Snakes and ladders

July 19, 1996

Finding a job is a process fraught with tough decisions. Four graduates describe their experiences.

Paul Wilkes, from Barrow upon Soar, gained a 2:1 in mathematics from Leicester University. He also got on his bicycle during his three-year course to win several road races and represented Britain at the European Under-23 Championships.

But Mr Wilkes's time-consuming cycling passion may have to be sacrificed. He has been looking for an accountancy job since the end of last year. When he does find work he doubts there will be time to ride as well as go to work and study for accountancy exams.

"I've been applying for account clerks jobs as well - they are below what I really should be looking at, but I can't get my foot into the door of anything to do with accountancy unless I have got some experience," he says.

While cycling may use up time and energy that might be devoted to a career, Mr Wilkes thinks it has impressed potential employers.

"I think it has got me a few interviews - I've got that extra, the discipline. Employers like that."

Nicola Brown, of Dukinfield near Manchester, has just finished a law degree at Durham University. Although graduates with a 2:2 degree or higher are guaranteed a place at the university's law school, the one-year course costs Pounds 5,000. That and the lack of job prospects has persuaded Ms Brown not to go on this year. Instead, she plans to work and do two two-week placements with Manchester law firms. She hopes one of the firms will offer her a training contract and sponsor her through law school. Ms Brown says placements are a chance to impress. The students who had them last summer were the ones who got training contracts.

In her view, looking for jobs before finishing the degree and taking part in the annual "milk round" of interviews for major firms is too disruptive in the final year. She has opted to wait until this year's round in November.

Julian Turner, of Portsmouth, graduates this week with a first-class honours in engineering from the University of Portsmouth.

The programme allows students to spend 12 months in a sandwich work placement, making the course four years long rather than three. Mr Turner took the option and worked for Balfour Beatty as a student engineer on the Heathrow-Paddington rail tunnel.

"Looking back, I enjoyed it, but at the time I thought 'What am I doing here?' It was an eye-opener and I did learn a lot, especially about communication," he says.

Mr Turner's search for work has been simple - Balfour Beatty recently offered him a place in its graduate recruitment scheme.

He says the job offer was a result of the time the firm had to assess and evaluate him. Of the six students who took a year off to work during the degree, all have had job offers.

The market for graduate engineers is quite strong, Mr Turner believes, even for students with less practical work experience.

Portsmouth's engineering graduates are well respected by employers which he admits made the job hunt much easier.

Louise Swann of Willingdon near Eastbourne was a mature student at University of London's Goldsmiths College. She has just gained a first in drama and theatre.

The three-year course has been a financial struggle as well as hard work. She also had to put in many hours at rehearsals and work voluntarily on theatre productions as well as be a house cleaner, bar tender and bookshop assistant to pay the bills.

Ms Swann has applied to do an MA at Sussex University and would like to go on to do a doctorate and teach at university.

The decision does not mean an end to theatre work; indeed she started on a show the day after her final exam.

"There's no validity if you don't pursue the practical, creative side at the same time," she says.

Despite her academic ambitions, Ms Swann is aware of the volatility of both theatre and academe. "You can have a burst of success and then fade away into nothing - you need something there in reserve, whichever route you take, and higher education isn't the safe haven it used to be."

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