A graduate interview with: A friend

Quote from the postAs part of the graduate series on my blog, I interviewed a friend about her recent role in the creative industry (TV). We chatted jobs, life after university, misconceptions and feminism. We also chatted about the rest of our lives and realising things aren’t always, maybe never, the way they are painted. Don’t forget to read previous graduate profile posts if you’ve missed out!

Hello, how are you? 

Hi, good thank you!

So how has your internship been going?

It’s been great so far. Honestly I never thought I’d end up working in TV at all. I was always totally film focused. But it’s actually worked out so well, which I guess goes to show that sometimes the universe or savvy recruiters know what’s going to work better for you.

Its’s been a real learning experience about an area I knew very little about – my biggest fear when I got the job, was that I would get bored or stagnate once I reached the limit I would get bored or stagnate after a while, but I’m powering through at the moment so it’s all good!

Can you imagine doing this for the rest of your life?

I can’t imagine doing anything for the rest of my life!

When did you realise the field that you are in is/isn’t for you?

I’ve realised through this job that I definitely don’t have the same aspirations from people in a similar role to me. There is a very definite structure you have to follow on your way to the top in TV but I don’t think that’s for me at all. It doesn’t take anything away from the experience though!

I think our society always tells us that once we’re in something we have to stick with it to get anywhere, until the industry bottoms out or we have a mid-life crisis or something, which is a source of anxiety for so many young people who don’t know exactly what they want to do, or who want to do more than one thing. In my opinion, it would be a lot easier if we could just chuck that pressure, and accept that it’s ok to make lateral moves and jump between industries.

If our generation is good at one thing it’s multi-tasking. My granddad sage advice has always been: ‘Never expect what you’re doing now to be what you’re doing in 10 years’ time’, and I’ve been surrounded by career chameleons my whole life, so I feel very able to enjoy what I’m doing now, whilst at the same time know that maybe it isn’t for me  long-term. Important lessons have been learned, that’s the takeaway.

Going into your internship what were your expectations/misconceptions?

I’ve learned a lot. It’s proven to me that I can do an office job, something that I was adamant when I left university that I wouldn’t be able to do. It’s proven to me that an office job can still be creative and fun.

On the flipside, it’s shown me how much shit I’m willing to take, and how much I don’t like the way rigid structures in creative industries, whilst there for a reason, can limit the growth of capable people. I understand now why so many people strike out on their own after trying out hierarchical-business life for a while.

Did you feel like your culture/background would limit/ still limits your current or future career options?

No. I’ve always felt very comfortable – and proud of – with my heritage, and I don’t think it’s ever limited my opportunities in an way that I know of.

To me, diversity in culture/background are something interesting and cool, that should work in everyone’s, favour, not to any detriment. But then, I am from a multi-ethnic background so I’m biased. In my current situation, I don’t feel that anyone has ever said or will say ‘I don’t want her for this job because she’s brown’ or ‘her grandparents were immigrants, so it’s a no from us’ but I know that that kind of prejudice does limit the opportunities of a lot of people from BME backgrounds, which frankly, to put it lightly, sucks ass.

Do you feel it has been more difficult for you as a woman to reach where you are now and to move forward in the creative media industry? 

I’m not sure that I’ve found it more difficult as a woman but I definitely think there is a huge polarity in the way young women and men get treated.

Like tea. And photocopying. Why is it always young women in the office that are given the menial tasks? When tea has to be made or producers want photocopies of house plans, who is asked to sort that out? Now I’m all for doing menial tasks – the mainstay of junior level roles in creative industries – but the boys were never asked. Not once. Very uncool.

Obviously a man would be asked if there were no women around, or a senior level person would have to do it if there was no one junior to do so.

This is not limited to any minorities by the way, I’m currently the only minority background young woman in my company and in my time here one of my colleagues found out she was being less than her male counterparts, luckily when she pointed this out and asked for pay rise this was amended.

Another one of my colleagues, who recently received a promotion at a different company before returning here and asking for the rate of pay that applied to her new position, was run circles around by various members of the team, before being told a very finite no. And she just has to accept it.

