Dear 2020: From a 2008 Grad
Tough times don’t last. Tough people do.
Okay, it’s probably one of the most cliché sayings out there but when you’ve been through a tough time and have come out on the other side, it certainly rings true.
Class of 2020 - you are the toughest group of graduates that most of us will ever know.
Your last semester of college was interrupted right in the middle of midterms. In the blink of an eye, you took up real estate as a single square in a virtual classroom.
And most importantly…you haven’t had the opportunity to cross that commencement stage in all of your graduation regalia (yet!).
It feels unfair but I can assure you when you look back at this time in your life, you will see how resilient you were, how quickly you adapted and the impact that the experience had on you in the present.
I know this because I’ve been there, too.
Though I did get to cross the stage in 2008, once I arrived on the other side; it was pretty grim. The economy tanked, the housing market was in crisis and unemployment was at its highest. So although I mark 2008 as the year I graduated from college, the world identifies it as the year of the Great Recession. It’s part of my narrative when I talk about my employment history. The gap on my resume. My answer to why I started "there" and ended up "here."
It’s because of this, that when I finally had my degree in hand, no one was hiring.
It’s not an exaggeration that I applied to over 100 positions, most I wasn't even close to being qualified for. I felt all kinds of pressure to be hired and have a super interesting job title. Some of my classmates had found work, I didn't. I started comparing myself to others. I couldn't come to grips that I had worked so hard for four years and literally put everything I had into my senior year (working a full-time job, a full course load and had an 18-hour/week internship at a PR agency). What the heck was wrong with me? Also, don't get me started on the entry-level positions asking for 3+ years of experience; yes those types of roles existed back then as well!
I was still determined to land something. ANYTHING! So I kept submitting my resume and kept getting the auto-rejection letters. Not one response turned into an interview. None. Nada. Zip. When people would ask what I was doing for work, I said I was focusing on building my resume at my summer job and was casually applying. Deep down I was panicked and made a secret deal with myself that I would land somewhere before September came.
September passed and still nothing. I just had to let it play out and not give up.
Eventually, the market got better and I was able to pull through and so will you! When I say that I understand what you are going through, I mean it. Our class years will forever be a part of history; ours and the world. It won’t be the way you envisioned so you’ll have to pivot, overextend and get creative to make it work.
I can’t say there was an ah-ha moment for me that turned it all around. I think I finally took off the laser-focused binoculars of just wanting to get a job in public relations (my primary undergrad focus) and started to be open to other opportunities. I ended up juggling two part-time jobs, both allowed me to develop more skills in the areas that I wished to work in (they also helped me pay some of my bills - helloooo student loans). I also talked to anyone that would listen and told them about my goals; what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. Though they didn’t necessarily have a job that they could hand over to me at the moment, we always left the conversation with them saying; “I will keep a lookout for you at my company,” and “I’ll be sure to think of you if something comes up.” This is vital-let people know what you are looking for and network, even if you hate doing it! I did it a lot and it ended up leading me to my first role in higher education. People were making phone calls on my behalf, writing emails and advocating for me to get an interview. It's amazing to see how your network can help when they believe in you!
Here’s what else you can do RIGHT NOW while the job market gets back on its feet:
- Get your resume up to date. Make an appointment with Hiatt and have a counselor review it. I went back to my career center four months after graduation (ugh, I know) but they made some significant edits that at least assured me that it wasn’t an inadequate resume that didn't land me interviews.
- Advocate for yourself! One of those two part-time jobs I was juggling ended up turning into a full-time role because I asked for it. Don’t be afraid to steer where you want your position to go. I went from a part-time admin to a full-time marketing director and then was able to apply to a marketing position soon after and land it!
- Remember, it’s not going to be the dream job right away. I think I forgot or at least pretended, that I didn’t have to start at the bottom. There’s no VP role for a new college graduate and that’s what you need to be okay with. This is your time to build your resume, even if what you are currently doing isn’t exactly where you see yourself. Think of it as a stepping stone that gets your foot in the door somewhere else.
- Don’t give up, ever. Yes, I cried, got frustrated and wanted to throw in the towel so many times but like anything else, this wave of inconvenience will eventually settle. Keep your focus - apply, talk to people, take on an odd job (or two for cash), practice and be your biggest cheerleader. If your head isn’t in the game, you are bound to sit on the sidelines and watch others get after their goals.
So, to you, the 2020 graduate, I tip my '08 grad cap. Like me, your graduation year will probably be known as the year of something else (COVID) but to you, it will be 2020; the year all of your hard work paid off. You are brave, resilient and tough. I promise you that when you look back on this time, you’ll have the same notion I did and truly believe, tough times don’t last but YOU DO!
Curry College, BA '08
Brandeis University, MS '19