Listen up seniors, these Great Recession grads have advice for you

With many businesses shut down and many more workers unemployed, the immediate future is uncertain at best for today’s graduates.

The situation is reminiscent of the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009, when the unemployment rate rose to a high of about 12.3% in California. The economic outlook today may be even more dire for those entering the workforce: The latest unemployment numbers released Thursday show 15.5% of Californians are out of work and 2.3 million jobs have been lost since the coronavirus pandemic began in early March.

The Great Recession was slower and more gradual than the recent pandemic, and the cause—lax lending practices, primarily for home mortgages—was more typical of an industry boom and bust. Still it was a pivotal time in the lives of millennials who are now age 35 to 37—a “once in a lifetime” event, they were told.

As graduation nears for thousands of Gen Zers and the youngest of millennials, we asked their older peers who survived a crippling recession for advice. How did they make it through one of the worst economic downturns in our country’s history?

Matthew C. Torres, business communications major, University of Arizona, 2009. Currently: US Digital Marketing Lead at SOUNDBOKS

Graduating in the middle of the financial crisis caused me a lot of stress. I spent 5 months searching for a job in Arizona and realized I wasn’t even getting anywhere, and I had to make a change. I ended up moving back in with my dad in Wilmington and found an unpaid internship in Santa Monica to get marketing experience to add to my resume. From there I was able to land my first job in customer service for a marketing agency in Irvine.  To find that job I used a small local job board because I didn’t have any luck using the larger job sites.

For any interview always dress up, bring a water bottle, extra resumes and arrive early.  In hindsight give yourself grace, carve out a few hours a day to apply to jobs, and try to network as much as possible through LinkedIn/Slack groups.  Being Latino in the tech industry, I volunteer for a group named Techqueria that posts jobs, resources, and mentorship events via Slack.  I highly recommend any Latinos interested in tech to join. It’s free and we would love to have you.

Best of luck!

Andrea Antony, Bachelor of Science in Natural Science, Loyola Marymount University, 2009. Currently: Water Use Efficiency Analyst

While graduating during the Great Recession was really stressful, and led to a lot of anxiety and existential dread, I got through it by taking whatever jobs were available.  I worked at a hotel, taught fitness and dance classes, and was a receptionist for a hair salon. The experiences I gained during that time were invaluable, and ultimately led to a management position at a gym, and then a grad program, and then getting into my dream field and positions.

If I could go back in time, I think the only thing I would do differently is be gentler on myself, and not waste so much time comparing myself to others or obsessing over where I thought I should be in my life. A huge tip I can offer is to network as much as possible! The best opportunities I’ve had in my career(s) have come about because I met someone who later provided a great reference for me.

While heading into 2020 as a college grad will definitely be scary, try not to get bogged down with expectations of yourself, and let go of things you can’t control. You’ll get through this!

James Vassallo, business major, Temple University, 2007. Currently: Managing Partner/Owner of Casual Precision LLC

I graduated from Temple University in May 2007 receiving a business degree with a focus in marketing.  My ultimate goal was to start a career in the advertising world.  Living in Philadelphia, these jobs were scarce and I was not interested in living in New York so I moved to Los Angeles in September 2007.  I started working for various temporary placement jobs just to pay the bills while I hunted for an entry level advertising job and lived in a 1 bedroom apartment with 2 other people and a dog.  My search began in September and I did not land an entry level position until February 2008, making $25,000 annually to start (in LA of all places).  Showing a pulse and a willingness to learn, I was able to find my niche at that advertising agency.  I committed my first 3 years to that employer and then started making leaps and bounds in terms of promotion and salary by moving on to other ad agencies.  By 2012 I had developed a deep network within the industry and a good reputation.  In October 2015 my business partner and I started our own company and we will be celebrating our 5th year in the business later this year.

I had no help financially but was able to find  a way to make it work before I started seeing significance in the industry. My advice is if you find an opportunity in a field you are interested in, TAKE THE JOB, provide value, prove yourself and it will be noticed very quickly.

