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

Monday, July 25, 2011


Andrew graduated with a B.A. in Political Economy from U.C. Berkeley in May 2010. When I spoke with him, I was struck by his poise and his intelligence. It was hard to remember that he was fresh out of school and not a seasoned economist.

I don't feel like my personal struggle in this job market has been particularly noteworthy or particularly interesting, really. Things have slowed down a little for me, but I still feel pretty confident. For my job searching ego, it’s kind of a nice time in a way, because you always have the built in excuse that it's not me, it's the economy. And I kind of believe that. I half-heartedly believe that it's really just a tough time for everyone.

I feel like when I really jumped into looking at research type of jobs in environmental-type areas and development studies, I quickly found that I was under qualified. And the applications that I did put in for those type of positions, I was told that my application was competing against people with graduate degrees, people with, in some cases, PhDs and so I have had to be a little more flexible. In terms of qualifications, I haven't found any truly entry level positions that I would be content working in, that would be a challenge. The process has been much more drawn out and kind of frustrating in the sense that I thought my education would prepare me better to find something that I want to do when I've kind of found that has not necessarily been the case.

I've been kind of selective, which I realize isn't the best strategy, in this economy, but I don't want to settle for something that doesn't feel like it's moving my career forward. I hear back from somewhere around half of the companies I apply for—most of those being just form letters telling me that while they're very much impressed with my qualifications, I'm not quite what they're looking for.

There's just so many organizations that want you to have some experience. My friend described to me a recent job symposium held by UC Berkeley and the topic was how to get into the field of development studies and the students were asking "How can we get the jobs?" and the people were saying, "Well, you need a little bit of experience."
"Well, how can we get the experience?"
"Well, you kind of need to get a job."
It seems tough to break into a job that will give you a decent amount of responsibility when the only things I've held before are internships and student jobs. I worked almost all the time when I was in school. I worked at the student newspaper, first selling ads, then as, kind of an HR person, worked as a camp counselor one summer, I was a security monitor at the dorms, and I worked in the grad school of journalism doing administrative support sort of stuff, had an internship at the State Department in Taiwan…I feel like I have not a lot of real job experience, but I'm not inexperienced. I've definitely done all of the jobs where you have a certain level of administrative competency and I think I've proven that beyond a shadow of a doubt. It's just the research qualifications, the more kind of numbers-heavy stuff that they don't necessarily see jumping out of my resume.

I think [the economy] has impacted my job search in the sense that I'm competing against more qualified candidates who are, you know, looking down, looking at a lower level of positions than they might in a better economy. I think the competition is tougher. Also, a good position will generate so much interest that I think the people reading applications are overwhelmed. A lot of times I don't hear back from people. I try to follow-up but don't get anywhere with it.

I applied to a pretty small consulting firm up in Seattle and I called like a week and half afterwards to check up on my application. I spoke to a very nice woman who is handling all the incoming apps and she said they had over 3000 applicants this year. Honestly, the company must've been under or around 50 employees. That's something like 25 a day. That put it in perspective for me. To be facing that much competition, I didn't know—they didn't have any way, I can't even imagine how they would process all of those and give everybody a fair look, much less pick mine out of the mass of qualified candidates. I knew that one wasn't gonna work out. I couldn't beat myself up too much about that, given the numbers I was facing.

I feel as if once I get that first job and I can challenge myself, I can prove myself, then, if in a couple of years the economy's better then the recession really won't have had too adverse an effect on my career. The only trouble is, that in all of my interviews companies have asked me, “What have you been doing with your time since you graduated?” I tell them that I've been traveling, job searching, reading, spending time with my family, but, you know, I haven't been doing anything to move my career or my skills forward, per se. If this job search drags on much longer that could really hurt me.

I did have an interview earlier this week. And I thought it went pretty well. I think I'll hear back today on whether or not they want me to come back for a second interview. They're a firm called XX Associates,* they do health care and pharmaceutical consulting and it would be a good first job. Probably not the sector or area that I'd really envisioned going into, per se. But, you know, a fascinating topic area nonetheless. My main areas that I'd love to do research in are development and development economics. I have a friend, a former classmate from UC Berkeley, who works for XX Associates and she encouraged me to apply. I figured it couldn't hurt given the rather sorry state of my job search. So I put in an application with her encouragement.

