Michelle Smith, 37, joined the Marks and Spencer graduate scheme in September 2005. She graduated in 2003 with a business degree from the University of Plymouth.
What”s your background?
I left school with two A Levels, which weren”t particularly good, and no idea about what I wanted to do. I fell into a job with a bank, which I then left to go travelling for two years. When I got back, I became a part–time waitress in a local pub and later became a licensee for a group of pubs, which I did for 12 years. When the people I worked for decided to sell the chain, I started thinking about studying because it was something I”d always regretted not doing. My little boy was five years old by then and in school, so the time felt right. For the first couple of years of my degree, I carried on working, so I spent my whole time either working of studying. That was tough. It was also a struggle financially because we had a mortgage to pay.
How did you handle your job hunt?
As the graduate application process is time–consuming and I didn”t have much spare time, I only applied to a couple of employers in my final best online casino year at university. I was also limited in my choice because I live in Torbay and wasn”t prepared to move – on account of my child being in school, my husband already having a job in the area and the fact that we had a mortgage.
The Ministry of Defence was offering jobs in Plymouth and I was accepted onto its graduate scheme, which I started in 2003. But I didn”t get on with the culture and left after five months.
At that point, I”d had some careers advice and realised that the fast–paced environment of retail appealed to me. I applied for a few graduate–recruitment schemes and was successful in getting onto both Sainsbury”s and Marks & Spencer”s programmes.
Did you face any barriers?
My personal circumstances, which exist because I”m older, were definitely a barrier. I couldn”t up sticks and move anywhere in the country like many young graduates can.
But I was wrong in thinking my age and the fact that I”d worked in pubs for 12 years would go against me. In fact, Marks & Spencer recognised the transferable skills I”d built up before going to university and also the value of my life skills. When I got onto the scheme, I wondered how I would fit in with people who were fresh out of university and 21 years old, but I”ve made some really good friends and I don”t feel my age has been at all relevant.
Any tips for fellow graduates?
Don”t panic if you haven”t got a job as soon as you graduate, especially if you”re older and have other pressures while you”re at university. Wait until you can decide what you really want to do and until you have the time to focus on your application. Second, recognise how valuable your past experience is – both personally and professionally.