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Costly fees,no jobs and overdrafts...so how do these young women prove it’s still best doing it by degrees?

As graduation season starts, Laura McGarrity finds out it’s not all bad news for those seeking work.

You get the right A level grades, you go to university, you work hard for three or four years, you graduate and get the job you wanted — it used to be so simple, but not any more.

With graduation ceremonies taking place over the coming weeks, thousands will make the big leap from student life into the real world.

Putting on your gown, toasting your success and posing for mandatory pictures in front of your university make graduation one of life's big milestones.

Ask any student and they'll say graduating is definitely something to remember, but it isn't all celebration. Watch the news or open any newspaper, this one included, and you won’t escape the latest reports on unemployment, news of cutbacks and pay freezes.

We’re living in what's said to be the worse economic depression for many decades, so the high of finishing their degree for many graduates is short-lived as they discover there are no jobs out there for them to utilise their skills, expertise and enthusiasm.

Yet despite the negativity of the job market, there are still bright young things who are managing to land their dream job right out of university, proving there is hope out there.

Some of them tell us how life is turning out as they had hoped.

Lana: the fashion accounts executive

Lana Richardson (21) is an accounts executive for fashion and beauty at Digital Advertising NI. She is from Portadown and is single. She says:

After school I went to university to study languages, but I always wanted to write and loved the idea of working in fashion and beauty. After a year I left my course and decided to study journalism.

I really regret leaving university — it was a silly decision — but I think I was too young to realise how much employers like people with languages and how hard it would be to get a job.

Before going to study journalism at the Belfast Met, I started a blog called The Style Cave. I really like high fashion and fashion shows and it was a way for me to write about them. The blog started to get quite a bit of attention and that was great as it allowed me to make great contacts.

I started my journalism course in September last year and I was just looking forward to doing it. I didn't really think about getting a job after it finished. Half way through my course I was completely panicking that I would never get a job. I looked everywhere, and sent my CV to loads of publications, but the feeling amongst my friends was that there was nothing out there. I got a placement in the Community Telegraph and went on to have a few shifts there, but I started to realise strict journalism wasn't for me.

In April I saw a job advertised on Facebook for an accounts executive for fashion and beauty and I knew straight away that it would be my perfect job, so I applied.

It was coming up to exam time, so I sort of forgot about it, but then I got an interview and was offered the job.

Now that I am employed I have to say I am so relieved. When I was looking for jobs, I think the worry that I would never get one was getting to me more than the stress of looking for one. It is just great to be working in fashion and beauty and I feel like I am being put to good use.

I really worked hard at my course and also in making the right contacts in the industry in Belfast and it paid off. I think a bit of luck comes in to it as well.

The job market is tough, but not impossible. A lot of people just assume there aren't any jobs and are put off looking.

People can spend an awful lot of time complaining about there being no jobs when they could be spending time filling in applications of jobs that are advertised. If you work really hard and want it, you'll get it ... I think.”

Charlotte: the midwife

Charlotte Elliot (24) is a midwife. She is single and lives in Belfast. She says:

I graduated in September last year and then moved to London to work for a few months. In the meantime, I was put on a waiting list for the South-Eastern Trust and was very lucky to get a job in the Ulster Hospital. I started just after Christmas.

People can sometimes think doing a vocational degree means that you have a better chanceof getting a job, but I never really thought that way. I decided to do midwifery after I took a gap year and went to Bolivia to work with street children.

Many of the teenagers I worked with were pregnant, so when I came home it made me want to apply to do midwifery. At that time I didn't think about what would happen after my degree was over.

When I was about to graduate I knew there wasn't much funding about for midwife positions, as some of the girls from the previous year still hadn't got a job. So I decided to go to London to work for a while as a midwife and, looking back, it really was a good decision because it gave me lots of experience.

Before I went to London I went to interviews with as many trusts as I could, including the South-Eastern Trust; that way if any jobs came up I would have a chance of getting one. When you do an interview you are given a score and the best scorers get a job if one comes up. Waiting lists can be six-12 months long and if you don't get a job in that time you have to reapply.

I was offered a job in the Ulster Hospital starting in February. At the time of my interview, there were 50 other applicants, most of whom I knew from my university course, so it was definitely competitive.

Now I've been in my job for about three months I've definitely realised how different it is from working on placement. There isn't a mentor to guide you, you have to remember everything and trust yourself that you know what you're doing. I think my time in London really boosted my confidence.

I don't think it as bleak as people make out as far as employment goes — there are jobs around if people want them.

If I had any advice for this year's graduates it would be to put yourself out there as much as you can, the more interviews you have, the better. Even if you don't really want the job, it will help your nerves and when that big job comes up you will be more prepared for it.

I think midwives might be put off by jobs that are in trusts that are too far away, but they should just go for it, because they will give you experience and, at the end of the day, a salary.”

