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.

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