My condolences to the class of 2020, whose final semester of IRL school was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic and who will likely graduate into the worst economy since the Great Recession in 2008. Not ideal, kiddos.
But even though the unemployment rate is estimated to be at 13 percent (the highest since the Great Depression, eek), there may be a few silver linings—okay, they’re more like gray shading—about graduating during a time of uncertainty. Take it from some women who entered the job market around the last crash.
“I graduated in 2009—really some height of the recession stuff,” says Elizabeth Kiefer, Cosmopolitan’s features editor. “The weird thing was, since I didn’t have anything to compare it to, the job hunt was hard, but without context, it didn’t seem any more daunting than I was expecting. Looking for my first job during the worst economy in my lifetime made me more resourceful and has, in the years since, been a secret weapon.”
Maybe it can be yours too? Ahead, how to get by as a recent grad.
Step 1: Throw traditional work advice out the window and get realistic.
“‘Follow your passion’ is B.S. There are a lot of things that can be really interesting and rewarding to do professionally. Instead of thinking about your career as a ladder that you climb because you are so driven to rise up that particular ladder, think about it as a river. In downtimes, you don’t have very much control over the opportunities that are presented to you. My experience after graduating from college in 2007 was much more like riding in a raft, grabbing on to the opportunities within reach. The ones that were interesting, I held on to and used to pull myself along. The ones that were miserable, I used to launch myself in a different direction. As I’ve floated down the river, I’ve collected a ton of ideas and experiences that I carry with me and make me very good at my job, even if it is a million miles away from where I started.” —Lillian Pontius-Goldblatt, 35
Step 2: Apply to approximately one billion jobs.
“Apply to 5 to 10 times the number of jobs you think you need to. For one, the momentum will hopefully give you some sense of accomplishment and calm at the end of the day, knowing you’re doing everything you can to try. Secondly, every time I was sure I was overqualified for something or it felt like the perfect fit, the employer never gave me the time of day. When something seemed like a stretch or a little offbeat from my experience, that’s when the interview calls came. If it seems interesting or somewhat related to your skills or like something you could do to pay the bills and not hate, apply for it. One caveat: Don’t apply to more than two jobs at the same company. They won’t take you seriously if you’re applying for all levels in all departments.” —Madeline Boardman, 30
Step 3: Don’t you dare scoff at part-time gigs—if you can swing ’em.
“When I graduated in 2009, I had friends at the time who were forgoing the job market altogether and applying for grad school. And although I had majored in government and had always been told I could argue with the best of them, I couldn’t imagine making my way to law school in the fall.
“Rather than study up for the LSATs, I took a remote internship with a tiny wine-focused PR agency from my apartment couch in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Despite being barely 21 and surrounded by miles of Amish farmland, I spent two days a week calling restaurants in New York City to help organize a food and wine event. Despite my lack of experience, I took on the challenge and said, ‘If I can prove to these people that I’m as talented as an entry-level staffer, who’s to say I won’t end up with that position at the end of the summer?’ As fate would have it, two months into the summer internship, my manager accepted a new position and guess which intern was first in line for the full-time gig?
“Moral of the story: Don’t just stick your foot in the door—keep it there and force your way in! Hard work is undeniable, and proving your grit, even when the stakes are low, can pay off in the long run.” —Erin Jaffe, 32
Step 4: Take on a temp gig while you search for the one.
“There are likely going to be unemployed people with two or three years of experience who are ‘ahead’ of you now out of work. I probably interviewed for more than 25 positions in the art world between 2009 to 2010, only to be told they were going with someone who had more experience. Do whatever you can to find that experience in the interim, and try to stay resilient in the face of rejection. For me, this meant finding a temporary position working for the nonprofit organizer of an art fair, which was not something I saw myself doing nor did it provide benefits, but it allowed me to keep interviewing and pay my rent. When a job at a museum opened up, I finally had the paid work experience under my belt that they were looking for.” —Sasha M. Rollinger, 34
“Yes, this is going to be hard. But it’s going to make you a stronger, more nimble candidate in the long run. Necessity is the mother of...being open-minded so you can get paid. I majored in journalism and my first job was not a ‘journalism’ job: It was an associate editor gig on a celeb lifestyle site. I thought I would be breaking news; instead, I was writing silly tips on how to style pillows. (Note: I say this as someone who loves to style pillows.) Point is, taking that job, even though it didn’t align with my expectations, was a toehold. You may not start where you want to be. But every job will bring you closer to where you’re trying to go.” —Elizabeth Kiefer, 33 [Editor’s note: Yeah, this is the same Elizabeth Kiefer from above. She finally landed her dream job—at Cosmo!]
Step 5: Live in a shoebox. It’s not that bad.
“The silver lining of tackling a recession as you’re just graduating college is that when you’re young, you’re emotionally flexible, generally energetic, and none of your friends really have money right after college anyway. (At least not my friends—we’re mostly creatives.) So you band together. For a year, I shared a bedroom with a friend in an apartment with three other women, and I still regard it as one of the most fun years of my life.” —Julie, 35
“I lived at home for the first nine months after graduation to save money and make a dent in my student loans. When I finally moved to the city, I lived in a tiny apartment with a roommate in Queens. My room only fit a twin bed, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” —Alessandra Simkin, 33
Step 6: Hang out with your friends 24/7.
“When a friend got laid off, we spread the word to get them assignments and would surprise them with shampoo we stole from work. In other words, it’s important to lean on each other. It’s not just good karma for when you need the help—it’s truly how you get by.” —Julie, 35
Step 7: Maybe invest a little, as a treat?
“I just lived really frugally, which felt okay at the time and at that age—having roommates, buying secondhand clothes, and cooking cheap meals. My only real regret is not investing whatever meager savings I had in the stock market when it was so low!” —Melanie Allan, 33
“My one regret is that I didn’t start a 401(k) until I was 28. My first job stopped matching them because of the recession, and I needed every penny I had for rent, so I went most of my 20s without any savings or long-term plan whatsoever. Now that I’m in my mid-30s, I dream of buying a house in the middle of nowhere and retiring at 65. Ha.” —Julie, 35
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