Graduate view: ‘How I’ve had to sacrifice my values to find work’

Like many graduates I left university with a head filled with leftwing idealism. The ethically conscious, placard-waving ethos of campus life cemented my belief that, if not actually changing the world, I should at least avoid hastening its decline. But a year after graduating I’ve realised that my personal values are just another hurdle to overcome in this increasingly competitive job market.

It took about six months and 100 applications for “employer ethics” to be scrawled from the job-search checklist. Prior to that I had never considered my values to be particularly restrictive. All I had wanted was to be treated with respect and for the organisation to show a respect for its ethical responsibility.

I first noticed the shakiness of these values when my temping agency offered me six-months work at a major investment bank in the City. Although the role was very much behind the scenes – under the scenes, actually as the package handling proles were kept in the basement away from the important people – I didn’t like the idea that my (very) minor role was contributing to an organisation whose values heavily conflicted with my own. But there were bills to pay, so I reluctantly accepted the offer.

As the months of logging packages and piecing together threads of sanity went by, I found myself applying for more and more permanent roles that I would have previously shunned on moral grounds. The concept of “selling out” became increasingly trivial. I was starting to relate to the John Lydons of the world. They had bills to pay, too. And with fewer and fewer opportunities to make money, it was inevitable that they, like me, would have to do work that conflicted with their values.

I began to wonder how I would respond if I was offered work writing copy for a clothing retailer, knowing that their goods were being produced in terrible conditions. Would my refusal to do the work make any difference to that situation anyway? And what if I was to apply for the Daily Mail journalism traineeship I saw advertised in the Guardian of all places? Luckily this particular quandary turned out to be the by-product of flu-induced delirium. I was back to my normal self within a couple of days.

Graduate or not, it’s a tough time to be job-hunting. And although I will always strive to uphold my values, the scarcity of work means that they may have to be more flexible than my conscience would like. I just hope that the reality of working life doesn’t overshadow them altogether.


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