Grad Scheming (4): How to survive a grad scheme with your emotional sanity intact

Grad Scheming

The grad scheme. The last hurdle between you and concrete employment. You’ve done…

Stage one: all the education
Getting the bare bones of your CV takes about the same time as a prison stretch for manslaughter. Except good behaviour has no bearing on when you finish.

Stage two: unpaid internships
The “this is in no way a job so we shan’t be learning your name” stage, but it gets you lots of valuable experience in making coffee and lists for people with the job you want. Your soul was only partially destroyed.

Stage three: paid internships
The “we won’t remember your name either but we’re almost paying minimum wage so we’re going to work you to the bone, and once bits of bone are actually exposed, we’ll get a sander” stage. Hopefully the ragged frays of your now almost fully-destroyed soul managed to callous over for…

Stage four: the grad scheme
This is it! The last stage before A Real Job! The kind your parents got just for being sentient and near a desk! GOOD FOR YOU! But the joy wears thin as you realise the “grad” in grad scheme means “not yet.” It’s a Not Yet scheme. Some days it feels like you’ve been starting out forever.

Grad scheming is exciting but stressful, and pegs drama and mild peril to any emotion that comes knocking. So here’s how to survive some of the more common emotional landmines:

1) “So is there a guaranteed job at the end?”
Right – I’m answering this for 100% of grad schemes, internships and bank robberies: NO. THERE IS NO BASTARD GUARANTEE OF A PISSING JOB AT THE EFFING END. That question is wilfully moronic. Why would anyone recruit for a scheme with a job that comes later? Surely that’s just a job with shitty starting pay?

Stop asking this question. Immediately. You know full well there’s no guaranteed job, so you’re just deflating them when they’re really happy. If your friend told you she was pregnant would you show her pictures of vaginal tearing? No, that would spoil the whole “I’m going to be a mummy” moment. Plus, why would you carry pictures of…that? What’s wrong with you? Seriously…that’s weird.

So, just smile sweetly and say “No, there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of my contract, but in this economy there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of your lunch break, either, so…sleep tight.”

2) “So…basically you’re an intern then?”
If this is said by a “friend”, who’s “just trying to understand what you do”, itching powder is sold in a surprising number of places.

At work – well, it was annoying enough when you were an intern. But it’s not really an insult, they’re just thinking you’re a new face; new faces are usually on the front of the heads of interns, ergo: perhaps you’ll provide me with tea.

Or it’s just that you look young, sprightly and unmarred by the crevice-carving passage of time. When they ask if you’re an intern, they’re actually saying, “You have nice skin.” So react like your mum when she gets ID’d – chuckle, say “Oh, you!” and get yourself a massive drink.

3) When you feel a million dollars
I’ve been given a project! I’m proper! I bet they’re all wondering why I didn’t skip right into a real job, like they did. Oh, I am so in my element. I bet I could take a desk-selfie and not even look like a tool.

These moments are marvellous. Cling to them, because they tend to give way with the most amazing drop…

4) When you feel a million dollars IN DEBT
What’s the point? I’m not standing out. I’m blending into the background. I may as well have come to work wearing the wallpaper. I’m nowhere. I suck. What an idiotic buffoon I was when I was doing that project.

These moments range from “a bit rubbish” to “all-encompassingly horrendous”, and they could affect your work or how people perceive you. If there are others on your grad scheme, seek out the people who’ve been feeling the same (you won’t be the only one. Trust me.)

Talk about it over coffee – if only because your concerns sound more trivial out loud than they do in your head, where you reshape offices into dungeons, and people into Katie Hopkins. And return the favour the next time they’re down and you’re snapchatting at your desk.

5) Worst of all, when your brain – or a bastard – asks, “No, really…what happens at the end of the contract?”
Alright, fine, let’s talk about this.

Your grad scheme is going to end. Best-case scenario, a you-shaped job opens up, you land softly in its velvety envelope, sighing with ecstatic relief. You’re officially out of the flea race.

Or, some you-shaped work opens up. Not a job per se, but some we-could-use-you-round-these-here-parts sort of work. Perhaps even a freelance position that no one ever defines.

Or, the most dreaded option – that after a year in the final step before a Real Career can begin, they say “Sorry, we can’t offer you a job. Journalism is full.”

In that case you skip off with the training, contacts and amazing portfolio they PAID to give you, and use it to benefit another organisation. It’s like a charity.

But don’t think about that now. These ups and downs are really just what work is like, and the finite nature of a grad scheme makes it all seem more meaningful than it really is. Unless there’s action you can take, you may as well dedicate your brain to something else, like pitching, or discovering how to walk on office carpet without getting electric shocks that volumise your hair.

And if you do, please tell me how. I get shocked about 30 times a day. By 4 o’clock I look like Lily Savage.

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