Published September 28th, 2015
by Steven Clark

Like many people, I used to be a graduate. I was lucky enough to secure my first job in May of 2012 before graduating when Radiator Digital were nice enough to give me a shot. I showed up to my interview on time, ran them through a couple of terrible websites I’d designed and built and knew a little bit about their organisation and clients.

The salary was fairly typical of entry level creative industries in Scotland and I was just happy that someone was willing to pay me to do something I loved to do. There was an opportunity to learn, and what was expected of me wasn’t completely beyond my capabilities.

Now there are plenty of blogs, posts, news articles, tips and tricks, podcasts, and other such crap giving advice to recent graduates on how to ace an interview or write a good CV. This isn’t one of them.

This is about agency, PR and media companies who completely take the piss with their graduate job adverts. And like a deaf man in a room full of shy people with sore throats, I’m sick of no one speaking up.

The more I think about it, the perfect graduate creative ad should look like this:

  • Entry level understanding of subject matter or specialist industry e.g. content creation, web design
  • Enthusiasm and willingness to learn
  • Solid experience/portfolio a bonus
  • Relevant degree

Unfortunately I’m not able to dig out Radiator’s old job ad that I applied for but I remember it being words to that effect. Provided you had some knowledge, the right attitude and had spent five minutes learning about the industry/company you wanted to work for you were in with a shot.

Looking at today’s equivalent job ads, I’d have absolutely no chance.

I was recently sent a Graduate Designer job ad by an old colleague, purely for giggles. Among a bunch of standard requirements, it contained the following nuggets:

  • Manage multiple projects at any one time from concept through completion
  • Have an understanding of the requirements for designing for multiple devices
  • Research and develop user personas, sitemaps, user journeys and high-level wireframes alongside a team of UX practitioners
  • Have the ability to lead creative sessions for client project kick-offs

How many graduates are going to have any reasonable understanding of UX without taking a specialist course or managing to secure an internship while at University? How on the ball do they think University courses are with fairly recently industry movements like responsive design? Also “expected to present to clients and manage projects”? This agency wants a graduate designer to be entry level, but also have around 5 years of agency experience at the outset.

Then yesterday, another one. This time for a graduate Digital Content Creator. Among the usual, they wanted applicants with the following skills:

  • Creation of content including: blogposts, memes, photos, video
  • Great creative skills: excellent writing, an eye for a good photo, ability to plan and direct video
  • Social media management for a number of different projects
  • Creative and ambitious of thought – full of innovative ideas
  • Desire to make a difference
  • Experience of working on app and web development (as a nice to have)

Ignoring the frankly sickening reference to “memes”, their ideal graduate is expected to plan, edit and shoot videos and photos, must be full of innovative ideas, have a desire to make a difference and be able to manage multiple social media accounts for multiple clients or projects. All for the low, low price of £16k a year. Sorry, 16k pro-rata, for a 25 hour week.

“But Steven…”, I hear you cry, “what the hell do you know about hiring graduates? You’re a bedroom programmer who sits in his pyjamas all day listening to metal covers of video game soundtracks.”

You may have a point there. In my defence, I did help hire another junior towards the end of my time at Radiator and I remember us posting pretty much the same job ad as the one I applied for, with a couple of small updates. With a nice, general ad we got quite a varied pool of applicants, some over-qualified, many under-qualified, but a diverse group of keen people.

When one of the applicants showed up with a couple of websites, a prepared presentation, and the ability to string two sentences together – we were tripping over ourselves to offer him the job. It took longer than we may have wanted but loading our job ad with unnecessary required specialisms and fake benefits “You’ll get all the tea and coffee you can drink!” would only have alienated potentially great applicants like him who would assume they’re too shit to be considered.

Just because you live and breathe technology, techniques and practices, you can’t expect agency outsiders – least of all graduates –  to have the same variety of knowledge and skills your staff apparently possess. It may be that once your Graduate Designer has 6 months agency experience, they could well manage entire projects. And once your Digital Content Creator has a year under their belt they’ll be ready for the task of planning and shooting a video. But expecting any experience of this at the outset is ridiculous and all you’re going to do is turn enthusiastic talented graduates off, and have to settle for someone from your limited pool of applicants.

It may be that these organisations will easily fill these roles from a pool of incredibly talented and multi-skilled graduates that are much better than I was and indeed am now but when posting job ads like these, it may be worth thinking back to what you could actually do as a graduate. Not just what you claimed you could do. I’d wager that your only notable talents were drinking heavily and procrastinating.

Note: This post originally appeared on the Habanero Digital blog meaning certain parts are probably weirdly self referential or talk about ongoing feuds that probably exist almost exclusively in the mind of the author.

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by Steven Clark

Steven is a designer/developer and wannabe intellectual with an obsessive personality and too much spare time. Don’t follow him on Twitter.

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