Advice From Millennials on How to Get a Job in a Recession

There’s no point in sugar coating it — this is a terrible time to be graduating from college. With the economic downturn wreaking havoc on the job market and the pandemic showing no signs of slowing, new grads are in for a rough start to their careers.

If that sounds like a familiar refrain, it’s because another generation went through just this experience about a decade ago. Millennials started to graduate college right as the 2008 recession ground the economy to a halt, leaving millions of well-educated young people to settle for minimum wage jobs or unemployment checks.

It may be small consolation, but recent grads can use the experience of the millennial generation to navigate these choppy waters. Here are some lessons from real millennials who made it through the 2008 recession in one piece.

Use your college network 

Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial Talks Money: Scripts, Stories and Advice to Navigate Awkward Financial Conversations, graduated from college in 2011, while the Great Recession was still affecting the job market. Lowry wanted to move to New York City, but knew she needed a job before finding a lease.

She reached out to a fellow alum from her college who encouraged her to apply for the CBS page program (like Kenneth from “30 Rock”).

When that year-long job was wrapping up, she connected with another alum who recommended her for an internship at a PR company. That eventually led to a full-time job.

“Like so many people, a huge part of my early career trajectory was built on utilizing my network,” she said.

Reach out to your college alumni network. If you went to a large university, they may have local alumni meet-ups where you can network. While the pandemic may prevent you from meeting people in-person, you can still send them an email with your resume.

Make sure to follow up when networking, and don’t give up if they don’t respond right away. Everyone is busy, and may need a reminder email. Give them a couple weeks to read the initial email before sending a brief follow-up note.

Build your LinkedIn profile 

A LinkedIn profile detailing your past internships and jobs is a great tool for networking. You can connect with professionals in your field, apply for jobs directly, and hear about opportunities before anyone else.

Take your LinkedIn profile seriously, logging on every day to check the feed and view new job postings. If someone you know gets a new gig, congratulate them and ask if they know of other opportunities at the company.

LinkedIn can expand your network by making it easy to connect with people you don’t know in-person. It also lets you see if any alumni work for a company you’re interested in. Send them a note and mention that you’re applying. They may be able to get your application in the right hands.

Take the job that’s available

When Jim Wang of Wallet Hacks graduated from college in 2002 with a degree in computer science, he was facing a tough job market. After the dot-com bust in the late 90s and the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, it was hard to find a software programming job.

The only job he found was at a defense company to work on systems that had been developed in the 1950s. Wang didn’t enjoy working on outdated technology, but it was the only opportunity around. He stuck it out for three years before moving on to a position at a more exciting firm.

“I think in a softer job market, you might have to take the job available even if it isn’t your dream job,” Wang said.

There are simply fewer opportunities in a recession, and most grads can’t afford to be picky. Try to stick it out, learn as much as you can, and keep applying for jobs you are interested in.

Should you move? 

When freelance writer Zina Kumok was looking for a job after the Great Recession, she sent her resume to more than 150 newspapers and magazines across the country. She wanted to stay in Indianapolis where her boyfriend was living, but couldn’t find a journalism-related job in that city.

“I had to be willing to move if I wanted to find a job in my field,” Kumok said. 

Luckily, she found a newspaper gig only three hours away from her boyfriend. She worked there for a year, after which she found a job in Indianapolis.

In a poor job market, current graduates may have to move hours away from their friends and family to find a job related to their degree.

Find an internship

If you can’t find a full-time job, an internship could be a good placeholder. Internships can still teach you valuable skills and provide networking opportunities. Some internships eventually lead to a full-time position.

Take your internship responsibilities seriously, and ask for extra work if you have downtime.

“Managers love people with initiative,” said personal finance writer Kathy Kristof of SideHusl. “And the more you learn, the more diverse your ability and the more job options you have.”

When your internship is over, stay in touch with your former coworkers. They may hear about entry-level positions and forward them to you.

Avoid the “side hustle” allure

Driving for Uber or delivering food for Postmates may let you earn money while you’re job hunting, but you won’t learn skills you can transfer to another employer. Plus, the hourly rate for many side hustles will barely cover the expenses.

If you want another way to make money, Kristof recommends starting a side hustle based on your skills. If you want to work in marketing, find gigs as a social media manager. If you’re interested in app development, scour Upwork.com for app creation jobs.

“Nothing will teach you more than working for yourself,” she said. 

You can add these gigs to your portfolio and resume. Starting a business will also show prospective bosses that you’re a self-starter with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Stay positive

It’s easy to feel defeated after hundreds of applications and months of waiting. Just know that you’re in the same boat as thousands of other graduates and that it doesn’t mean you’re falling behind.

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