Fabiola Graciano, mathematics major, Whittier College, 2008. Currently: Aerospace engineer

I spent my whole life wanting to be a teacher. My plans were to graduate with a math degree and get my credential to start teaching. Due to the recession in 2008, California cut the education budget and teachers were being laid off. I was a senior in college and I panicked because I did not have a backup plan. I never would’ve thought I would have a hard time finding a career after college, especially a teaching career. Instead of going back to school for a credential that I might not even use, I decided to substitute teach to test the waters of the economy. After a year, the economy was not getting better and my dreams of becoming a teacher were shattered. I went to a job fair one day and an engineering company was looking for math, engineering, or physics majors to join their team. I decided to take a chance and apply and 11 years later I’m an aerospace engineer and I love my career.

In times like these, it’s especially important to explore your options. Nothing is guaranteed and sometimes blessings in disguises may come in forms of disappointment at first. And if you’re feeling stuck, visit a job fair… you never know what may fall in your lap!

Melanie Fitzpatrick, finance degree, The University of Texas at Austin, 2008. Currently: Co-Founder/President leMel Jewelry

May of 2008 was not the best time to graduate college with a degree in finance. I did the whole on-campus recruiting process throughout the year and had 3 job offers on the table. My plan was to accept an entry level job at a personal wealth management company in San Francisco. I called the recruiter to accept the offer and got her voicemail.  When she called me back the next day, I had a complete change of heart and decided not to accept the job. Instead, after graduating I worked the summer at a jewelry store to save money and moved to Sydney in August of 2008.

At this point, the financial crisis was in full force and who knows if any of my job offers would have still been on the table. I moved to Sydney with one of my friends and we rented an apartment and got jobs waiting tables at a cafe, by far the hardest job to land!  Taking that year off was the most amazing experience. I am not sure why taking a ‘gap year’ year isn’t a thing in the States, but I think it was one of the best things I ever did.  I learned independence, traveled, and moved back home when I was ready and didn’t miss a beat. I reached out to all the recruiters I met my senior year of college and had a job within weeks of coming home. It wasn’t my dream job but it gave me the confidence to learn that my dream job was to start my own company and work for myself. Ten years later, I now have my own jewelry business.

It’s hard to tell people to just take a year off and travel right now given Covid-19, but that doesn’t mean grads can’t take time off and work on a passion project before they enter the workforce.  I was feeling so much pressure on campus to have a job lined up by graduation I didn’t even care what the job was. I think people need to put less pressure on themselves, really think about what they want to do, and get creative on how to pursue it.  Whether it’s taking an internship after graduating in a completely different field of study, now is the time to think about what you want to do and enjoy it.

Doug Morino, journalism major/international relations minor, SF State, 2008 Currently: Assistant Communications Director, Diocese of Orange.

I graduated from college near the darkest depths of the Great Recession. The news industry was hit especially hard. Newspapers were consolidating, cutting staff and struggling to survive. There was little reason for hope.

But I was committed to learning the craft of journalism. I was also adaptable, had a resolution to succeed and stayed optimistic. I applied to jobs and internships across the country, and was willing to move anywhere an opportunity appeared.

My first career opportunities came as unpaid internships with small local newspapers. After graduating, I moved back home, took side jobs to support myself and endured a long commute, even by LA standards. I worked hard, learned everything I could from my colleagues and put everything I had into each assignment that came my way.

Those unpaid internships ultimately led to my first paid journalism job at a small community weekly newspaper in my hometown. One open door often leads to another.

The first year was difficult as I learned a new craft and navigated the challenging job market. But hard work, along with some luck, paid off. My first job soon led to another at a local daily newspaper, the Daily Breeze. It was a special place—I made good friends I still have today and met my future wife. I worked there for a few years, learning everything I could and gaining experience. I was eventually hired at a larger regional daily newspaper, achieving my goal when I graduated college.

Although I’ve since left journalism, the skills and experience I acquired as a reporter continue to serve me well.

I encourage new grads to seize opportunities—no matter how small—be adaptable to changes in their professional fields, stay committed to constant learning and remain optimistic—there is always reason for hope, no matter how dark the future may seem.

