Sunday, 18 August 2013

The First Job Trap

I have spent the last week trying to convince my friend to leave his job. He got the job a year or so ago after a long drawn out placement, but was so relieved and happy; it was the job he always wanted. It is a good job in the sense that as a junior designer he has alot of responsibility, which I have found to be quite rare. As one of only three designers (one of which is a graduate placement), designing is a daily occurrence. By contrast, my role within a larger company (in a different design sector) restricts me to few design projects, with a lot of time being dedicated to the bits and bobs that lead and support the design work (the boring stuff) - so I have always been a little bit jealous of his job. He engages with clients, supervises placements and is generally well respected and liked in the company. They would miss him if he left.

The issue he has with his job - and there is always one niggle in every job - is a big one; his problem is his workload. It is rare for him to leave work on time, and when his managing director insists he stay until 2am to finish a project for the next day, he says no problem. It is a problem. With regular requests like this and many unpaid overtime hours worked, it is affecting my friends well being. I have told him it is time to say no. When you work late consistently you are not only risking your health and happiness, not to mention sacrificing your free time, but you are making things worse for yourself. What they clearly need at his company is a new member of staff. The trouble is if he keeps staying late, they won't realise they need one, they will keep scheduling work into unrealistic deadlines, and the cycle will continue. I am not saying you should never stay late. I am all for pulling together with the team to meet a pitch deadline - but in his job there is no team effort - his boss leaves at 5 on the dot every day - now that's not fair.

He insists it will be okay if he gets a pay rise but I don't think money is the answer. Clearly the attitudes of this company needs to change. The only way to make them see his worth, I think, is to leave.
My friend is too scared to leave. He is trapped in his first job because he doesn't think he can get another job. In a way, I think a lot of people do this. A colleague at my current job was there on tiny wages for 4 years because it was his first proper job and he didn't realise his worth. By belittling people you can make them work with the experience and responsibility of a mid-weight for the pennies of a junior. The less money you are paid perpetuates your fear because it is more important that you stay in work; the rent can't pay itself - and you are probably living in your overdraft anyway.
I have tried convincing my friend that he will be appreciated and paid more elsewhere but I can't make him look for a job elsewhere - he has to want it himself. The trouble is he won't realise how bad his situation is until he is in the better job.

Don't be trapped by your first job. First jobs are the stepping stone for the next - a means to an end. After waiting so long for "the perfect job" it is sometimes hard to admit that it is time to move on and let go. You can climb the career ladder by design agency hopping - and the best wage increases come from jumping ship (or going freelance) - you will find something else - keep your portfolio up to date and be confident. All those long hours and responsibility my friend has done will earn him respect in a new job, even if it doesn't earn him any respect where he is now.

To be honest that is what annoys me most: when people don't respect your hard work. They clearly don't deserve your time (and quite frankly they are not paying you enough for it, either).


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