Experience vs academic achievement – The insights of a recent graduate

When Oreoluwa Shoyinka graduated in 2021, she found it surprisingly difficult to gain graduate level employment, despite receiving a First Class Honours and The City Law School Certificate of Academic Achievement. As experience seemed to trump grades, Oreoluwa turned to City’s Career Service for advice and is now back on track to becoming a barrister.   

Oreoluwa ShoyinkaIf I’m being honest, it was not easy,” Oreoluwa Shoyinka (LLB, 2021) says, reflecting on the year she spent applying for graduate level jobs after completing her degree.
“Although they like your first class, I found that experience is worth more, at this point, than education is. That’s how it seemed when I was applying for jobs. They would say something like “Oh, we don’t mind if you have a 2-1 or even a 2-2 as long as you have five years of experience”.”
Oreoluwa always knew she wanted to attend university and had strong support from her family. At college, she did media studies, business, and sociology, and when considering her university course options, she found a compelling link between sociology and law.
“I’m someone who really believes education is key,” she says.

Originally, London based Oreoluwa wanted to attend university in the Midlands and experience living away from home. When the time came, however, she wasn’t eligible for student financing, and her parents opted to finance her undergraduate degree themselves.
“My parents basically had to pay my way through university so the last thing I wanted was for them to pay for my maintenance as well as my tuition fees.”
Oreoluwa began to look at universities in London instead.
“One of the reasons City stood out to me was because at that point, I’d decided I wanted to be a barrister, and I knew that City offers the BVS [Bar Vocational Studies] and was the University that originally created that kind of course.”
To pay for her living expenses, Oreoluwa started her own hairdressing business, worked in hospitality and did babysitting.
“I kind of had to grow up, you know,” she says, quick to acknowledge that a lot of students work during their degree. Nevertheless, finding a good balance between work and studies was a challenge.
“Law is not easy. It’s one of the hardest courses you can do, so going to university studying law and on top of that working three different jobs was definitely difficult. But I did it.”

Oreoluwa’s plan was to complete her LLB at City, do an MSc elsewhere, and then return to City for the BVS, with the confidence that she already knew the University and some of the academics whom she praises for their continued support and accessible ways of teaching.
Having very much enjoyed her studies, she still wishes she’d done some things differently.
“One thing I do regret is not getting more involved with the social parts of university,” she says. “I didn’t use that opportunity to network and socialise as much as I definitely should have.”
Oreoluwa believes taking part in more activities could have helped her find a job. She did attend some events, completed a micro-placement, and worked as Pro Bono Student Legal Advisor at the University of London’s Refugee Law Initiative Clinic, but feels she should have taken advantage of opportunities sooner and not crammed them into her final year.

When Oreoluwa began job hunting after graduation, she looked for roles within her field of study.
“I studied law, so I very much wanted to do something within law, working as a paralegal or as a barrister’s assistant, or a clerk,” she says.
Oreoluwa spent a year applying for positions, keen to take responsibility for her own future, but getting increasingly worn down by the response that she didn’t have enough experience.
“Of course, I have my own business, I do have that behind me. Maybe it’s because I didn’t explain that properly in my cover letters, or I didn’t use that to my advantage?” she considers. “But most of the experience I did have was very much pro bono and work experience rather than actual paid work.”

Oreoluwa decided it made sense to use the resources still available to her as a recent City graduate.
“The first thing that came to mind was City’s Career Service,” Oreoluwa says.
City graduates can access the University’s career services for up to three years after graduation, and Oreoluwa booked an appointment with City’s Careers Consultant Team Leader Helen Kempster for advice.
“She [Helen] was very helpful even though we only had two meetings. But it was two very helpful meetings in terms of telling me where to look for jobs.”
With the support, Oreoluwa began to think outside the box. Realising she might benefit from some additional skillsets and paid employment, she applied for a graduate level job as a Project Analyst at Grayce, and was successful.
“I just needed to get my foot in the door and I saw this opportunity,” Oreoluwa explains. “It’s a great graduate programme where you’re basically getting paid to upskill. So now I have a certificate proving I know how to use Excel and Microsoft Outlook, and I have access to LinkedIn Learning.”
Oreoluwa is also doing Salesforce training and gets placed with different clients to work on projects.

Going into higher education Oreoluwa had a detailed plan for her studies and her career, but the last couple of years have taught her it’s okay if things don’t immediately go to plan.
“If you’re not careful, it can affect your mental health. Thankfully, I had supportive parents, so we never got to that point for me, but some people don’t have that,” Oreoluwa says.
She still thinks it’s a good idea to have a plan, but also accept that there are different ways to reach your goal.
“Go easy on yourself if things don’t fall into place. As long as you’re living and breathing, and you’ve got a job that pays the bills, do that in the meantime. And then whilst you’re doing that, also find ways to go back into what you really want to do. That’s where I’m at, at the moment.”

What additional advice does Oreoluwa have for current law students hoping to find a job?
“Please, just take everything the University has to offer. Just take it.

“You definitely have to put in the work if you want to get to where you want to be. I think that’s what I found out; you don’t leave uni and just go into work. You have to network and you have to put yourself out there.

“Networking, connecting, and building relationships are very important for having a job in the future. It’s not all about your studies, it’s about gaining experience, especially as a graduate. You talk to someone and say “I’m a graduate and I really need this experience and I really love what you do. Could you please take me under your wing?”.”

Oreoluwa looks forward to her postgraduate degree in International Law and Governance at Durham next year and is already researching law-related job opportunities in the area so she can continue to support herself and develop her CV while studying. After that, she hopes to explore the world before returning to City for her Bar Vocational Studies.
“There are so many things you can do with a law degree other than just being a solicitor or a barrister. I really want to explore that. I want to work with NGOs and I want to go to different countries and just experience different things before I actually throw myself into being a barrister, because once you start, there’s no stopping.”

A big thank you to Oreoluwa for sharing her story, and congratulations on her academic and professional achievements!