I’ve done a huge amount of work experience, and there are good reasons for that. Firstly the cruelties of the graduate job market and the fact that I’m going to end up on the dole if I just have a degree like everyone else.
Secondly, my inability to decide what I want to make of my life, with teachers offering little more in the way of help than platitudes such as ‘just do what you enjoy’. They would then give us essays that no one could possibly enjoy, and shoved forms in our faces that asked us to make life choices at the tender age of 16.
So this was when I began doing stuff that would hopefully look impressive on my personal statement to universities. Over the next three years (to the present day) I talked to relatives and friends in different industries, scoured the yellow pages and Google Maps, bombarded local businesses with emails, and secured work placements in several different kinds of offices.
Hopping between different work environments so quickly threw them into stark contrast. I am a frog and the lily pads I’ve jumped on are all very different. I can see why marketers would not be happy in a solicitor’s office. It’s obvious to me why estate agents would not get on with journalists.
Similarly, I’ve come to see why parliamentary workers wouldn’t have much in common with charity workers. Although I probably don’t need to explain that. The rest, however, I will explain, by noting down all the individual peculiarities I’ve noticed about every kind of office.
My most recent work experience was in marketing; I was the ‘marketing director’ (as I liked to call myself) of Talent Cupboard, a tech startup that had the advantage of being based in the offices of a marketing agency called Burn.
I sat in this office for what felt like 28 hours a day, 15 days a week, for most of the Sun’s lifespan summer. Kidding, it wasn’t that bad. It was actually the nicest of all working environments, hence why my career goals now well and truly rest in marketing.
Burn was just like Mediacom, a much larger marketing agency, where I shadowed the CFO for a day. This supports my theory that all marketers like the same kind of office. They like the rows of mismatched computers and colourful arrows painted on the walls, which make them feel secure in their belief that they know how to make things look good. They take comfort in the Everest-sized piles of colourful leaflets sent in by previous clients, which remind them of the days when non-digital advertising was relatively important.
Overall, a marketer’s office is full of crap, but well-ordered crap. It wasn’t built to be nice, but it’s painted very well. It’s not a modern building, but has a few high tech features. Like the service that a marketer provides, the office where this is developed is usually a turd, covered in professional glitter.
The solicitor’s office has a far more serious, repressive atmosphere. The professionals are trying to sort people’s lives out and weighed down by the burden of hearing about their problems. The stench of Mrs. Snorveton’s violent divorce is thick in the air. The guilt about over-suing the NHS by £50,000 is like a cold gust coming from reception.
But still, solicitors have a sense of humour. They can crack a joke just like as easily as they can form an argument. The trouble is, they’re so busy talking smoothly that they forget to show any hint of emotion or a smile. This would helpfully let you know they’re trying to be funny so you have to try and laugh.
The solicitor’s desk is overflowing with case summaries and printed screenshots of the abuse that people have hurled at each other on Facebook. Yes, this is now used to help decide the outcome of a face. But the solicitor doesn’t bother much with the paper, leaving that to be filed by either an intern or the equally poorly-paid graduate legal assistant.
Estate agents have to sell very well, but what they’re selling isn’t all that complicated. So they’re usually good fun, good looking and good speakers, but don’t have as much going on between the ears as they’d claim to have.
An estate agent’s office is unique in that it also functions as the space to connect with customers. People come in all the time to discuss what ridiculously overpriced houses are available, and the estate agent has to move quickly from their desk, greet them brightly and make out as if money isn’t an issue for them too.
The office is pretty bare and sterile, with only a few boxes of property leaflets shoved under the desk, and everything ordered neatly for the purpose of good appearances. But photos of houses are the only thing that adds colour to the room. Estate agents don’t want to sell pictures of ships.
Journalists, meanwhile, have no time for presentation or appearances. Their desks are like their brains: drowning in research notes, press releases, newspaper cuttings, and letters from everyone they would possibly need to collaborate with in order to research and write an article. The journalist is paid too little and worked too hard to bother with doing a clean, which would allow them to actually see their desks.
But they love their jobs, and that’s why they put up with turd, and feel no need to reach for the glitter. They’re surrounded by people that are as geeky, sparky and as interested in politics as them. A haven of multitasking, the office is filled with snappy yet intelligent conversations. TV screens showing rolling news channels are all adding to the din.
The journalist has a huge computer screen and tweets and extra TV news stories are popping up on there. Newspaper pages are coming together fast. Articles are being verbally pitched. It’s really something to behold. Something which can either inspire you, or make you want to blow your brains out.
Working at the Houses of Parliament was a one-off, and I didn’t do it because I was intending to become the next Jeremy Corbyn. No, I just thought it would stand out on my CV. And it was certainly weird going to work in one of the oldest and most famous palaces in the world for a week. But for parliamentary assistants and civil servants, of whom there are many, it’s their everyday life, and they take it for granted.
Although their offices aren’t exactly impressive compared to the rooms where MPs hold their debates, there’s still a deep sense of history. The carpets, photo frames, light switches, door handles and views from the window are all throwbacks, to a more gothic, medieval, and simple era, when British politics became democratic. But the walls are white and the facilities bare, as if the whole establishment is awkwardly caught between wanting to stay entrenched in the past yet also accelerate into the future.
The people are all well-spoken and efficient, yet sometimes hollow and reserved. It’s exactly how you’d imagine the elite British establishment to be. They’re intelligent, but not down to earth. Friendly, but hard to relate to.
And in sharp contrast, there are the charity workers and their offices. These are truly dark, dingy places, bordering on unacceptable working conditions. Thankfully, money goes towards the people that the charity wants to helps. The charity can’t afford to make anything look nice.
There only decoration is some colourful motivational posters sent from the central headquarters, because the charity is, unsurprisingly, keen on keeping people happy and motivated. Many of the workers are volunteers so this is essential.
Like the offices, and because they’re not focused on themselves, the charity’s staff aren’t well presented. They look as poor as the people they’re trying to help, and there’s nothing wrong with that. They’re not great speakers, but they’re kind, caring, and funny. They keep things organised. They get their heads down and work hard. They understand the meaning of human connections and happiness. Working with the poor has shown them that.
That section, about charity, was the only one not featuring sarcasm. That was honestly the most enlightening and stimulating work experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone who’s looking to learn the true meaning of hard work and the real world.