First but not past the post

April 14, 1995

It was never going to be easy. Anyone who has graduated in the last couple of years will know the sense of foreboding that accompanies those first tentative steps into a job market in which graduate opportunities are at their worst for a decade.

Graduating from Hull University last year with a first in American studies, I genuinely felt that I had a lot to offer prospective employers. As a mature graduate of 36, however, I anticipated difficulties. Long practical experience of the job market before returning to full-time education had familiarised me with the narrow-mindedness of the vast majority of employers.

Assuming a positive approach, I fired off countless applications. Realising the need to be flexible, I applied for many varying types of graduate jobs, although I held out more hope for the applications made to the public sector, in particular universities, where I reasoned that my applications might be regarded in a more enlightened way. Being realistic (or so I thought at the time!) I knew I would receive countless rejections, but planned to use the interviews I received constructively to hone my interview technique.

To my great disillusionment I received absolutely no interviews. Even Manchester University, where I had applied to do an MA, refused to interview me. When pressed they claimed this was due to a "clerical error", but by that time I had been refused funding by the British Council, so it was pointless pursuing the matter.

Hungry for feedback, I began phoning the personnel offices of some of the companies I had applied to. Invariably, I was told that they would only provide feedback to people who had actually been interviewed. When dealing with 300 plus applications per vacancy this is perhaps an understandable policy. After six months without a single interview, however, it was becoming clear to me that I was being overlooked on entirely arbitrary grounds. Was it the way I had set out my cv I wondered at one point? Not according to the helpful woman at the University Careers Offices, who passed it with flying colours.

From enquiries I found that the application figures for graduate trainee posts are typically around 300 applicants with around 15 being actually interviewed for the post. The selection procedures employed by graduate employers were, I was assured time and time again, entirely objective. When asked if it was possible that I was being rejected because of my age all the personnel people I spoke to, in both the public and private sectors, were similarly aghast. "Nonsense!" they cried, "we would never discriminate against an applicant because of their age."

This would appear to be entirely disingenuous. Just how does an employer whittle down a group of 300 plus able graduate applicants to a pool of 15 interviewees without applying some kind of arbitrary criteria? This is a serious question which no one I have so far spoken to has addressed in a serious manner.

With cruel timing an article appeared in The THES in November, just when my job hunting was at its most apparently futile, in which the Association of Graduate Employees were reported to be less than impressed with the interpersonal abilities of the current crop of graduates.

Surprisingly, The THES took this at face value, failing to observe the basic absurdity of a process whereby 95 per cent of graduates are attributed, at a careless stroke, with the supposed shortcomings of the 5 per cent who have actually been interviewed. The article also failed to differentiate between the relative qualities that a mature student with long experience of the commercial world has to offer, and those of a fresh-faced 21-year-old with no work experience. This is a startling oversight, particularly given the massive increase in mature students.

Eventually, like most graduates, I found work of a sort, as a social research interviewer. A degree is not needed for the post. Unfortunately it is a part-time job which pays less than I receive on benefits (I am still officially unemployed) but it looks good on my cv, in particular because it entails the use of a lap-top computer to interview the public.

Perhaps I am kidding myself. Four months after starting the job, and nine months after graduating, I have still yet to receive a single interview for a full-time job. Still, I take considerable, if perverse, comfort from the fact that the prospective employers who continue to judge me in my absence and find me wanting are dealing only in prejudice, rather than objectivity. I would probably be feeling far more demoralised if the rejections had come after a gruelling interview process which I had fouled up in some way. Besides, who needs a job now we have the National Lottery . . .

On a more serious note, anyone reading this who has some suggestion as to how I can find a way out of this Kafkaesque situation of endless rejections without interview, please let me know.

Martin Moor

18 Lacrosse Avenue

Oldham, Lancashire

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