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This week’s problem

I am about to complete a business degree. It included a year in industry, where I worked in market research for a pharma group. I now face two challenges. One is that I would like to enter the emerging industry of customer experience consulting. Two, I will be trying to secure a job in a difficult economic climate. How should I go about breaking into this market? Female, 20s

Jonathan’s answer

Compared with graduates in the past 10 years, your employment path more resembles John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress — a protracted journey with its many challenges — than a smooth, well-worn path. While most large employers are honouring job offers they have made for current graduates, these will be for mainstream industries.

While you will not find yourself in the “Slough of Despond” — a deep bog of sin — as Bunyan’s Pilgrim did, you will have to scale your own version of his “Hill of Difficulty”, where you will face challenges, and only reach your objective in your niche area once you have learnt to overcome these.

It is helpful that you have set a goal, even if the pandemic means you may have to follow an indirect path towards your objective. While you consider the diminishing available opportunities, start by assessing what you know about the industry. What skills and experiences do they seek? Can you gain those skills now in other routes?

The study of customer experience (CX), rather than just the product or service offered to them, has expanded in the past 20 years. While trade has always been with us, it is relatively recent that a more analytical approach to the broad subject of CX has emerged.

Although you have direct consumer experience, this is the time to read around the subject, find all the academic research, watch online talks, and become knowledgeable on all the historic and current thinking around CX. Build on your year in industry to understand the structure of the market, the key employers, and how and to whom they sell consulting services.

Holbrook and Hirschman’s 1982 paper was an early study that focused on the experiential aspects of consumption. They proposed that the hedonic responses of “fantasies, feelings, and fun” should be included in understanding consumer behaviour, rather than assuming consumers are purely logical thinkers.

The pandemic will profoundly affect job prospects for you and most of this year’s graduates. Not only has the way of working changed, but also the types of jobs, the roles, and the industries themselves. Recent events have highlighted the fragility of food supply chains, the dependence on home delivery networks, the importance of health and social care, and it is unlikely that these will diminish.

Fundamentally it is challenging every aspect of consumerism, maybe bringing the emotional elements (for example of sustainability) to the fore, so your choice of career could be in a fast-moving and fascinating field.

Readers’ advice

Get out of the UK for the next few years. Use your youth and energy to gain experience and skills that will make you a valued asset. Chuck Tatum

Leverage your experience in pharma to push for a role with the company you did your year in industry with, or one of its competitors. George Horsington

The job you want is not the job you need. Find something that is secured and relevant to your career aspirations. One to three years of having a graduate level job will allow you to make a move when you are ready to find something you love. Gromit

Jonathan Black is director of the Careers Service at the University of Oxford. Every fortnight he answers your questions on personal and career development, and working life. Do you have a question for him? Email dear.jonathan@ft.com

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