Great Recession Grads: "Don't Buy Into The Life Is Linear Myth"

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.
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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: Carol
Age: 31
Location: New York, NY
College Major: Political Science
Occupation: Attorney
Industry: Technology
What was your first job out of school?
"I graduated without a job in May 2008 and I was scared to death. The first job I got was as a residential real estate agent in NYC, and it was completely commission based. I started in September 2008 and lasted until March 2009. I scored two commissions (LOL) that I had to split with my manager. Devastating."
Was that the job/industry you wanted to work in?
"Not really. I'd decided in 2006 that I wanted to be a lawyer so I was primarily looking for opportunities in the legal sector. The economy had completely caved in on itself, so hiring — especially on the NYC legal scene — was stagnant. I decided to become a real estate agent because it looked glamorous, and I'd figured it would be a good way to set my own schedule and own my own business in a sense, something that was and still is very important to me."
In your view, did the Great Recession affect your career trajectory?
"I think it absolutely has; there was a bit of 'failure to launch' after graduation. I majored in political science and really didn't have a solid plan. As I'd attended an Ivy during the early aughts, I'd bought into the idea that the 'degree was all that mattered' rather than practical experience or the rigor of your major. This was true up until 2008.
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"The landscape has completely changed now and college attendees are much more aware of ROI. They look at their degrees as financial investments and they're hesitant to pursue softer majors, which I think is a healthy development. I was unable to obtain a job with benefits until December 2009; that's nearly two years of lost opportunities and professional experiences."

Don't buy into the 'American Dream, life is linear' myth.

Reflecting on your career path, do you think the last 10 years of your career would have gone differently had you not graduated right before the recession?
"One-hundred percent. People in my cohort who graduated before me with basket-weaving adjacent majors were able to get great offers at competitive organizations. When I graduated, I had to move back home and I wasn't employed at a regular job with benefits until the following winter. I can't help but think that had I graduated a year earlier, I would be earning much more now and my path would have been more direct and far less stressful."
How do you feel about the economy now?
"It seems a lot brisker than it was when I graduated, but it's certainly no bull market. I recently interviewed for a new role and I noticed that I received a lot more interest in the last two or three months than I received in the last 10 years combined. This is probably attributable to my JD and years of experience but even a year ago, the economic landscape was pretty desolate. Sentiment seems to be more optimistic."
What advice do you have for the class of 2018?
"The world is shifting and the labor market as we know it will be drastically different a few years from now. Lots more gig work, lots more short-term work, lots more digital work, and very likely fewer of the benefits workers have become accustomed to.
"Be entrepreneurial; write down your visions and goals; think about your strengths and how to add value; curate your image and cultivate your skills. Don't buy into the 'American Dream, life is linear' myth of going from college to grad school to corporation to home ownership to ... whatever. Your 20s is the time to set the foundations for the rest of your life, so stretch yourself."
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