Wanted! A job. Anything considered

They left university with good degrees, ready to start on a career. But as jobs are cut and older workers stay on, new graduates are finding it hard to get their feet on the employment ladder
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Work experience matters more than that slip of paper you get on graduation day

Rowena Mbanu, 22. Graduated from the University of Liverpool with a 2:1 degree in English and history last year. She has now completed the NCTJ journalism training scheme.

"I didn't really know when I went to uni what exactly I wanted to do. I do think I was a little naive, thinking that I'd somehow fall into a dream job. A couple of months on the job market and I realised just how much harder it was than I'd realised.

"I always had the attitude, 'Oh well, I have a degree. Things will be pretty straightforward.' Now I realise that things such as work experience are perhaps even more important than just that slip of paper you get on your graduation day.

"Perhaps if I were to do it all again, I'd have looked into doing a degree with a more vocational focus. It's not an easy market out there; I just feel lucky to have found something."

I wish I had studied a more vocational subject

Louise Hemmings, 23. Graduated with a First in fashion promotion from the London College of Fashion

"I can't say working as a PA at a media company in London is exactly what I envisioned doing, there has definitely been a lot of compromise involved and I haven't ended up in the exact area that I'd hoped to. I hadn't realised how flexible I would have to be.

"A lot of my friends have struggled with the process. I look at them and the jobs they're in and a lot of them know that they could have gotten the jobs they have now without getting a degree.

"Overall, I am glad I got my degree for the skills it provided me with, and for the university experience as a whole: I wouldn't have wanted to miss that. But I do wish I'd done something a little more solid, something that led more directly into a vocation, such as medicine.

"Many of my friends who studied law and medicine are doing really well. Friends with art degrees, however, are struggling."

I shouldn't have gone to uni

James Harvey, 22. Graduated with 2:1 in sports science from Exeter University last year.

"If I'd been sensible, I wouldn't have gone to uni. You get told it's the best thing you can do for your future, but here I am three years later in a lot of debt and still can't find a decent job.

"I'm now working at a student lettings company and am paid close to the minimum wage. At lot of my friends, like me, were struggling to find work so they've gone back to do postgraduate study. I couldn't afford any more debt, so that wasn't an option for me."

I'm working for nothing

Lucy Buckroyd, 23. Graduated from Nottingham University with a 2:1 in English. Now living in London.

"My first work experience was in September 2009 at Penguin. I hadn't been able to get anything over the summer. I also did a month at Pickering & Chatto. At this time, even work placements, let alone actual paid jobs, are so difficult to get.

"There is so much competition, it's worrying. For the Lonely Planet secretarial job that I went for, there were 900 applicants. Everyone seems to have a 2:1 from a good uni and it's not enough. I feel like you need to either have a First from Oxbridge or go into further education to have a shot at getting the job you dreamed of."

I was ill – I lost my offer

Jonathan Kittridge, 21. Graduated from Durham University with a 2:2 in economics and finance earlier this month.

"I had been predicted to get a 2:1 and I had a conditional job offer from a management consultancy firm. But due to ill-health I gained a 2:2. It's all quite frustrating. Having done badly in a couple of modules I just missed out on my 2:1.

"I'm still waiting to hear whether I have the job. The people I've spoken with seem positive but, ultimately, it's up to the management to decide."

Unless you study business, language or finance, don't bother

Stevie Bickford, 22. 2:1 in American Studies at University of Nottingham

"I feel like I'm 15 again, living at home, and that in some ways I'm going backwards not forwards.

"At 22 it's a little depressing still living off your parents, although, I do appreciate that I'm lucky enough to have work, and a home that I can commute into work from.

"I chose American studies because I enjoyed history and politics but it doesn't lead into anything. I should have done a business degree, which would have set me up better.

"I knew I'd done the wrong degree a year into it. If I was to advise students applying for university I would tell them that unless they are doing business, language or finance not to bother.

"It's taken me so long to decide what I want to do and now there is another year of applying for grad schemes."

It's clear the only way is to know someone

Jon Smith, 22. Graduated from Durham University last year with a 2:1 in archaeology.

"For me it's been a pretty similar story to lots of other recent graduates out there: moving home and finding part-time work to support myself while job hunting. But as I'm from a small town, opportunities were pretty hard to come by.

"I've found the job-hunting process very impersonal. It's becoming obvious the way is to know someone or use contacts. I went to Durham aware of its great reputation and thought this would help me, especially once I knew I would be leaving with a 2:1. It seems everyone's struggling."

I ended up at a supermarket

Sam Megahy, 23. Graduated with a First from Sunderland University in July 2008. He is now about to complete his masters at Newcastle University.

"Reality definitely hit when I returned from working on a charity project in India. Job-hunting proved to be a slow process and I had to sign on for job seeker's allowance. The only job I was able to find ended up being Christmas temp work at Morrisons.

"Now, my job as a student adviser at Newcastle College isn't exactly in the area I was hoping to work, but it was something and it's provided me with a lot of skills.

"Degrees are so broad that when it comes to applying for jobs, it can be hard to convince employers that you are qualified to work in their area. I'm hoping that with my masters I can prove that I am committed to my area of work and will hopefully be more employable as a result."

Graduates from wealthy backgrounds snap up the unpaid jobs

Taneesha Ahmed, 24. Graduated two years ago with a first-class degree in Fine Art from Leeds University.

"In the two years since graduation I've spent most of my time doing voluntary positionswhile working part time at American Apparel to fund myself. There are things out there, but the competition is seriously tough. After so many rejections and so many dead ends, I've definitely lost the confidence I had when I left Leeds proudly clutching my first. I knew the art world was going to be competitive but I feel as if I'm two or even three years behind and that doesn't feel good. This time two years ago I felt invincible. That's not the case now.

"I felt that by living at home to save money while I gain unpaid experience I could gain an edge. It turns out that most people had the same idea so I'm no further ahead.

As most main galleries and art jobs are in London, unless your family home is there you're at a massive disadvantage. Who can afford to live in London unpaid? Only graduates from richer backgrounds are able to move to the capital and snap up these positions. It's becoming more and more elitist."

I'm with a firm and have a flat

David Tawil, 23. Graduated from Bristol University with a First in economics and politics.

"I chose an economics and politics degree at Bristol because I feel like economics is a degree that that leaves many doors open. In my second year, I started to apply for internships with various banks, asset management firms and consultancy companies. There was competition among the interns, but there was also the need to fit in. The culture of the firm is as important as what they do. I got an offer at the end of the internship.

"I have now been at the firm for a year. It's no walk in the park, but I'm happy. I'm in a stable position and I can afford to rent a flat in London. I have a great job and a great girlfriend. I'm satisfied."