Between a Redbrick and a Recession


As I sit at my desk surrounded by application forms, desperately trying to squeeze my entire personality into a 300 character box, I take a moment to contemplate how I got here. As a graduate from an excellent university and the proud owner of a Masters I wonder why there are just so many application forms surrounding me and why there are just so many rejection emails in my inbox and I spare a sympathetic thought for my fellow graduates who are puzzling out the same problems. There is an army of us around the world, all tapping away on keyboards, selling our souls to the devil and vainly trying to understand what went wrong. Like everyone else who has travelled the conventional roads of academia we all spent our time and energy honed in on the end goal, the big prize at the end of the race, the one thing that would make it all worth it: graduation! We started our journey at GCSEs and panicked that we were not making the right choices because if we didn’t get good grades, we wouldn’t get the A levels we wanted and in turn we wouldn’t get into a good university and therefore we would never achieve our goal. However, after all our deliberations we realised we had passed our GCSEs and after a short summers respite we carried on in our journey towards the celestial finishing line. During a hectic two years in 6th from we began to understand that our journey was certainly taking a turn uphill and the climb was getting harder. GCSEs had only been the base camp and now we had started the real trek up the mountain. Despite this realisation we managed to prevail and it was all worth it as we got into the universities our hearts desired. Although the climb was far from over, the thought of seeing the view at the top of the mountain was surely worth it. We would stand one day on our mountain tops and look down at a glorious view. In our cases it was the graduation stage we would be standing on and the view would be a glittering array of job offers and prospects. After all the hard work, cramming and studying, we would get something back. This is what we had been trained for and told to believe in all our lives. If you work hard in school and study diligently then you would get the job of your dreams, make heaps of money and live a happy life. Even if material satisfaction wasn’t your angle, the job of your dreams, whether it made you rich or poor awaited you none the less. Our parents and elders constantly told us that those who dropped out of academia, left school at sixteen or even university after the first year, were indeed failures and would never ever get the chance to even dream of the jobs that we could be getting. This fear combined with the rose tinted view of our job opportunities propelled us forward into the first year of university.

After much ado about…well nothing, we completed first year and gradually one by one we all settled down to the routine of academia and the serious plight of the would be graduate. As we sat pouring over Aristotle’s politics, Platos republic, theories of law, the language of Shakespeare, impossible maths equations, Hitler’s Germany, geographical trends and chemical substances we realised that we had nearly reached the summit and we were in the back breaking stage of the final push. We nostalgically looked back to the beginning of our journey when we had thought that GCSE and A-Level exams had been the hardest thing ever and smiled fondly at our naivety. And so we carried on, scrambled through our final exams and dissertations and finally we stood upon the peak of our mountains. Clutching our scrolls and mortar boards we prepared to take in the breath-taking view and finally reap the rewards of our toil and struggle. However, the view was far from beautiful. Instead of stepping into the outstretched arms of eager employers, the lush valleys of remarkable jobs and the winding river of opportunity we fell from our mountain top into a barren wasteland of the economic recession. Instead of the scintillating prospects that were promised to those who embarked upon the roads of learning, we graduated with a soaring unemployment rate in one hand and an economic recession in the other. They were for us, the new scroll and mortar board.

Despite these disappointments many of us remained positive, perhaps naively so, and armed with optimism we were spurned on into the halls of learning once more. However, after various postgraduate classes and any extra studying was finished, we stood once more, tall and proud, looking at the view. Despite climbing an even higher mountain the view had not improved and the recession still loomed large and unforgiving. So as I contemplate my journey through academia and look around once more at my bundles of application forms I realise that I have not arrived at the promised land, or in fact, anywhere near it. Instead of building a career I sit applying for jobs that I should have been doing as part time work through university and attempting to squash my personality into ‘no more than 300 words’. The entire process is draining and mind numbingly dull. Our brains have spent years upon years being nurtured and cultivated for this time in our lives yet I am vainly trying to come up with eloquent answers as to why I would be ‘the perfect employee’ or what would my ‘three top tips to aspiring Prime Minister Ed Miliband would be’ or even, ‘what would you do with one pound’. As I read these exasperating questions that employers dream up for us, most probably just to make our lives difficult, I violently resist the urge to write a strong worded letter to the CEO of the company complaining about his application process. At the end of the day I’m never going to be the perfect employee as none one actually is, I most certainly have no idea what to tell Ed Miliband as he has a team of professionals doing that for him and let’s be honest, you’re never going to give me one pound and tell me to do something with it so for the love of Christ give it a rest. The entire process is soul destroying. And just when you think it can’t get any worse, they give you that final question: ‘Is there anything else we should know?’ Now this dreaded question is optional and we are not obligated to write anything at all; however, warning bells immediately start going off in our head as we desperately try to think of anything amazing we have done in order to woo our potential employers. Our tired brains have already spent hours agonizing over every single word in our application and we have finally managed to think of something semi intelligent to say to the unintelligent questions they have asked us all along and the idea of having to come up with something new and completely dazzling is enough to make us want to throw our overused laptops straight out of the window. And so for a very brief second we contemplate leaving it blank; however, the realisation that they may possibly discard your very application from the pile as you have nothing interesting to say dawns upon us, and we once more valiantly return to our computers, silently cursing all those people who told us that university was the way to an excellent career.  

While I continue on my plight I spare another thought for my fellow youths, graduates or not, and wonder what they are doing in such turbulent times and I can’t help but wonder if the various revolts and revolutions around the world are, in some way, a result of soaring unemployment rates and a distinct lack of opportunity. While I have sat at my laptop and put all my energy into forming grammatically correct answers to ridiculous questions, others all over the Middle East have spurned their energies into uprisings and rebellions. Even London was taken over by a series of riots as young, bored, fed-up youths took control of the streets. Certainly some of the application forms I have had to wade through are definitely worthy of a mutiny let alone a riot. Perhaps we would have been better equipped for life today if we had taken three years of ‘How to overthrow a government’, course 303. Perhaps our three years studying literature was completely worthless as now the only thing it seems to be good for is to use the heavy books we acquired along the way as ammunition in the next riot, rebellion or revolution. Our entire generation bought into the dream of the graduate and in doing so we ironically shot ourselves in the foot. The market is now saturated as thousands of graduates all apply for the same job. Universities accept students by the bucket-load yet employers certainly do not and so we have ourselves a slight conundrum. Our parents never pushed the roads less travelled and those youths who ended their education at sixteen to pursue apprentice positions or gain experience have certainly done just that. As we spent the nights partying, the mornings missing lectures and the afternoons learning long dead theories of philosophy, our counterparts were in the workplace, learning the business and gaining promotions. And now it is they who sit and laugh at us as we thread our way in and out of numerous interviews as they carry on working in jobs they earned years ago.

There doesn’t seem to be any perfect solutions or even ideas I can come up with to ease the suffering of the jilted graduate, yet their never seems to be when you are stuck between a rock and a hard place. So instead I return to my laptop, pick up the next application form and squash down the desire to write that I’m not actually perfect for this job at all yet it’s the best of a bad bunch as I’m sure that such a comment will probably not work in my favour and instead I sit and try to think of something completely original and innovative to say, just like everyone else.

Salma El-Wardany