I’m almost put off by my own righteous anger here, but could anyone say that would happen if she were a man? Would she be expected to just deal with it and tolerate, or not even ask in the first place, and be made to feel like everyone is doing her a massive favour for even considering her very reasonable request? The familiar penny pinching of most creative businesses probably played a role in this as well, but still, not ok.

Have you ever been told you can’t hack into your chosen career field?

No. I feel like the creative industries are impenetrable and small world-y enough on their own!

Was it easy for your to find this internship or did you fill in loads of applications!

So many Applications! The worst part about it is, people here assume that I graduated just before I joined the company, but I was actually a fully working individual who graduated almost two years before I got this job.

I’d hit a huge wall where I was ready to move on from being a production assistant, but just could not find a way into the film world.  It was just endless applications most of  which I’m sure just ended up in a virtual backlog, never to be seen by anyone.

Even the word internship grates on me to be honest because, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, it feels a little condescending to me. I mean, sure I came onto my current job as a junior level researcher but education, intelligence, and capability-wise I am normal researcher, almost-senior researcher level.

So when my company hired me, they knowingly hired a 22 year old first-class degree wielding, researcher experienced, “junior researcher” for a bargain government-funded cost. This is mostly fine because, I am

  • Extremely grateful for the opportunity
  • We are both partaking in a mutual exchange in which they get cheap labour and I get “training”, or from my point of view, they get a half-price full-researcher in exchange for me actually having a full-time job, regular pay, and a modicum of life security, in an industry where even the most capable, intelligent and ambitious people can end up with nothing but voluntary “collaborative” roles on their CV.

I like my job, but when people at work call me a junior or call my job an internship, on the outside I am smiling, but on the inside I am seething like a boiling pot of internal rage, over the gas stove of unfairness.

In the last months/years what has been your greatest achievement?

Having my contract extended.

Sticking with it is another – I am notoriously commitment phobic about careers, so the fact that I made it this far is an achievement trust me!

What has been your worst experience in the working world?

I don’t have a singular personal experience, because I feel my time has been pretty enjoyable but  I do have some gripes with the creative industries in general.

The thing that I have found the most intensely irritating is how little money the creative industries want to spend on their lower level employees. I know that some parts of the creative industries actually can’t afford to pay their lower level workers very much, if at all, but I am  constantly surprised by how much was and is being asked of people in certain industries today for very little, and very often zero financial reward. Sometimes the experience of being a part of something is just not enough, and there are very definitely a lot of companies taking advantage of young people’s desire to work in creative industries and get their foot in the door.

Collaborative voluntary work can be great, necessary and very rewarding, but there are too many companies using voluntary workers  to get free labour.

How do you measure your success?

By how not-anxious I am about what I’m doing with my life. Also, I hate to say it, but a little bit of praise from my executive producer and head of development, helps too.

What keeps you going?

Lots of tea, biscuits and big dreams.

Is it important to maintain a network?

Yes definitely, especially when your job is contract-based like mine is. I’ve seen new people come in for productions and immediately approach people they’ve worked with in the past with opportunities. I think it’s also rewarding to have a network with people at a similar level, because sometimes it’s just nice to identify with familiar people, plus everyone seems to be doing fun side-projects, and it’s great to get involved in those!

So, you are on the career ladder is it easy sailing from here?

I hope so but I doubt it. We’re going to have to wait and see on that one I think.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time?

Probably not in TV. Not in film. I’d like to say I’ll have stepped up my entrepreneurship and be running my own business, but I might very well be a scuba instructor in Aruba for all I know!

What’s the best advice you can give to a graduate or other people who want to establish a career in the creative field?

Just go for it. Do what you love. Achieve shiz. Be nice. Walk the line between gratitude and deference but also know when people are taking advantage. It will happen. And if it does, remember that you are a business too, and while your business currently is to help their business along, that does not mean that they get to take that and run away with it. While you’re at it don’t forget to actually create stuff,  and make friends with creative people who are in a similar place to you, it’s where all the potential is.