Part blog, part oral history, part research project.
How has the Great Recession affected your path beyond college? What is your story?

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Janet graduated from a small, women’s liberal art college on the West Coast in Spring 2010 with a Masters in Public Policy. She has all the hipster accoutrements, from her short, funky hairstyle and retro clothes to where she lives in San Francisco, but none of the patronizing attitude. Currently, she is drafting a business plan for a friend’s startup. We meet at her Victorian in the Mission District and chat in her kitchen as sunlight streams in on an uncharacteristically clear and warm day.

I was just thinking fellowships right as I was [graduating]…I wanna do something with the expectation that I just graduated.

I did [an] internship with the XYZ Market and that lasted for three or four months. I did that internship full time...for the summer...which didn't really feel like summer.

It was paid. Yeah, it was a really good internship too...I mean, like, we were—we were everywhere. She rattles off a list of people and places: government officials, agencies, nonprofits and city departments. I mean, that was a good experience, cuz I was like, wow, there's a lot of jobs I don't ever want to do, this is like, some of these are terrible jobs and these people are so stressed out and they're rude to each other and they're just, you know, I'm pretty sure they're making good money, but, it comes with a price...Like I said, they were just all...old. There was not a single person who was under forty. And it was shocking to me. Cuz it was like, you get into these jobs and you are in them. Forever. It seems like that. So...and they have such attitude about them. Some of those people.

I initially applied [at XYZ Market] cuz I was hoping it had more to do with food policy and I had to beg to get into the food policy stuff with them, I had to be like "please take me to any meetings" and eventually they did start taking me to those but that wasn't the point of the internship, the point of the internship was to do this project management real estate development...[It] wasn't really related to my education, but there is a lot of policy involved when you're working with the city, so...They definitely crafted an internship that was policy-related, but the overall project really didn't feel like policy things, so..In the end, I did get a lot of food policy exposure and got more interested in it.

I ask Janet to describe a typical day now that her internship has ended.

I guess [my] typical day is that I wake up and I immediately get on my computer and I do start looking for work. I also check, all the blogs...and like, you know, go through everything that's bookmarked…and then I actually do practice my cello for quite some time, clean the house, walk the dog—sort of domestic stuff...Cook a big huge lunch and then I go hang out with friends and it's weird, cuz it's like, exhausting, cuz I'm not really like producing anything, but I'm also—I really feel like a housewife right now. Like I clean so much and then I leave for two hours and come back and it's all messy again…it's not my favorite cycle right now, but that's, that's pretty much it.

Right now I'm applying to a lot of different FDIC jobs. And I kind of—cuz I was also envisioning an MBA eventually, after, you know, working for a little bit. I don't like the way people's money is managed and I don't like how women's money is managed and so I kind of feel like maybe that should've been something that I investigated more, especially with the Recession going on...I feel like there's just a lot of irresponsible people dealing with our money and my money and that's sort of started to bother me, especially as I'm getting to the point where I’m like, oh, I don't have all the money in the world, I'm going to start running out, how can I invest this to make it grow.

I think I might've told you about this before, but, I applied for that food policy—there’s like a food policy job open and I applied for it and actually talked to them –and the deadline hadn't even hit when I was talking to them—and they said they already had 150 applicants. And so, they were like, “Hey, you better be competitive”—I was like, “AAAH! Way to rub it in.” So, I think that was really the slap in the face. I was like, “I better be good.” And it's hard to compete with people who have ten more years of experience than you do. Or even five more years. So… you're crossing fingers and you're hoping they like the sound of your name...

[I]t has made me extremely fierce and competitive and willing to like, harass people. Especially if I know they work someplace that I know I want to work. I have no fear in just straight up contacting them—like, “hey, what do you think about this?” You know, I think maybe in a better job market I wouldn't have to rely on that as much...I mean, everybody's talking about it all the time, how you have to be more fierce, you have to be more present too. You have to remind people that you actually exist and you're not just a piece of paper.

If anything, I'm totally milking the fact that I feel like I can do everything and I'm really glad that I studied public policy cuz I can totally play it and be like, “yeah I know stuff about technology and finance” even though I just don't have the background or expertise that someone with a P-H-D in a specific topic would have. I'm applying to health care jobs, to arts program things—everything. I think if the job market was better, I'd be like, “look, I'm only going to do food policy and that's it.” There's only like two jobs open in the whole nation for that, so...

I thought [the job market] was gonna be a little worse. I thought that the job market was going to be terrible and that there wasn't going to be anything, but the reality is there are lots of things open, they just have five thousand applicants and so you have to be able to create these beautiful cover letters and they take forever and everything. You have to change all the wording in your resumes, like everything has to be extremely perfect because otherwise it's not even worth your time, because you're just throwing things into this abyss of people. And so that's different, I guess.

Janet has been considering an MBA since she was still in graduate school. She thinks it would help her better understand finance and the nuances of the private sector. I asked her what would influence her to start applying for business school.

You know, if someone would give it to me for free, that would be like the best thing possible. If I could work for a company that would either subsidize, you know, further education or if I got some sort of funding, grants or something, but for me right now, I feel like I can't financially take on that without having a little backup. I don't really want to be living like a student for that much longer too. That's another big consideration. I don't want to have to feel like there's some things I shouldn't buy or can't buy, but not that I'm acting like that….She laughs.

I think that long term I’m gonna be more, like, “do my own thing.” Which is strange. Because you'd think I'd be scrambling to get in somewhere and get health insurance and be part of an organization. But I think I'm actually more willing to be like, “hey I could make money playing my cello for people” or like, maybe I will sit in the BART station with my cello. She laughs.

But I think I'm more open to doing small business stuff. Um, I'm also, I hate to say it, but willing to take less pay… willing to work for free if it's, like, some awesome position—which I thought I'd never do again.

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