approach to looking for a graduate job.

Equipped with a professional-approved CV and words of encouragement, I thought surely now the job offers would come flooding in.

But, no. This fantastic career my degree was supposed to buy me still evaded me.

Surprisingly, it was my granny that gave me the idea for my next move. She said: “Why don’t you do some volunteering?”

Initially, I kept thinking: “Why should I?” You don’t spend all that money on a degree to then work for nothing, do you? But truly, if you have no experience on your CV, volunteering is a great way to gain some.

Swallowing my pride, I went to my local Oxfam Books & Music (because I thought that it would sound posher on my CV than Cat’s Protection) and started volunteering 4 times a week. Not only did I learn a lot and have a position I could put on my CV at last, but I also realised I enjoyed it. So much so that I then applied for more voluntary positions, determined to gain as much experience as I could while I could still just about afford to do so.

Regardless of my new roles though, positive feedback would still simply not arrive. Even after joining nearly every recruitment agency in Birmingham the response was always something along the lines of: “Sorry, Mr Cook. You’re a lovely person, but…” And so on and so forth.

It became increasingly difficult to remain positive and not to take things too seriously or get too offended.

Around Christmas time last year I was desperate. So I went down to the job centre and begged them for any kind of volunteering opportunity. Anything at all, I would do it.

I lost count of how many times I sent my CV off, but eventually – eventually – I got invited to an interview for an unpaid position at a recruitment agency, a position I was then offered and accepted. The irony wasn’t lost on me, don’t worry.

The job wasn’t at all what I imagined I’d be doing after university, not that I knew what that was. It was different to everything I’d known up to that point and at times it was heart-breaking to remember how much money everyone around me was making, whereas I – who was doing the same job – was earning absolutely nothing.

However, I stuck it out for the required two months and added that to my CV, too. I then sent that CV everywhere, until finally in February my luck started to change. I started getting responses! It was thrilling! I got contacted by employers and started attending regular interviews.

If you can find an unpaid position, please don’t be too proud to take it. It might just give you the experience you need.

Fast forward a month or two and I had landed a full-time creative position at a marketing company.

photo provided // Alex Cook

photo provided // Alex Cook

The job was vaguely related to writing, which I love to do, and it would give me a taste of yet another field which is exactly what I wanted from the beginning: to try as many things as I possibly could until I figured out what I really want to do in the long run.

So, for everyone out there, who doesn’t think they can make it with their current experience – or lack thereof – I say this: don’t give up!

Assume that something good is always around the corner. It may take time for it to happen, but you’ll get there. You might, like I was, be 400 applications deep before you start to gain any momentum, you might even be told that your degree is useless and that you wasted 3 years at uni (which is what I was told by a careers adviser at the Job Centre), but YOU simply must believe in yourself and keep going until you get there, wherever “there” may be.

Do everything: volunteer; use the people round you; welcome help and criticism. Take the blows and learn how to get back up again. In the end, you will reach your goal.

After all, if a Classics graduate with no experience can do it, so can you!

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