When secondary school ends, there’s always a collective sigh of relief. Freedom. No homework. Your own place.

But college tends to wrap students up in cotton wool too, albeit in a different way. So what happens when it’s all over, and it’s time to start looking for placements? Lyndsay Hughes writes about entering the big bad world... for real.

Second semester in a postgrad student’s final year in college can be pretty daunting. Not only does the prospect of hours upon hours of important work terrify to the very core, but there’s also the worry of finding a placement that’s going to accept your application. During our degrees, we tend to float along day to day, not really knowing what to do or how to do it when it’s time to leave the cosy little campus bubble.

The first thing that snaps us out of our comfortable day-dream is the reality of composing and sending out an acceptable (and preferably amazingly impressive) Curriculum Vitae. Ah yes, all those hours in secondary school spent carefully jotting down the babysitting and car-washing experience have apparently gone to waste as the ‘part-time job’ version gets torn to shreds.

The biggest issue for graduates looking for placements is determining how much of our experience actually counts for something. We need to be harsh and realistic. Dublin City University science graduate Shane explains: ‘Sure, I’ve loads of work experience, but what medical device company gies a crap about my stint in Tesco? Unless I can give it a fancy scientific title...’ Which brings us to the next concept: is it really so bad to talk up our past work experience? This is where our college-given intelligence can come in, and fingers become tightly crossed in the hope that an interviewer wont delve further into the subject. For example, the art of ‘job inflation’ can make a receptionist an ‘administrative assistant,’ and a cleaner becomes a ‘sanitary technician.’ It’s not lying, really. Is it?

Dean spent four years, and a truck load of money, studying to get his BA Mod in Geology. During the course, it was implied that their specialised work was highly sought after, and that there was no need for a postgraduate progression. Three years and a (very expensive) Masters later, Dean is officially part of the real world, having managed to get a job related to his field of study. ‘It was tricky enough, but placement opens doors, definitely.’ So there is light at the end of the tunnel. Dean says that the work he did in college clinched the deal for him: ‘The only experience I actually had was the field work we did in college, so I put that right at the top of my CV, and made it relevant to the company and what they do.’ Solid advice, and definitely worth noting.

There’s something about Irish society that seems to have ingrained the so-called importance of the Leaving Certificate on the minds of every single boy and girl that passes through the education system. At graduate level, the thoughts of typing in the (lets face it, pretty impressive) higher level B’s and C’s becomes a little bit cringey. It just all seems so long ago, and it’d certainly be pretty difficult to find a postgraduate student that can remember enough of what they’d learned to sit a paper in the morning and pass. Maybe it’s important, but it’s irrelevance after managing to scrape a degree seems to be glaring. Secondary school teacher Lisa, who only completed her H-Dip two years ago says: ‘The Leaving Cert is very important if you want to teach as a career, but I guess work experience and even life experience can count for a lot too.’

So what do these people want from us? One of the most frustrating things about job or placement hunting is the need for prior experience. Which begs the question; how do you gain experience when companies and organisations will only take people who already have it? The simple is answer is- work for free. Oh yes. Gone are the Celtic Tiger days when employers would beg you to work for them and then throw obscene amounts of money at you for playing solitaire from one end of the day to the next. Now we have to work to survive.

All that said, the trick seems to be to use what you have, and forget about what you don’t have. If we’ve managed to get to postgraduate level, then we’ve done something right. The CV doesn’t have to be the mammoth task we thought it was. We’re older and wiser now, and haven’t ended up where we are today by chance. At the very least, this alone demonstrates that we can apply for things and be successful.... They’d be fools to turn us down!