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

Monday, March 14, 2011

Laura

Laura graduated from a well-respected public university with a B.S. in civil engineering. She has a vivacious personality and is enthusiastic about her work at a large national construction management firm. She genuinely loves what she does and where she does it.

I kind of fell into the industry. I wanted to be able to work on large projects that would impact society and change people's lives for the better. I really wanted to do something with bridges. I thought they were fascinating. Whenever I saw a really complicated structure, I always would think, oh man, there's so much physics behind it! It's such a static thing—like a highway overpass or a bridge, but there's so much math! She laughs. And my friends would just roll their eyes as I dorked out. That's kind of where I saw myself. I didn't really understand the specifics of what it entailed.

XX Construction came to a civil and environmental engineering career fair—they have a large recruiting effort among civil engineers. I interned with them for two summers and all of the last academic year part time. After I worked for XX Construction the first summer, I decided to only interview with construction firms, so everywhere else I interviewed with, they were also similar general contractor/construction management type companies. They only differed in company culture and the types of project they took on.

I would say after the first year I had an internship with XX Construction, I didn't really feel the strain of any economic hardship, but when I was looking for an internship again, I talked with a lot of other companies and at that point, it was getting a little tighter and a little more competitive. In retrospect, it would've been nice to intern at other companies and see what their management style is like, how they do things differently than XX Construction.

XX Construction was really the only place that I wanted to work. I really enjoyed the project I'd been interning on, I really enjoyed the people that I worked with. And I felt like the type of people that XX Construction likes to hire was the type of people I like to hang out with. She laughs. So, for me, I felt like it was a really great fit. And I was really excited when they made me a full time offer.

It's different once you start working—when you intern, you're doing things that are helpful, but at the same time, nothing is that heavy in terms of accountability and responsibility. That's what's different, being full time. Realizing that the things you do and say always circle back and you have to be accountable for it. It's been really different…just not being in a setting anymore with a bunch of people my own age. It's kind of weird, 'cause most of my friends I still hang out with, they're either still in college or they're looking for jobs right now, but they don't really share the same experiences I have in that forty-fifty hour work week.

I really enjoy my job right now. I think it's a good mix of something that's practical and I can support myself pretty well doing what I'm doing and also it's something that keeps me challenged and keeps me interested.

The recession is like this thought in the back of everyone's mind—especially since XX Construction has done multiple rounds of layoffs within the company. I guess I feel like I have a little bit of security in terms of being a new hire, because I know that I'm the cheapest worker that they have. If they want to lay me off or...I mean they could, but I'm not worth that much in the first place. She laughs.

In terms of how the recession has impacted me outside of my job, I do feel like a lot of my friends are unemployed or they're working a job to make ends meet or kind of a temporary job while they apply to law school or some kind of graduate school. For me, it's a little bit of a dampener. Right now, I'm trying to move to an apartment in San Francisco. And, I'd like to live with more than one person, I prefer a more social atmosphere. But it's been really difficult finding people to live with, 'cause all of my friends don't have jobs, so they can't afford to move out of their parents' place.

Once you're off work you have all of this free time before you go to bed and sometimes it's frustrating—I shouldn't say it's frustrating because that makes it sound like a life crisis. She laughs. But, I wish more of my friends were making some type of income, 'cause it's hard to go out and grab a drink when your friends say they can't afford it. Sometimes I feel bad about having a job.

When I can, I help my friends out with resumes and stuff. I recently got put on the recruiting team—they put us through behavioral interview training. I try and pass on the knowledge to my friends who are going through the interview process and submitting resumes. I know what companies are looking for on a pretty basic level, so I can assist in some way. It's weird to feel bad. I guess I shouldn't, but when you're in a better situation than everyone else, that's kind of what happens. I wish all of my friends had jobs. That would be great. I could go out all of the time, there wouldn't be really any restrictions on what we could do.

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