Cesar Armendariz, history major with an education credential, Biola University, 2010. Currently: High School Teacher

I graduated college in 2010 with a bachelor’s degree in history and I spent the next semester student-teaching at Downey High School. One of the teachers in my department went on family leave at the end of my student-teaching semester and I became her long-term substitute for the spring semester. I applied for a full-time teaching position the semester after that and I got the job.  I later found out that dozens of other teachers had applied for the same position for which I was hired. Many of the teachers that applied had taught in the classroom for several years and had gotten laid off due to budget cuts. First-time social studies teachers like me rarely found teaching jobs because we were competing against veteran teachers that had been displaced during the Great Recession of 2008. I was one of the lucky ones. Next school year, I will be entering my 10th year teaching and I am about to pay off my student loans (which, 10 years ago, had an original balance of around $40,000).

Here is my advice for new graduates who will likely face a recession:

– Don’t be ashamed to move in with your parents. I lived with my parents until I was 25. The rent and the price of education are too high.

– Learn how to budget. Track how much you spend each month to help you make better decisions in the future.

– Avoid credit card debt if possible. During the recession, my parents stayed afloat by signing up for new credit cards to pay the ones that they had maxed out. They eventually went bankrupt when they couldn’t pay off the 30% interest rates. Don’t get sucked in this vicious cycle!

– Be patient with yourself. People will struggle to get their careers going during a recession. Don’t fall prey to despair. Remain optimistic and don’t beat yourself up for the things that are outside of your control.

Linda Domingo, English major/education minor, UC Irvine, 2007. Currently: tech PR professional

I originally wanted to get into journalism after college, but the recession coupled with the internet’s disruption of the media industry made that pretty much impossible. I took two jobs — one unpaid internship at a magazine, and a paid assistant gig. I think you need to do what you need to do to get by, but maintaining some focus on career advancement was helpful. I wrote articles for free. I taught myself the technology tools I knew I would need for the roles I wanted. To the classes graduating into this new situation: Don’t let it beat you down. I remember constantly questioning whether I was good enough to enter the job market because of the constant rejection. At the same time, I think the last recession taught a lot of us about grit and how to hustle. My dad used to tell me that it’s not the smartest or naturally gifted people who are the most successful; it’s the people who keep going. Today’s college grads are entering this very stressful, scary situation, but they’re going to be the most resilient, resourceful and empathetic generation yet.

Christine Tsai-Taing, bachelor’s in English & dance, master’s in teaching, UC Irvine, 2007. Currently: CSULB Employee

Upon graduation, I turned down a full-time teaching job for an internship abroad because I had never traveled internationally. At the time, I reasoned that there would always be teaching jobs, so I should take a risk and this opportunity.

When I returned from my internship less than a year later, the Great Recession had hit, and my entire teaching cohort had received pink slips. No one was hiring. From 2008-2012, I worked multiple part-time jobs all over SoCal, driving from Topanga to Huntington Beach and even out to Moreno Valley. I worked as an editorial assistant for a small magazine, taught ESL to adults at night, was a summer camp instructor, took inventory as a retail associate at a clothing store, and did freelance editing for an education company. I also somehow found time to pursue a certificate program. After putting in my time, I finally landed a full-time job in 2012, five years after graduating.

During those difficult four years, I lived with my parents, made just enough to pay my bills, and spent hours in my car commuting. At the same time, I gained invaluable job experience, furthered my education, and learned more specifically about what it is I want to do. While the economic times ahead seem dark, my advice to graduates is to keep pushing forward. You might see part-time jobs that pay close to nothing or jobs you wouldn’t have ever considered because they aren’t in your field of study. However, take a chance and apply, maybe say “yes” to that lackluster job. Perhaps take some time to focus on your hobbies and learn a new skill. These less-than-ideal circumstances may become learning experiences that will make you the perfect candidate for that dream job. Employers will recognize your resilience, determination, and adaptability, and want you as a contributor to their organization.

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Stephanie Rivera is the community engagement editor for the Long Beach Post. After graduating from CSULB with a degree in journalism, Stephanie worked for Patch Latino and City News Service before coming to the Long Beach Post in 2015.
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