At the end of the day, in whatever job that I end up doing, I want to be able to ask "Is this going to have a positive impact on people's lives?" and hopefully the answer is yes.

*The company’s name has been changed to protect anonymity.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Recession Grads on the Radio! (Part 3)

What? A fantastic story
Where? On Crosscurrents, an award-winning daily news program on 91.7 FM, KALW
When? Monday, July 18th, between 5-5:30 pm*

This is the third installment in a three-part series exploring the experiences of San Francisco Bay Area Recession Grads. In this final piece, we hear the story of one young graduate who is working. Kelly Cha is a graphics delineator for the City of Oakland—a position she earned after interning for the city for over two years. Cha graduated a semester early with a Bachelor’s degree from the prestigious architecture department at U.C. Berkeley.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I keep hearing that the U.S. is in dire need of engineers—people are desparately looking to fill engineering positions, despite the economic hard times. Apparently, this is true. I spoke with Brian Reeves, a civil engineering major who graduated in 2009 from Santa Clara University with a Bachelor’s degree. He loves his job—and it is exactly what he dreamt of on graduation day.

For the first couple years in school, I saw myself going to design firms to do engineering, but when I graduated I could see myself going into construction.

When I wanted to do design, it was just because that's what I was learning in school and I wanted to do that. Then my first impression of design companies was that the people that worked in them weren't any fun. The companies were all small. I heard that when you go to work for a design company you're not going to get paid a lot and you're not going to get to do design work like you learned in school. You'd be doing detailing, just small parts, not actually doing any of the engineering. Yeah. In construction everybody is, I guess, a little bit more fun to hang out with.

After graduation I hadn't lined up a job and my friends were building a solar house on campus at Santa Clara for a competition. And, my friend told me that I could stay in his apartment while I helped build this house. So I did that. I'd say that if companies were hiring then I probably wouldn't have gone and done this whole [solar] project. I probably would've gotten a job right out of school and begun to work.

During the project I met some representatives from Cupertino Electric, because they were a sponsor of our house and, they offered me an internship, so, I took that. And the internship lasted me about 3 months, and it was a cool experience –my other internships had been with general contractors, so to be working with a sub-contractor was kind of cool to get that other side of the business.

That internship ended in March and I started looking for a job. A lot of going through old contacts, calling companies that I worked for before—they weren't hiring. And a lot of networking through family and through friends. And also going cold to these companies' websites and just puttin' stuff in. Going to career fairs. And, you know, got to a point where, I'd kinda done everything that I could do, maybe after a month or two months and I was just kind of waiting on replies at that point.

The first person that I contacted for a job was my friend Jaden Green who worked for Camden Construction.* Jaden went through the same Civil Engineering program that I went through. She graduated the year before I did. She forwarded my resume on and gave me a good recommendation and it so happened that they were reviewing resumes at that time. I went through other jobs, got a few offers all at the same time, one being Camden.

I was unemployed for about 4 months and started with Camden on July 1st. My job started basically, right on time—I would've had to borrow from my parents if it was any longer.

This is kind of what I was looking for—a construction job in the Bay Area for a bigger company like Camden. So I pretty much got exactly what I was looking for.

I'm a project engineer at the airport. San Francisco airport. And I manage a couple contracts.

If I'd gone straight to work for Camden, by now, I would've been there for a year and a half,—instead I've just been there for half a year. So, I'm that much further behind, I guess, in, you know, growing my bank account and trying to get my life together.

I have responsibilities that are similar to people that have been with the company a long time. 5, 6, 7 years. Yeah and they let you get into that right away. It's nice having responsibilities. When I was an intern at places—they're not going to give you a whole lot of responsibility. Typically you just get a task, I would do the task and then I would take it to them and get my next task. But now I have my own thing where I know what I'm wanting to do and I make my own work. And nobody really 100% oversees what I'm doing. You know, down to every detail. That's nice. To have that kind of responsibility. A little stressful sometimes, but when you get everything done and you clear your plate off it's pretty rewarding.

*Both the name of the company Brian works for and the name of his friend who also works there have been changed.