Great Recession Grads: "I Had No Idea What To Be Afraid Of"

Illustration by Richard Chance
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: Sheryl
Age: 32
Location: San Jose, CA
College Major: Business Administration
Occupation: Front End Engineer
Industry: Business Administration
What was your first job out of graduation?
"Conference coordinator at a large hospital. It took me five months to find a job."
Was that the job/industry you wanted to work in?
"Sort of. I graduated with a degree in Business Administration and wanted to become a social event planner or a wedding planner. I applied to many of those types of positions but didn't hear back from any of them. In desperation, I took on two unpaid internships in succession, hoping to gain experience and land a job afterward. That didn't happen and I started to apply to any job that seemed within reach for me: administrative assistant, office coordinator, marketing coordinator, and even life insurance sales.
"I finally got an offer to be an admin assistant that was incredibly low, something like $21,000/year in Hawaii where I grew up and went to school — one of the highest cost of living states in the U.S. I certainly wasn't excited about it but my family and my friends told me to just take it since it was pretty difficult to get any job at all.
"I nearly accepted but ended up also getting a conference coordinator job that was a little more reasonable salary-wise, and closer to what I wanted to do at the time. Instead of planning social events, this was more of an in-house corporate event planning gig where we organized medical conferences for the community."

I would have been able to start saving for a house and retirement earlier.

In your view, did the Great Recession affect your career trajectory?
"I think it hindered me from progressing in my career the way I wanted to. If the economy had been better and jobs were more abundant, I would have been able to seek out more relevant opportunities in a shorter amount of time.
"The conference coordinator position ended up being the worst job I've ever had in my life — micromanaged, repetitive, uncreative — but because there was nothing else out there, I stuck it out for almost two years. I wanted to find another position before leaving but things got so bad, I quit and was unemployed for another year and a half before I found another job."
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 if I hadn't graduated right before the recession, my career could have gone in a different direction. At the very least, I wouldn't have felt the depression and desperation of not having a job after graduating. There might have been more relevant (and higher paying) job options for me to choose from, and I would have been able to start saving for a house and retirement younger than I did."
How do you feel about the economy now?
"When the news broke about the mortgage crisis and that we were entering a recession, my economics professor at the time dropped all of his lesson plans to talk to us about what was happening and try to calm our fears. The thing was, for me at least, I had no idea what was going on or what there was to be afraid of directly.

Up to that point, all I knew about was homework, making sure I passed my exams, and being on time for my part-time job.

"Up to that point, all I knew about was homework, making sure I passed my exams, and being on time for my part-time job. I didn't have any investments; I didn't really understand how mortgages worked; and I didn't understand what the job economy was like before the recession happened. I don't think anyone could have prepared upcoming graduates about how rough it would be for us.
"I think the economy has been bouncing back in a very positive and energetic way. I changed careers from event planning to computer programming three years ago and haven't had any difficulty with the transition. I see a lot more positions opening up and salaries becoming more competitive for employees."
What advice do you have for the class of 2018?
"Keep your head up and don't give up if you don't find a job right away. I recall so many times during my first job hunt where I constantly asked myself, what was the point of this college degree if I can't even get an entry level job? I felt the despair and the long dragging days when I received another rejection email, wondering when it would all be over.
"There may be long days ahead, but there is an end to it. The day will come that you get a call and receive an offer for that job you really wanted. Surround yourself with positive people who don't keep asking if you've found a job yet, and take some time to focus on hobbies and exercise. Looking for a job is a job itself."

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