Freelance journalist Tanya de Grunwald is the founder of graduate jobs blog GraduateFog.co.uk and author of How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession. As one of the UK’s most outspoken critics of unpaid internships, Tanya has recently named and shamed dozens of employers who exploit their young staff, including fashion designers, politicians and department stores. Here she explains to Scotcampus why she’s not just another boring careers advisor…
First things first, what did you study at university and why?
I studied Psychology (BA) at Durham University- mainly because I didn’t know what else to do and I thought we’d be sitting around talking about what makes people the way they are. It wasn’t like that at all. I got a 2:1, but only just.
How did you end up becoming a journalist?
I thought I needed to know what I wanted to do for the rest of my life before applying for my first ‘proper’ job after uni, so I spent the summer after graduation temping for Office Angels. My rep gave me all the crappiest gigs- for one I was literally removing staples from pieces of paper! By September I was going nuts so I started to look for something better.
I took a job as an office manager for a recruitment firm who advertised for an “angel of goodness”. I found I loved writing for their website, so I decided to become a writer, and sent my CV to lots of magazines and newspapers. My first placement was at the Sunday Times.
Where did the idea for your website Graduate Fog come from, and what is the main aim of the site?
I was really proud of my first book, Dude, Where’s my Career? The Guide For Baffled Graduates, even though it was a financial disaster for me (I sold 3,000 copies, but my publishing deal meant I earned about 25p per book!). I was making ends meet as a freelancer, but kept an eye on the graduate situation, which looked to me like a slow-motion car crash. I was listening to graduates saying they were struggling to find jobs, yet everyone was still encouraging young people to go to university. I thought, “Well if they’re starting uni now, this is not going to be pretty in three years’ time.”
I’d lost money doing the first book, so decided to try and reach graduates directly, by setting up a website. I approached the government and several big companies for investment, but nobody was interested. My boyfriend at the time told me to do it myself, so he built my site and a week later it was up and running. Now I’m glad I don’t have any investors telling me what to do. As graduates tell me, it’s the only site that “tells it like it is”. Even if it makes uncomfortable reading sometimes, we’re always honest.
How did you become so knowledgeable on the subject of graduate jobs?
I listened to everyone- graduates, politicians, universities- and read everything I could find. I’m naturally quite confrontational, so telling the universities that their careers centres weren’t good enough was fun. Weirdly, it seems I was the first person who had told them this. They didn’t like being criticised and asked me to produce evidence- statistics and studies, I guess- to prove that I was right. I didn’t have any, just an inbox full of emails from graduates saying my advice had helped them get a job when their university careers centre had been useless. I explained that I didn’t have time to run surveys, because I was too busy doing their job for them.
Your new book How to Get a Graduate Job in a Recession is out now. We weren’t in recession when you graduated, was it significantly easier to get a job then?
Yes. Things are so much harder for graduates now. We didn’t need experience to get a job as recruiters used to hire on potential. They didn’t expect you to have done endless unpaid internships, they understood you’d be a bit rough-round-the-edges, but they committed to training you up. My first job as an office manager paid £20,000 and my rent was £400 a month. Now, lots of graduates are earning nothing, the minimum wage, or just a bit above, and rents are £600-700 a month. It’s crazy.
You offer a money back guarantee with your book if readers don’t find a job. Has anyone actually come back for a refund?
Not one single person.
Why are you so committed to helping graduates find the right path for them?
Because I hate bullies and I think an entire generation is being bullied. Your schools and politicians are giving you bad advice, and universities and employers are ripping you off. If Graduate Fog gives graduates a voice, and a place where they can fight back for a better deal, that’s a brilliant thing.
With so many unemployed graduates and rising tuition fees, is there even any point in going to university now?
I just don’t know; nobody does. What I do know is that we need more alternatives to university and we need them fast.
You’ve also addressed the problem of unpaid internships, particularly in creative industries like fashion and journalism. What do you think would happen if all the unpaid interns just stopped working? Would fashion houses fall apart at the seams?!
Forget about the shortage of jobs, unpaid internships are the biggest problem that graduates face. A practice that seems harmless- helpful, even- has proved to be a disaster for young people. Unpaid internships have devalued your work and replaced paid jobs. They exploit those who do them and exclude those who can’t afford to do them. Unpaid work is not the solution to youth unemployment; it’s already a big part of the problem.
If you could give graduates one single vital piece of advice, what would it be?
Take charge of your job hunt. Nobody is going to do it for you- not your mum, not your uni, not even me! Stop asking what the process is for finding a job and start working it out for yourself. Try lots of things, then do more of what works and ditch what doesn’t. And have faith. If you’re smart enough to get a degree, you’re smart enough to work out how to get a job.
How To Get A Graduate Job In A Recession is available to buy now at graduatefog.myshopify.com– you can read our review of the book here. To join Tanya’s campaign against unpaid internships, visit GraduateFog.co.uk.