Great Recession Grads: "Our Parents Had Cookie-Cutter Ideas About Work"

As the 2018 graduates toss their mortar boards into the air, they should be celebrating not just their new diplomas but the fact they’re graduating into the best economic situation the U.S. has seen in a decade. The starting salary for Class of 2018 is expected to be over $50,000.
That’s a stark difference to the reality that faced the Class of 2008, who 10 years ago graduated on the eve of the Great Recession. That spring, the unemployment rate was on the rise, and by 2012, only two-thirds of 2008 grads were employed full-time. While the U.S. economy has slowly recovered over the past decade, many believe that the Class of 2008 will suffer permanent career setbacks which will affect their earnings for years to come.
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In our limited series Great Recession Grads, we caught up with women from the class of 2008 to learn about the professional and financial challenges they’ve faced over the last 10 years. As many of them learned, your career trajectory can be as much a product of forces beyond your control as it is your own choices. Here's what they have to say.
Name: Sarah
Age: 31
Location: Milwaukee, WI
College Major: Communications
Occupation: Media Buyer/Planner
Industry: Marketing/Advertising
What was your first job after graduation?
"I took a job at a banking call center a few weeks after I graduated that a classmate had referred me to."
Was that the job/industry you wanted to work in?
"Not at all, but I only had a short grace period before my student loans had to start being paid, so it was the best option for the time being.
In your view, did the Great Recession affect your career trajectory?
"Absolutely! For five years post graduation, I struggled to break into my preferred industry, had to move back into my parents' house (the basement, how cliche!), and gas prices were asinine so even getting to my less-than-desirable job was costly. I worked 40 hours a week and took on unpaid internships in the industry I wanted to be in so that I could at least say I was gaining experience in that industry."
Do you think the last 10 years of your career would have gone differently had you not graduated right before the recession?
"I definitely think that had I graduated prior to the recession my career path would have been different. I think we were raised by a generation that had a very concise, cookie-cutter process of how getting a job post graduation looked, and the recession forced us — or me at least— to take a long, winding road of uncertainty and compromise in order to get where I wanted to be.
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"My career is probably five years behind where I'd like it to be — certainly from a compensation standpoint. I came into my industry five years post graduating as an entry-level worker when I thought at that point I would have had five years of professional experience under my belt."
How do you feel about the economy now?
"I certainly think the economy has improved, but with the current political climate, there is always a fear that things could come crashing down at any moment. I also think that because of the recession, millennials have helped shaped the economy to work for our needs: We are buried under student loans so purchasing a home has become more difficult for many. We value experiences over material things. We care more about sustainability, equality, and supporting our local economy directly. We want more options outside of big corporations, and we have built those options ourselves."
What advice do you have for the class of 2018?
"Have goals, but be flexible enough to do what needs to be done. Sometimes taking a job that is outside of your preferred industry, or living at home after graduation, is necessary in order to set yourself up for a better outcome long term.
"Cultivate relationships with people in your preferred industry — not just networking, but really investing [time] in people. Having meaningful connections will benefit your career in more ways than one."
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