Sophie Morris: Graduates – seize this chance to step off the treadmill

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The Independent Online

If every cloud has a silver lining, the one encircling our spluttering jobs market at the moment is incredibly hard to discern. And if you're one of the 300,000 students with university graduation in your sights, I'm afraid this glimmer of hope seems to have retreated into the horizon entirely as graduate vacancies have fallen by up to 47 per cent.

It all seems a bit unfair. Having slogged your way through university, paying for tuition and holding down a bar job to fund Pot Noodles and cheeky Vimtos, you now find that the corporations willing to hear how reading Proust has finessed your teamwork skills are depressingly few and far between. It's enough to make you sack off those finals and head straight for the dole queue.

OK, so continuing to live in penury is not a nice prospect, and nor is moving back in with your parents, but I put it to current undergraduates that not having a job to hop to immediately is no bad thing. I'm not writing this in the spirit of cheery facetiousness; anyone telling me to "look on the bright side" gets a scowl, and maybe a kick in the shin. We could, though, think of the approaching jobs desert as that breathless pause before the third act, heavy with anticipation, rather than the tragic denouement. Why shouldn't it be a space for contemplation, rather than a bullet train to lifelong unemployment and a diet of gruel and supermarket vodka?

When I cast my mind back to my own student years I remember the optimism of the early Noughties. The Square Mile of the city was full to bursting and had spilled out into Docklands. The recruitment staff at banks, law firms and accounting and consulting companies seemed to be jostling each other to sign up our services.

I'm not exactly sure how desperate these places were to recruit us as I never got round to applying. At each one I found out precisely nothing about the careers in question and everything about the drinks, nibbles and branded paraphernalia on offer. Law firms were treating undergraduates to dinner in restaurants with proper table linen. All-expenses-paid "come meet the firm" trips to London could double up as clubbing excursions.

I assumed I would end up in one or another of these corporate jobs, but only because the pathway appeared so easy to navigate and I had no idea how to track down the sort of work I did want to do. At an interview for a postgraduate journalism course I was asked whether any of my friends or family were journalists.

"No, I don't know any journalists," I replied.

"Well you won't find a job in journalism", was the answer. It felt as if I was being corralled, along with thousands of other students, into a career I had no affinity with or interest in. I was surrounded by people who were giving up the drawn-out luxury of university holidays to work 14-hour days in an office, while I was scrimping and saving to spend the summer months reading, travelling and listening to music; lying in the park a bit, daydreaming a lot.

Luckily a year in Spain as part of my degree gave me exactly the thinking time which will be forced on new graduates. I witnessed so many friends stepping blindly on to the carousel of graduate recruitment before working out where it would take them, and then finding it difficult to get off, that I managed not to make the same mistake.

Which industries flourish during a recession? Bailiffs and loan-sharks maybe, but poets too. That's no bad thing, but you won't find a graduate scheme to help you get those first lines down. That's not to say graduate jobs aren't a good thing. I have a couple of friends doing great work in the environmental field and another who discovered she was a natural lawyer. The others all hate the work and love the paychecks. But the friends I admire most are those who dabbled with different jobs. If it didn't work out, they took stock and moved on instead of believing the hype: that jobs are for life and not just until you're bored.

One friend had four jobs in two years after leaving university. Back then I thought she was flaky. Now I realise she was inquisitive and resourceful, and brave enough to follow her instincts instead of the herd. I'm even more impressed by those who are heading off for new lives in China and India, not because they can't afford to get on the British property ladder, but because they want to.

It might be preferable to choose a gap year rather than have one thrust upon you, but that's no excuse for not using it wisely.

Victoria's secret: the art of retouching

I thought the idea of Victoria Beckham advertising Emporio Armani lingerie laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Her husband's Armani underwear campaign is known for stopping traffic because of his eye-opening, ahem, curves. But his wife's paperclip-thin physique is about as arousing as a piece of dry toast. What a surprise then to find the finished images, taken by fashion-darling photographers du jour Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, showing a curvy VB, shot in grainy film-noir monochrome.

Just goes to show that the much-maligned art of retouching has more to it than shaving inches off actresses' thighs. They've even managed somehow to wipe that pout off her face.

Mom, can I borrow your lipstick?

I found looking at pictures of Hillary Clinton side by side with her daughter Chelsea as she prepared to become US Secretary of State a little unsettling yesterday. I couldn't quite pin down why at first, until I realised it was the uncanny similarities between the pair, who share the same large eyes, blow-dried hair and perma-smiles. Hell, are they even wearing the same shade of lipstick?

Then I realised the reason I cared about this was because it brings up that old adage about all girls turning into their mothers, which terrifies me. Is there any way to get round this? When I was little, everyone I bumped into who knew my father guessed instantly I was his daughter, whether he was present or not. But once I hit 20 people started to say I looked more like my mother. I rang her the other night to ask about freezing a chicken, as fearful of wasting food as she always has been, and I only wish I could afford the lipsticks she wears. When I visit the family home, I try and make off with the very clothes I teased her for wearing when I was a teenager.

Escape while you still can Chelsea, or you'll be stuck in those brightly-coloured trouser suits your mother loves so for the next 30 years.