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August 7, 2020

Graduating During the Great Recession

by Juan Aguilar

Students who will be graduating during or directly following the COVID-19 pandemic will be entering a job market that is severely impacted, making it hard to begin their career in the way they may have hoped. Here are some lessons that I learned, having graduated during the Great Recession that can help these students to make the best of these unfortunate circumstances.

What was it like graduating during the Great Recession?

It was extremely difficult. At the time, I was a student at San Diego State University (SDSU) studying Finance and was reading headlines in the Wall Street Journal about the unemployment rates and several catastrophic events that were taking place. Thousands of people were losing their jobs, businesses were going bankrupt and it seemed as though there was no end in sight. In other words, “the sky was falling”.

How was the job market?

It was dismal. I recall going to interviews only to find myself waiting in lines that stretched across multiple city blocks. One interview in particular stands out at a bank that was located in Point Loma. I recall waiting in line for at least an hour, dressed in a suit, ready for my interview. When my turn came, I knew I was not going to be called back; I knew this because there were a couple hundred applicants for one single position.

What did I do to overcome hiring obstacles?

I listened to those around me who were willing to help. One of those individuals was the Assistant Dean of the College of Business at SDSU. At the time, I was working three part-time jobs. One of those jobs was a work-study position at SDSU. I recall the Assistant Dean referring me to a class about life after graduation. I had my reservations at first because I felt I could not add more to my plate, but I ultimately signed up for the course anyway. This was a 1-unit course that was offered as a class for students who wanted to get real life experience about how to prepare for the employment world. The professor discussed investing, spoke about his personal experience, and even went as far as reviewing and critiquing our resumes.

What sacrifices did I have to make to find a job during the Great Recession?

I had to do what most of my college friends refused to do; I moved out of California. My first job took me to Scottsdale, AZ. I had no friends or family there, but I did not let that stop me. I learned as much as I could and decided to move back to San Diego two years later.

What advice can I give to students or young professionals now?

Network! Stay in touch with people you look up to or those you’d like to be one day. Make reasons to follow up such as their birthdays or use LinkedIn to see news feeds on career changes. Ask to meet for coffee or lunch and go as far as paying for it, if you can spare the expense. I cannot stress this enough! Networking has helped me get to where I am today.

Do I think I would be a lot better off now if I had graduated 5 years earlier or 5 years later?

I honestly do not think it would have made a difference. There’s always something happening in the job market, whether it’s too few jobs due to a recession or too few jobs due to high employment. I feel that you just need to step back and realize that the choices you make for yourself should not be affected by outside factors. In other words, don’t give up, regardless of how grim the media may portray your chances of being successful.

Is there anything else I would say to recent grads?

Yes, never give up! If you have a goal in mind, stick to it and don’t let any outside factors determine the outcome. The odds were stacked against me. During my last year at SDSU, my daughter was 5 years old, I had three jobs plus an unpaid internship, and I was a full-time student. If I managed to get where I am today, you can do it as well.

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