Four Pieces of Advice for Graduates in a Recession, from Your Peers

By Paige Wiley, reprinted from Made to Flourish.

This year, graduation came and went, and the world’s new normal has yet to be established. For those who graduated during more “precedented” times, there were plenty of graduation ceremonies, parties, and caps and gowns to go around. But this year is different, in more ways than one.

Normally, students would be entering the “real world” after proper seasons of transition and preparation. But again, those were “precedented” times. Now, we find ourselves in a global pandemic, economic recession, and cultural unrest. Not only do graduation ceremonies look different, but so will the “real world.”

Entering the workforce after a lifetime of studenthood is a big enough challenge in itself, but with the world in such malleable, uncertain form, this is new and uncharted territory. How do we navigate the waters of a new working world when no one seems to have a proper map?

While it’s impossible to be able to give clear and concise answers to a world of impossible questions, I do want to highlight a group of people who may know a thing or two about graduating in unforeseen circumstances. I recently asked around to those who graduated during the economic recession of 2008 to offer words of advice for students entering a similar landscape. Here is a summary of those responses.

Remember, God Wastes Nothing

“Be prepared to work wherever you can. I’d pursue something that you love within reason. Be wise. Use your talents, but expect them to be used in unexpected ways. And the absolute most important thing is to consider every single opportunity that you have as preparation for something else. Don’t see anything as meaningless or pointless. It may take longer than they expect to find a position in their ‘chosen’ field, so use the other opportunities as building blocks.” – Mark S.

“Let go of the idea that having a degree automatically puts you ahead, or that you have earned or deserve [more than] anyone else. I started out working in a call center after college, then made $9 an hour at Disneyland for a bit, then back to the call center, and then landed at a marketing agency. I had colleagues both with and without degrees at all of these jobs. We were all in the same place doing the same work. Everyone is on their own journey, and that’s okay.” Samantha

“Your degree and time in school will never be wasted. If it takes a few years to get the job you hoped for, or if you never get it, your time and money pursuing a degree is not wasted. Plenty of people end up in a career field they did not expect or study for when they were in college. The experiences you had during that time are more valuable than the piece of paper in a frame above your desk. The journey is more valuable than the destination. Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”  Emily

“I think the biggest experience I can share is that the cream always rises to the top. This isn’t always about skill. If you’re willing to work any hours a business will give you, help train others, and find ways to make yourself an asset to the business, it doesn’t really matter where you are, you will be given positions of leadership and higher pay than your peers.” Scott

Learn Basic Skills, and Maybe Some New Ones

“If your parents are willing, go back to their place to save some money and work literally anywhere while you search for a job in your field. Looking for a job is a job in itself, it is exhausting, and it is discouraging, so make sure you have a good support system.  Samantha

“Learn to cook. You don’t have to be Gordon Ramsey, but you should know your way around a kitchen. You’d be surprised what great meals you can make from Aldi’s products.” Mark B.

“One thing that could help you (it helped me) is doing a service year after college graduation, whether that’s something like Americorps or Teach for America. That can give you some incredible experience.” Erin

Think about the Future, but Don’t Stress It

“There are many ways to make money for yourself. There’s some you enjoy, and some you’re good at. They don’t have to be the same. Learn to market yourself well. You’re competing with the rest of the world, all of whom have been doing it longer than you. Trades pay well and offer flexible hours.” Jake

Don’t let worry and stress rule youNothing on this planet lasts, and you won’t be in this position forever. But don’t ever let yourself forget the tables can turn at any moment.

Invest in your future to prepare for the worst. Don’t just think about what you need today. Sit down and develop a plan and stick to it.” Chelsy

The biggest mistake I made was not saving money. You will be much more secure if you don’t live that good life until you have enough money in savings. Many folks who are out of work right now did not save, and they’re having to find money other ways. You need to be the one in control of your finances. It’s not someone else’s problem. Be smart. Save.” Scott

Remember, You Don’t Have All the Answers

Stay aware of your emotional state and mental health. It was almost too late before I reached out. Never be afraid to ask for help. Mark B.

Learn the difference between necessity and desire and practice restraint and smart spending. Find resources that can help you and utilize them at every possible turn.” Chelsy

Ask people in your life for expertise and advice. Don’t enter the world of “full-on adulting,” thinking you know all the answers. Use your resources! I was fortunate to have a father who works in insurance, several friends in healthcare, and many friends who were a few years older than me and had homes, cars, careers, and 401ks. Ask questions of real people you trust first, not the Internet. There are so many things about living on your own and supporting yourself financially that you did not learn in college. Admit that, and reach out! And when you’re more stable five years later, be that source of wisdom for another college graduate. Emily

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