You’re fresh out of university with a good degree and big dreams about a career in the city. You start looking for entry-level jobs aimed at graduates but nearly all of them require several years of experience, most likely unpaid work placements.
Although you have the right skills for the job, you simply can’t afford to take unpaid work while paying rent and bills. You need experience to get a job, but you need a job to get experience.
When we think of entry-level jobs, a few common qualities come to mind. Most roles will ask for school qualifications or a higher education degree, as well as soft skills like good communication and working collaboratively with other people. There may be a focus on the ability to learn quickly, too.
However, the reality is often very different. Jobs advertised as entry-level roles - and paid as such - often require one or two years of experience. In today’s market, employers are expecting more than just an education. And it doesn’t matter how much potential people have, or how willing they are to learn and develop. As a result, many young people are struggling to get on the career ladder.
“Organisations transfer the competitiveness of the industry into the selection and hiring process of entry-level talent, which can be seen as unrealistic and limiting,” says Lọ́lá Béjidé, an early careers strategist and the founder of the Soluman Consultancy.
“We are in a competitive environment, with every single sector being fast-paced, therefore organisations have a desire to onboard individuals who will be value-add contributors to the growth of their organisation. How do they determine who these individuals are? By using the age-old metric of academic success, is this the most valid metric? Absolutely not.”
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These are especially difficult times to be a young person looking for a job. The numbers of young people out of work in the UK have reached new highs, with young people accounting for nearly two-thirds of job losses since the pandemic, according to official figures. The pandemic has also put pay to a lot of internships and entry-level jobs - and those that remain are in extremely high demand.
Last year, a report from the Sutton Trust found that 61% of employers surveyed have cancelled all or some of the internships they’d usually offer, while 48% think there will be fewer such opportunities over the next year.
And with fewer junior roles available in the workplace in the aftermath of the pandemic, it’s likely this will have an impact on diversity. If only those with expensive degrees or years of unpaid experience are considered for entry-level roles, people unable to afford to work for free will miss out.
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“The most obvious issue is what we are witnessing now: the inequitable playing field - which impacts individuals from ethnically diverse communities as well as those from social economically challenging environments,” Béjidé says.
“This results in entry-level jobs being occupied by individuals who are deemed to be a good ‘cultural fit’ to the organisation as opposed to organisations engaging and employing individuals who can also be phenomenal ‘culture-add’ contributors to the organisation.”
To address the problem, employers need to set realistic expectations from the outset. “Will entry-level candidates have work experience? Some may, but the large majority will only have work exposure,” Béjidé says. “A tiered entry-level job approach will provide the ability to set differing entry-level roles. One size does not fit all, the vast array of entry-level applicants should be duly catered for.”
There are many ways employers can support young people at the moment, including offering paid work experience and building relationships with local schools and universities.
Apprenticeships are a good way for young people to learn valuable skills while earning money.
And if you are applying for entry-level jobs, it’s important to focus on the experience you do have. Experience might be important, but so is your attitude to work, your personality, your understanding of the company and its activity, motivation, resilience and ideas.
Think back over your past jobs and try to draw links between the experience you need and the experience you have. It’s likely you have transferable skills that you can showcase.