The global economic downturn and devastated job market brought on by the coronavirus pandemic is top-of-mind for many, especially students graduating this May. To help soon-to-be graduates land a job in this time of uncertainty, we spoke with three SIS alumni who searched for jobs during and right after the Great Recession of 2008-09. They gave the following advice for finding a job during a recession.
- Use your network. SIS alumni Derek Heiss (SIS/BA ’08), Gabriella Krohmal (SIS/MA ’11), and Amir Roohi (SIS/BA ’07) all agree that one of the most important actions recent graduates can take is to leverage their networks, whether their connections are professional or personal.
“Every job that I’ve had since college, with the exception of maybe one, I got by knowing someone who was able to put my name in front of whoever was doing the hiring,” says Krohmal. “It doesn’t have to be a professional reference either—it could be a friend from home who has a job at a good company and can highlight your résumé to whoever is looking at it.”
Roohi was referred to what would become his first job out of college, a program training assistant position at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), by an AU alum who graduated a year before. Roohi emphasizes the importance of leveraging connections while job searching and using any resource to form those contacts: “Going to SIS events, like a conference or a meet-and-greet, could help you form a connection with a potential employer.”
- Keep an open mind. Heiss knew he wanted to work in the field of management consulting. Though his first consulting job out of college wasn’t his dream job, it allowed him to gain the right skills and move up in his preferred field.
Heiss emphasizes that graduates should apply for and be open to any types of jobs within the same sphere of their fields of interest: “It’s a win if you land your first job in the same universe as the field you want to go into….If you keep your mind open and realize that you’re likely not going to get the job you think you want right away, you’ll be more successful in the long run, because you’re still moving in the right direction.”
Since graduating, Roohi has steered his career in different directions. After his time at the USDA, he moved to Austin and worked for the American Red Cross of Central Texas in a communications role. Later, he pivoted to practicing law. He also recommends that graduates keep their mind—and options—open when applying for jobs.
“Put yourself into the mindset of ‘I need to get a job.’ You may need to be a bit humble when it comes to the types of jobs you apply for,” says Roohi. “You may still get your dream job, but it’s important to be open to different opportunities. This is a good mindset in normal circumstances, but it’s especially heightened in this environment.”
- Differentiate yourself through your education and skills. Krohmal graduated with a BA in 2011, a couple of years after the Great Recession was thought to have ended but before a complete economic recovery. After a year of interning, working at restaurants, and looking for jobs, she decided to pursue a master’s degree at SIS. This way, she could differentiate herself from other candidates in a crowded field. SIS faculty also served as valuable resources for her during and after grad school.
“My professors at AU were teachers and practitioners, and I found that to be really helpful because they could give you advice, put you in touch with people, and teach about what the actual work environment is like,” says Krohmal. “In fact, my professors still are helpful. My AU advisor, I still meet up with him every three or four months to chat and see where I’m at. He still provides me with advice.”
Another way graduates can differentiate themselves is by emphasizing their unique skills. One of the main reasons Roohi landed his first job at the USDA was because he highlighted the fact that he spoke Spanish during the interview. Though he did not end up using his Spanish-speaking skills in the role, they helped him get his foot in the door.
- Showcase that you're a hard worker. Graduates can leave a great impression on an interviewer when they evince that they’re hard workers. According to Heiss, one way to do so is by developing new skills while on the job hunt: “Do anything you can to show that you are spending time developing a skill—that could be through an internship, taking a course online, taking on a project, working as a freelancer. Pick things that are relevant to what you want to do. Then, when you’re a job candidate, you can show how you’ve continued to progress as a worker.”
Several of Roohi’s friends who ended up landing jobs at organizations like the Atlantic Council or Booz Allen Hamilton worked part-time jobs while they were job searching. He recommends highlighting these experiences during interviews as well: “You can weave that into the interview process. Talk about the fact that you’re still working because it shows that you’re willing to work. You have the degree—the intellectual aspect of it—but can you put in the work?”
- Don't give up. Heiss, Krohmal, and Roohi all agree that persistence is crucial to landing a job, especially during a recession. Receiving a rejection letter hurts; there’s no doubt about it, but it’s important to continue working hard on applications in the face of discouragement.
Confidence is key, according to Roohi. While he was job searching, he put on metaphorical blinders to focus less on the recession and more on his application process, all while keeping a tenacious attitude: “It’s important to keep the mindset of ‘I’m going to get a job’ because it keeps your interview skills up, keeps your confidence up, and allows you to keep up the stamina toward looking for jobs. If I didn’t get a certain interview or job, I wouldn’t harp on it. Just keep going.”
Krohmal recalls that she and her friends found it psychologically difficult to not find a job right away. She advises graduates to keep in mind that a tough job market is not their fault: “Don’t let a challenging job market make you feel that you are doing something wrong, and don’t lose faith in yourself. Understand that the external situation is really challenging, and don’t be afraid to change your plan and get creative. It’s going to be rough, but you will get through it.”