I was relatively lucky when I graduated. I only worked unpaid for around six weeks – four weeks at a think tank and two weeks here – before a newspaper started paying me to write. Lucky, because that was near enough as long as I could afford to stay in London. Had I been forced to wait much longer, I would probably have gone home to Birmingham to find a job in a bar to save money. Most likely, I would have given up on my hopes of working in journalism to go into a well-paying job in management consultancy or law, as many of my friends have.
“Diddums” would no doubt be the reaction of many readers to that predicament, and they’re right – City jobs are hardly so bad. But the reason I would have taken one of those jobs is that big City employers, unlike most, still take untrained, inexperienced graduates, at least if you have the right degree. But if you want to find a job in the media, in politics, in the charitable sector, or in essentially anything else, up to and including serving in a bar, you need experience. It’s the classic Catch-22 situation: to get experience, you need a job, but to get a job, you need experience. The solution, inevitably, is that people end up working for free.