By Samuel Betley
It’s that time of the degree. As a fresher, nothing really mattered apart from getting paralytic at least three times a week and trying to convince a handful of new people that you weren’t too weird. Second year arrived, and with it the realisation that 40% probably wasn’t going to cut it for parents still reeling from your failure to get into Oxbridge. You started putting some effort in, ideally scraping a 2:1 if the late-night summative work was able to make up for the inevitably poor exam revision.
Then, third year. It hits you like a freight train. You finish second year optimistically hoping that you’ll never spend so much time in the ‘Billy B’ ever again, but summative-only modules and the small matter of a dissertation soon obliterate that idea.
So, after a mere two weeks as a finalist, the dissertation is (very) slowly taking shape, and tracts of time are taken up by reading, seminars, and the rest. You think you don’t have time to do anything else. Then some know-it-all reminds you that you’re supposed to have a job once you leave.
Employers are turning to more innovative sifting methods
Naïvely, I didn’t think obtaining a graduate job would be too difficult. After all, aren’t Durham graduates meant to be some of the most sought-after? You wouldn’t think so, judging by the speed with which numerous graduate schemes inform you of your unfortunate rejection.
Yet a brief lull in the rate at which I am firing out applications has given me time to reflect on the processes involved. Despite figures from the ONS reporting record U.K employment levels in June 2017, for graduates, the job market appears to be just as saturated as ever.
As a result, employers are turning to more innovative methods of sifting through the piles of applications that pour in at this time every year. In addition, anonymity now plays a central role due to positive efforts to increase diversity in the workplace. Nevertheless, I was amazed at the tiny amount of personal details that some graduate schemes request during the early stages of the application.
Instead, the initial assessments now focus on an online examination of numerical and verbal reasoning, as well as character traits that employers judge favourably. Apparently, if my online assessments to this point are anything to go by, I have the situational judgement of Napoleon or Hitler when they contemplated invading Russia.
How far are we willing to go to make ourselves look employable?
However, it is probable that by judging applicants on their results, without considering their social class or educational background, employers are helping to provide a significant boost in favour of both ability and diversity in the workplace.
Other aspects of the application were less rational, and some requirements came as a complete surprise. The personal details stipulated by one business opportunity included the applicant’s Twitter account. As it happens, I have already been dragged kicking and screaming into the modern job market, and my Twitter and LinkedIn details are on my C.V.
For some graduate schemes though, even this is not enough. It has been suggested that a number of employers now even ask for Facebook and Instagram details. This development leads to an important question: how far are we willing to go to make ourselves look employable?
As someone who puts a very high value on individual liberty and privacy, my response to this question is clear. Even if my dream job were at stake, I would not be prepared to give certain personal details to a prospective employer.
I must have the situational judgement of Napoleon or Hitler
What, precisely, do the organisations seek to gain by accessing the Instagram accounts of students? I’m sure that many Durham finalists wouldn’t want their own mother to see the visual evidence of their alcohol-fuelled antics. The answer is not for us to be more careful about what we publish on social media. The answer is for employers to reassess precisely what it is that they need to know about us.
Yet the combination of student debt with a high cost of borrowing, and the condition of the job market means, regrettably, that we need employers more than the employers need us. For now, we must accept that we cannot set the terms of the debate.
And so begins the inevitable, yet often pointless, grind of churning out applications for graduate schemes that, statistically, have a negligible chance of success. Happy job hunting!
Photograph: José Carlos Cortizo Pérez via Flickr and Creative Commons