Wednesday, 14 January 2015

I don't want to work in finance, and I'm not sorry

There's been lots in the news this week about the graduate salaries 2015 university leavers can expect. The average salary a graduate can expect hired by one of the top 100 graduate employers) is £30,000 - a figure that seemed extortionate to me, until I realised that there must be higher salaries being offered to pull that average up. Since, I've learned that embarking on a career in investment banking, accountancy or even management at Aldi can guarantee you a starting salary north of £40,000, not forgetting pension plans, company cars and private healthcare. Graduate life sounds like the dream, huh?

I thought I'd better get prepared for graduate life by dedicating myself to the UCL Careers Fair. First week we kicked off with Management Consultancy, and gradually weaved our way through Banking & Finance, Engineering, IT and Law. Very quickly it became apparent that I wasn't interested in a career in any of these disciplines, and that perhaps the high flying graduate life wasn't going to welcome me. But then I got angry. I'd already decided that I was not prepared to do a job solely for the pay packet, and if this meant that I hadn't bought my own house by 25, and wouldn't spend Christmas on the slopes in Val D'Isere or summers in Santorini, then that was ok. But where were my options? Why did my university offer me the chance to discover only the high paid, exclusive jobs available to me? What if I want to work in retail, go into teaching, journalism perhaps or, god forbid, work for a charity? Where do I go? 

I'm a geography undergraduate, in my second year, and well aware that I need to start thinking about, and preparing for, life after the comforts of university. I applied for a degree in geography, partly, because of its good reputation for employability and, our old favourite, 'transferable skills'. I'm supposed to leave university as a well-rounded graduate, with the ability to offer the diversity of skills that many other degree programmes don't. I've had more part-time jobs, and work experience opportunities, and internships that most students in my position, and I don't think I'm ignorant about the realities of graduate life. The experiences I've had have not always been enjoyable, yet they have been imperative in teaching me about what I don't want to do. I'm not that picky: I want a reasonable work-life balance; I want to work somewhere ethical and responsible; I want to be able to live fairly comfortably but I'm not interested in making millions; and I don't want to work shifts. But, I'm at a Russell Group university; I'm apparently a versatile and desirable geographer; I have experience working and volunteering in a number of industries; I'm on track for a 2:1 - and I can't find anything I want to do at the careers fair. 

My ego has written off management consultancy; my social conscience can't handle finance; my degree and innumeracy discards engineering; and my technophobia bans IT. Law? Maybe law. But I've always been told that I can be whatever I want to be when I grow up, and I believe that. I don't plan on settling for something completely unsatisfying which I'll be forced to spend at least 40 hours a week doing...and resenting...and eventually hating. What I don't understand is why this is so hard to understand. I challenged the careers service on their narrow, uniform selection of career presentations - to which they suggested that maybe I should reconsider, because there really are some very prosperous opportunities here. Opportunities which I'm missing out on. Opportunities that I'll regret not taking. Opportunities there are, but I won't apologise for not wanting to do them, and not being prepared to conform. Just because I live in London, I won't be tarnished with the seemingly bitter London attitude that graduates should aspire solely to these high flying professions. 

So I'm back to square one. I still don't know what I want to do, and I still haven't received any help finding out. Maybe I'll be a careers advisor, and talk to people about jobs that don't offer six-figure salaries that might just be worth considering. But I certainly won't be swindled into taking a soulless, corporate job that I have no interest in because that's what I'm expected to. Somehow I'm not convinced that complimentary company iPhones, champagne networking evenings and having to wear stockings EVERY DAY is going to be for me. And if it's not for you, then that's ok too. 

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