Throughout the final year of my degree, and with the end increasingly in sight, the question of “what next?” constantly permeated my thoughts. Deeply convinced that I did not want to become one more anonymous junior executive at a large multinational, I decided to apply for opportunities within independent agencies. Their unique personalities and cultures, which often break away from the rigid corporate structures found at larger organisations, appealed to me most. However, as a recent graduate from Cambridge University, an institution where tradition and rigour are the foundation of daily academic life, the informality of the application and interview processes that I encountered still took me by surprise.
Having experienced clear evaluation and selection procedures in high school, through university applications and throughout their degrees, the contrasting uncertainty posed by the first job search is a challenge facing millennials around the world.
It is therefore no wonder that graduates from top UK universities increasingly gravitate towards highly-structured graduate programmes. This smooth transition can mitigate the tensions and struggles of the young job-seeker. From marketing executives to first-time bankers, young professionals increasingly expect their first job to resemble their previous academic experience through thorough training, induction sessions and even organised after-work sport clubs and socials. The extensive mentoring resembles university tutorial systems, thus taking away the pressure of having too many tasks and little clue of how to successfully complete them.
The country’s largest companies and employers have realised what makes fresh graduates tick: the sense of certainty and reassurance found in a highly defined job description. Young professionals are increasingly willing to trade off opportunities afforded to them in a start-up culture for the perceived security a graduate programme provides. It is no wonder that employers go the extra mile to retain their youngest employees with this promise of certainty. Ultimately, many are forced to cover up exhausting and even monotonous market research jobs with little meaning. A close look at graduate recruitment language highlights its resemblance to that used by respected academic institutions. Themes like leadership, regular feedback and tight evaluation, and rewards for good work, are constantly found in the day-to-day of university students.
Working at an independent agency is a completely different experience. As an intern I have been treated as one of the team from the beginning. Your success depends on your ability to observe your surroundings and, most importantly, your willingness to develop your own abilities. Nevertheless, despite being less structured, this learning process is highly gratifying.
During my first month at KISS, I have been involved in a range of projects that have challenged me to develop skills I did not encounter throughout my degree. As a student, I was often faced with elaborate theories that I had to discuss or even contribute to through intricate language and empirical arguments. As an account executive, I work with a number of other members of the KISS team to break down complex issues that clients find hard to understand on their own, analyse each component and articulate a solution in terms that are clear and practical. This involves a large dose of trust in your team members’ expertise. I believe the direct responsibility that has been handed over to me at KISS has helped me understand the nature of my role quickly and effectively. At KISS, I am encouraged to ask questions and contribute my own ideas. The opportunity to develop professionally in such a dynamic environment, where my opinion matters, has helped me build the self-confidence I lacked as an undergraduate.
With each cohort of university students graduating each year, the anxiety about competition for graduate jobs at large corporations increases. This conception of structured training programmes as the best option for young professionals neglects the opportunities available for both their personal and professional development in independent organisations where they can shine.