If you’ve come to this page, you’ll go far. There’s a lot of shonky careers advice out there, penned by people with shady agendas. So before you take any of it, it’s smart to ask questions about where it comes from.
As an experienced journalist, Tanya isn’t offended by your nosiness. In fact, she’s impressed. So what would you like to ask?
Er, who are you?
“I’m a journalist, blogger and the author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession. I’m 32 and I live in London.”
Why did you write the book?
“Because someone had to. How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession is the book I needed when I graduated (in 2000, with a 2:1 in psychology from Durham University). Back then, of course, we weren’t in a recession, but I was shocked by how uninspiring, limiting and – let’s just say it – boring graduate careers advice was. I also found it was geared towards the people who needed it the least. You needed to know what you wanted to do for the next 40 years before a careers adviser could help. To me, this seemed nuts. What about the rest of us, who had no idea and felt completely overwhelmed?”
Which came first, the book or Graduate Fog?
“Graduate Fog launched in April 2010 – and the book has only just come on sale [May 2012]. But How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession is not my first book – its predecessor Dude, Where’s my Career? The Guide for Baffled Graduates came on sale in June 2008, and sold 3,000 copies. The new book was going to be an updated version of that – but when I started work on it I realised it needed a totally new structure, approach and tone. So much has changed for graduates in the last year or two – and this kind of content needs to be bang up to date to be useful to jobseekers.”
What do you know that other careers people don’t?
“That this generation of graduates are facing an unprecedented struggling to find their footing on the career ladder. Tuition fees have put you into debt before you’ve even started, everyone seems to expect you to work for free – in the form of unpaid internships – even though this is completely illegal and nobody else does it, and many of those jobs that are paid offer very low salaries that are impossible – or very difficult – to live on. In this climate, graduates need career advice that answers the questions they are asking now – not the questions graduates were asking ten years ago. The rules of the game have changed – and I want graduate to know what they are. When the stakes are this high, giving you crusty old careers advice simply isn’t good enough.”
Why do you care so much about a subject as boring as careers advice?
“Because I don’t think it has to be boring! I think that’s just the way that it’s been done so far. It bugs me that there is a more modern, inspiring, engaging way of presenting the whole subject of careers – but that most universities are still doing such a bad job of it. I also feel strongly that the universities should be accountable in this department – especially now they are charging huge fees. Some of their advice is old-fashioned but relatively harmless (like the idea of needing to ‘choose your career’ aged 21 – eventually you’d figure out that’s rubbish, even without me). But some of it is dangerously misleading – and could push you even deeper into debt, without improving your job prospects at all – and I have a big problem with that. Basic messages are clearly not getting through to you. For example, if you’re considering to do an expensive postgraduate course, you need to know exactly what you’re going to do with it afterwards – and make sure that employers in your field value it more than a year of experience. If you don’t know either of these things, don’t do the course. Why is nobody telling you this? I also think they have a duty to inform you about your rights as interns – and too many universities are not doing this. In fact, many are advertising internships which they know are likely to be illegal.”
Is bad career advice really leading graduates to make big mistakes?
“Yes – and it’s costing some of you thousands of pounds. When graduates cheerfully tell me you’re heading off to do an expensive postgraduate qualification simply to ‘avoid the recession,’ that you’re not sure what you’ll do with it but it’s ‘the best course in the country,’ I’m chilled to the core. Who has told you this is a good investment? And, when I realise you have no understanding of how digital technology has turned the media industry on its head and you’re merrily hoping to start a long and lucrative career in print journalism, I want to grab you and shake you. Has nobody told you that several national newspapers are on the brink of closing because the industry is in such serious trouble now that consumers expect news content for free, online? Graduate Fog and How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession are not just about giving graduates practical advice on job-hunting. I also want to show you why it’s vital to see your job hunt in the wider context of the changing world of work around us. Spending thousands on a pointless MA or trying to start a career in a declining industry is not ‘following your dream’ – it’s a bad plan. So let’s make a new one that’s better.”
Why haven’t I heard about you before? Are you working with university careers centres?
“Not at the moment – and that doesn’t look likely to happen any time soon. I’ve been banging on about the need for better graduate careers advice for two years – but the universities refuse to even acknowledge there’s a problem with what they’re doing at the moment. I know, it’s bonkers. Instead, I receive ranty emails from them asking how I could even suggest that they could be doing a better job. So, for the moment, that road is going nowhere. But hopefully once they see with their own eyes how popular Graduate Fog and How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession have become, they might start to understand what I mean. We can but dream.”
Is ‘graduate careers guru’ your only job? And does it pay?
“No, it’s not my only job. I’ve been a freelance features writer (magazine journalist) since 2002 and have written for GLAMOUR, Cosmopolitan, Grazia, Stylist, Fabulous (the Sun) and You (Mail on Sunday) among many others. For the moment, that’s how I pay my rent. I get a teensy income from the companies who advertise on Graduate Fog, and I hope to earn a bit from the new job board (coming July 2012). How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession should earn me a small income too, but I have to pay off the costs of getting the book designed and subbed before I see any profit. So all this careers stuff is hardly making me rich. I’m in talks with some companies interested in sponsoring Graduate Fog, but so far I’ve funded this entire site myself and all the time I spend on it is pretty much completely unpaid.”
Did become a journalist straight after you graduated?
“No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do – but was (mistakenly) sure it would ‘come to me’ if I waited long enough. It didn’t. I went home to live with my parents, where my confidence evaporated and my self-esteem nose-dived. That summer I worked as a very grumpy ‘Office Angel,’ de-stapling (yes, literally removing the staples from pieces of paper). It was, in a word, crap. When autumn arrived and I still had no direction, I took a job as a ‘front of house manager’ (receptionist) at a small recruitment firm in central London. It sounds boring but it really wasn’t. It was the perfect first job for me, at a time when I didn’t have a clue where I was going. Since then, I’ve figured out everything else as I’ve gone along.”
*Anything else you’d like to know about Tanya?
Drop her a line here and she’ll add some extra content to this page.