Great Recession Grads: "I Questioned My Self-Worth"

Designed by abbie winters
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.
Until the end of the month, in our limited series Great Recession Grads, we'll be catching 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: Monica
Age: 32
Location: Washington, D.C.
College Major: International Studies
Occupation: International Affairs Professional
What was your first job out of graduation?
"Right after graduation in 2008, I had a position lined up with a federal government contractor in my chosen field. They had given me a conditional offer and were in the process of certifying my security clearance, which I already had from a previous internship. At some point during this process, everything collapsed and the federal government began a hiring freeze. The contractor wouldn't take my calls or return my emails.
"With the job offer gone, I had to start from scratch. My first 'real' job after school was as staff assistant to the CEO of a nonprofit organization in the finance industry. I say 'real' because it was the first time I had health insurance since graduating; in those days, you got kicked off your parents' health insurance as soon as you were out of college. It took me one year and nine months to get that job. It wasn't really the one I wanted, but it was close enough — and again, health insurance! I stayed there for about three years and then went to graduate school to transition to my field."

I'm probably five years behind where I would have been in my current field if the recession hadn't happened.

"During my one year and nine months of unemployment, I had temp positions and worked retail (Pier 1 imports and Victoria's Secret), and seriously questioned my self-worth. It was really an awful time. I had done literally everything right! I graduated with honors from a top university; I studied abroad twice, spoke a foreign language, did every prestigious D.C. internship there is — and there I was for almost two years, competing with PhDs for entry-level jobs, spending my afternoons in coffee shops just to get out of the house, sending out as many applications I could get through."
In your view, did the Great Recession affect your career trajectory?
"Absolutely. I'm probably five years behind where I would have been in my current field by this age if it hadn’t happened."
How do you feel about the economy now?
"Things are definitely better. I know I've mentioned it twice now, but not having health insurance was a huge source of stress for me during that time, and the fact that college grads don't need to worry about it until 26 (for now) is huge."
What advice do you have for the class of 2018?
"Have a backup plan, and a backup to the backup plan. Nothing is for sure, so be prepared for changes — and always keep that résumé fresh!"

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