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I Failed, So You Don’t Have To.

Business Support
Learn from failure

My job as a Recruitment Consultant at Madison puts me in the path of many recent grads. All are on the job hunt; many don’t know exactly what they’re looking for and only a smidgen of them display much motivation for pursuing a career related to their degree. Most just need a job, or some kind and comforting words to help ease them out of  the hedonism of student life, and into the cold harsh reality of adulthood. This is my attempt to help with this process. May you learn from my own experiences.

It all started in the summer of 2011. I was sending out my CV to all the local newspapers in the county because I had just finished the first year of my Journalism degree, and needed experience. Some papers sent back aptitude tests, while a couple replied offering me a week of work experience. So I accepted those offers, and deleted the links to the tests.

Fast forward three years. I had graduated, and was keen to use my degree so I started scouting out potential placements at local papers. Through a friend, I secured a week at my neighbouring town’s weekly paper. I failed to spot that this was essentially a week-long interview.

Alas it did not get off to a great start. I read the office environment completely wrong, failing to see that if I just sat there nervously biding my time to ask if anyone wanted any help…I merely looked like I was doing nothing. Wednesday came, and the editor dropped a piece of paper on my desk. It was an exercise I was to complete: I had 15 minutes to come up with a list of questions to ask the editor about his experiences in the media.

A couple of hours later we sat down to do the interview and I believed it went quite well. I was happy with my performance and felt I had conveyed skills worthy of a reporter. But then the editor turned it round on me:

“So I see you applied for work experience with us two years ago. I found an email I sent you in 2011 with the aptitude test for you to do, but you never responded. You just left it. Why was that Georgia?”

Oh wow. I didn’t know what to say. At the time I had no recollection of this and hadn’t thought back to that summer since, well, that summer! Subsequently I fumbled around for a reasonably legitimate sounding reply:

“I, errr, must have been on holiday…”

“Ok then. So why do you want to be a journalist? Why did you go through all that training and get in all that debt to be a journalist, and yet you don’t have a job? And don’t really seem bothered about getting one?”

“Errr…”

“So your CV says you’ve done all these other placements, but none of them offered you a job? Were you not very good? You’ve said this has been a brilliant week, but you haven’t done anything here. I don’t know what you must have done on your other placements…”

My palms were quite clammy at this point.

“Georgia, your attitude has been really slow and poor this week, you’ve been so quiet; you haven’t asked anyone anything and you’re not buzzing for the job, asking for work, hungry for more to do. You’ve just sat there. An 18 year old can get me their copy quicker than you.”

The roles had been reversed and I was getting a grilling. It was a barrage of criticism that left me feeling very despondent. What on earth was I doing?

So I told the editor that I had wanted to be a journalist because I liked to write. He didn’t like that, and said he thought people that who wanted to be journalists because they liked to write, were depressed, egotistical Morrissey types.

“Oh, well I’m not egotistical or depressed!”

Lies. I definitely felt depressed after that little discussion. I lacked direction, passion, confidence, determination and the hunger. I felt completely and utterly useless.

And thus I did the only helpful thing you can do in that situation—vowed to get better. Knowing what it felt like to have your failures laid out for you, like a really rubbish buffet, was the catalyst I needed to step my game up. Everything he said I took on-board, but I’m only human. His ‘pep talk’ was like someone throwing a bomb into the hole I was already mentally digging for myself. My pit was blown to smithereens, along with any conviction I had.

The new positive outlook was a knee jerk reaction and therefore didn’t last long and by the weekend I felt depressed and Morrissey-like all over again. Friends tried to make me feel better about the conversation, telling me the editor wouldn’t have said those things to someone he’d already confined to the waste bin. I don’t know. The impression I got was that he was irritated because I’d wasted his time, evidenced by the comparisons he made between me and one of the already fully-employed reporters:

“You and Laura have a lot in common. You’re both young ladies and your names both end in a vowel.”

Brilliant.

After our interview, the editor offered me a lift home. In the car he (amazingly) discussed the possibility of me returning every Friday and working on bigger feature pieces for the paper. I accepted. This arrangement went on for a few weeks until I realised that despite my debt, and my 16-year-old self’s dream of becoming a reporter, my heart was not in it.

And hey, work experience wouldn’t be work experience if you didn’t gain anything from it. Chats with the boss taught me how willingness and motivation can be the foundation of ‘being good’. So if you’re going to do something, do it. Put your all into it. Give it everything you’ve got—and if you haven’t got much, you’re not doing something you’re passionate about. Stop. You’re wasting everyone’s time (including your own). If you’re not focused and motivated, you can negatively affect those around you. Remember at school being given a group assignment and having to mobilise that one negative person who doesn’t give a stuff? Don’t be that negative person. You have choices.

So I took the beating, and managed to get something positive from it.

But not a reference. I didn’t dare ask for a reference.