How can graduates get ahead in the toughest jobs market for many years? Our Policy Intern Declan shares his thoughts from his time with us and gives an insight into how valuable an internship can be for learning new skills.

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Finishing university is hypercharged with a variety of contradictory emotions.  For most, it’s a prospect greeted with relief, excitement and or anxiety. I handed in the final piece of coursework on the same day as my birthday and realised that at long last it had finally come to an end.

That 16 year slog through the educational institutions; the threat of deadlines, exams and justifying my grades to my Asian mother. Whilst I could stave off reality for a time, the realities of the free-market are not necessarily as free as I felt on my birthday. 

Figures such as 100 graduates for every graduate job, barely encapsulate the dire mess of the graduate job market.  The 21st century pressures of massification & marketisation have arguably led to what Peter Turchin has termed ‘elite overproduction’: that is too many elite aspirants and too little elite jobs. This reality is the prime cause of stress for many, but it is important to understand that whilst the odds are stacked against us, we still retain some agency. 

Advice for those next steps and the role of luck

This leads me to the only advice I can offer, back yourself. You have to try to put yourself in the position to get lucky. Just like ‘goal-poachers’ in football, who always seem to score “lucky tap ins” because they're in the right place, you too need to make the most of opportunities as and when they arise.

I want to pay tribute to the predominance of luck in securing this internship with the College. When, in the first semester of my final year, I saw an advert for a ‘policy bootcamp’, I applied thinking nothing of it.

At the end of the ‘bootcamp’, there was the opportunity to apply for internships at selected think tanks or charities. Safe to say i didn't make it past the first stage.

My name did not come back up some months later because of a revaluation of my experience, but for the fact that people chosen ahead of me dropped out for various reasons. It’s these lucky breaks, often well outside of your control, that make the difference. You just have to make sure that your name is in there in the first place. 

Putting the work in

Nonetheless, I also learnt from this experience that I did put the work in to get lucky. I had never engaged in university societies and extra-curricular activities such as the bootcamp before; so it was a big venture outside my comfort zone of watching anime and re-reading Lasch in my student flat.  

If i’m being completely honest, I only submitted the application at the end of the bootcamp to prove to myself that I was able. I realised the deadline right at the last minute, and was fully aware that other candidate’s experience vastly outdid my own. 

Spending a day in December writing a policy brief & CV when I should have been studying for my January exams resulted in an opportunity to build concrete workplace experience that I severely lacked, on a project that was both motivating and challenging.  

Real skills and experience

As a result, I’ve gained real-work experience and a whole host of new skills including:

  • Increased self confidence
  • Presentation skills and how to structure them to give the most impact
  • Research skills that will no doubt be vital for future roles in whatever sector I choose to go into

The people I have worked with at the College have been nothing short of incredible, in their willingness to make time for formal and informal mentoring, as well as on a personal level. This experience has bestowed an invaluable wealth of knowledge, preparing me for the world of work just as well as any University module did.

Top tips and words of wisdom

Therefore, what I have learnt from finishing University,  is that you musn’t get too down when doors aren’t opening. Just do your best and focus on developing yourself. Learn new skills where you can and approach each half-opportunity with extreme vigour.  

This is not a guaranteed way to success. I don’t have the next big thing lined up after finishing this internship, and so it’s how I plan to proceed too. A good work ethic is often the best trait that anyone can have - and you don’t know when that lucky break might arise.

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