Ciara: the speech therapist

Ciara McCormac (23) is a speech and language therapist (SLT). She is single and originally from Whiteabbey, but now lives in Aberdeen. She says:

At school I knew I wanted a job working with kids and also in some form of healthcare. I literally spent one afternoon on the NHS Careers website and found this job title. I really liked the sound of helping people communicate, something a chatterbox like me takes for granted.

At that point I was just really naïve and presumed that if I had the bit of paper saying I had a degree then I’d be sorted — little did I know.

After school I went to Newcastle University to study speech and language therapy and they were really good at giving us a lot of useful help and advice on how to get onto the job ladder. We even had a local SLT manager come in to give us tips and advice on what she looked for in applications and interviews from SLTs.

In my last year of university it finally hit home how difficult it was going to be to get a job. I’d known from pretty early on that it would be unlikely I’d get a job at home, as very few jobs came up even over the course of the time I was studying.

The girls who had graduated the year before us had taken longer to get their first posts than previous years so everyone was quite pessimistic. By the time graduation was looming, I was really dreading entering the big bad world.

When I finished university I was pretty broke so I had no option but to move back home to sponge off my parents. I also needed to pass my driving test, so I spent last summer learning to drive and applying for paediatric SLT job vacancies everywhere and anywhere. I was also lucky enough to get a job working on a bursary which looked good on the CV.

Once I passed my driving test in September I applied for a few more jobs and happened to get two interviews; one in Kent and one in Aberdeen a week apart, which just shows you how big my search was.

I then got an offer from the Aberdeen position.

At the time it was really exciting to go to a new city, but then on the other hand I was terrified. It was so different to moving to university when there were hundreds of other people in the same boat as you all looking to make new friends. This time I was going by myself, to somewhere I’d visited once at my interview, and where I had no friends and no connections.

To be honest, I struck it pretty lucky moving to Aberdeen. I’m doing a job I love that challenges me every day. I started with another new graduate and three other recent-ish graduates, so I already had a friendship group set up at work.

I just can’t believe that this time last year I was moping around moaning that I’d never get a job and here I am living the newly qualified SLT dream.

My advice to any new graduate is keep your options open and don’t give up at the first hurdle, because there are jobs out there if you really want it and are willing to go and find them.”

Nicole : the staff nurse

Nicole Lyons (23) is a staff nurse at the Mater Hospital Belfast and lives in the city. She says:

I've wanted to be a nurse ever since I can remember. I wanted to do something that would make a difference to people's lives.

After school I went to study nursing at Queen's University and at the time getting a job didn't even cross my mind. From day one we were made aware of how bad the job market was in Northern Ireland for nurses. We were encouraged to consider looking for jobs worldwide. Queen’s did a big recruitment drive around 2005 and that meant there were more people seeking jobs, making it more difficult to get one here.

Besides the negativity around getting a job the course itself really was a shock for me. Studying nursing you really don't get the student experience everyone imagines. Our time was split 50-50 between class and placement and we had nine or 10 hour days.

In third year we were invited to big recruitment days for nursing jobs in London. They offered easy application for Queen's students, your pick of hours, trusts and contracts, but because I am such a home-bird I really didn't want to go to London even if it meant getting a job.

At that time I really felt bitter as just two years before us newly graduated nurses walked into jobs in their ward of choice with ease.

When I graduated I was unemployed for six weeks and I started to rethink London and nearly applied to some of their jobs. Luckily, I then got a job in a nursing home in Belfast, but I still wanted a job in a hospital where there are more opportunities to learn and progress.

I then applied for a job as a staff nurse in the Belfast Trust.

When it came round to the interview, it really was like a cattle market; there were so many people waiting for their name to be called. The first thing the interviewer told me was that there were 480 applicants for the job. I just thought ‘Why am I here? I have no chance'. We had to state our preference of department and applicants were then ranked in order from how well they did in their interviews. From there, jobs were assigned according to your preference and score, so it really was a lottery.

In July I was offered a job as a staff nurse in a medical ward and I was so pleased. I thought it would be a great start-off job, because of how varied it would be and I would learn a lot.

On my first day on the job I was shell-shocked. I was given the keys and left to get on with it. There was no opportunity to shadow, because of how understaffed hospitals are. It was sink or swim and for the first few months I really thought I was sinking. Now I have settled in I'm so pleased to be in a permanent, full-time job and I love what I do.

Out of my year I would say 70-80% of the graduates have got jobs, so I do think the job market isn't as bad as people make out. Saying that, a lot have gone overseas.

If I had any advice it would be to be positive and not to be fussy. When I graduated I applied for everything and anything, even jobs in a supermarket. I made the most of working at a nursing home, even though I didn't want to work there, but I used it to my advantage and it helped me get the job I am in now, which I love.”

Why it’s still good to go to uni

  • Graduates can earn an average of £100,000 more in their lives that non-graduates
  • Many big companies target and recruit those fresh out of |university for graduate training schemes
  • You can develop skills in any field you like. There around 50,000 types of courses available at universities around the UK
  • Many degrees require a work-placement which can often lead to employment after graduation

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