Monday, 8 March 2010

What's luck got to do with it?

Am I lucky? Was it luck?

While I might feel "lucky" for want of a better word, I believe there is more to it than luck. Not, of course, to say "I'm bloody brilliant and why wouldn't anyone hire me", not at all, but I think there are certain things that can improve your chances of getting the good news phone call. Note, I say improve, not guarantee.

I know where to look for jobs related to my career aspirations. Politics/public sector graduates like me have a few websites to source employment opportunities, internships and other experience. Namely these are sites like guardianjobs, w4mp, eurobrussels, euractiv, publicaffairs. However, I also kept an eye on various other sites - individual companies/organisations, local job sites, even jobs direct. If I found a good job on these sites instead, I targeted it first.

Why? Because jobs advertised on specific sector sites are (probably, I admit I'm using no insider knowledge here) advertising to a specific market. Most of the positions are based in London (I'll get to that) and the applicants probably had very similar CVs and career aspirations as me. That makes it difficult to stand out. It makes the competition a lot tougher.

I did consider that not being London-based would be a disadvantage for someone in my position. I live in rural Scotland. However, there are opportunities to be found. Maybe I am lucky to some extent that I live near enough to a variety of good Universities where I secured some interviews for relevant jobs, and also it seems, a good pool of regional offices.

I had applied for various positions in London/Brussels, with mixed results. I had made the assumption of tough competition and oversubscription; of course it is hard to speculate that if the local jobs I had applied for had been in a different setting would I have had similar results? But by keeping the notion of the big city in the back of my mind, rather than being the focus of my job hunt, I had some ego-boosting local experiences instead. And I discovered that ego-boosting is just as important as getting an actual job.

The other thing that is vitally important - experience. Most grads get that 'degree is not enough' tagline shoved down their throats enough times, but it's very true.

Here's a timeline for you:

- I studied that 'useless' subject Film and TV at Uni (alongside Politics).
- I used that as a hook to getting to write film reviews for the student magazine. I wasn't even very good, but it was a new magazine and I got there first.
- I learned a bit more in the subediting/design side of the magazine.
- I got summer job helping with a summer newsletter, giving me office experience.
- I got a Politics degree, and with office experience, got admin jobs with government in specific policy fields... which, strangely (or not so strangely) relate to where I am now.

I absolutely didn't plan it that way. I remember one evening sat on my stoop in the city, watching the moon in the sky and the traffic passing by, crying down the phone to a friend. She was in a 'perfect' job, earning above the national average, had a car and a flat and was generally enjoying life. I was struggling to pay my rent, exhausted from studying and working and all of the rest of it, and not even sure if it was all going to be worth it. I was jealous of her life while mine seemed so uncertain and messy.

"It's all in your head" she reassured, "you worry it's not worth it, that you don't know where you're going, but I promise you that on the outside you appear sorted. You've got good work experience and everything will fit together. It will."

It hadn't surfaced in my mind at the time that the very friend I was confiding in had had her own roundabout way to her current position. She'd started a Post Grad course and dropped out during the final furlong, moved back in with her parents and spent some time freaking out about her next step when an opportunity arose (incidentally related to a summer job she once had).

This all demonstrates how you can use one thing to lead to another, or how you can let your interests lead the way down a windy forked career path.

Recently there have been further difficulties in taking that path - recession and a bad job market. I don't want to use the "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" line, but things I had thought were disadvantages: living far away from big cities/urban hubs, and having previously taken temporary office roles, I inadvertently managed to use to my advantage.

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