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

Friday, September 2, 2011


Hilary was enthusiastic and cheerfully garrulous when I spoke with her. It was January 2011, a short month after she had earned her master’s degree in Geography from San Francisco State. She also has two B.A.’s from U.C. Berkeley—one each in English and Geography.

I had been working at a restaurant and not being very mentally stimulated. I felt like I wasn't really doing anything especially productive. I wanted to make a change in my life and I felt like having a higher degree is never something that you regret. Having that knowledge in your head is never something that you regret. [The master’s program] sounded like a really structured and interesting environment where I would be surrounded by other people who were interested in things and wanted to talk about things. I was really looking for some nerd hang out time. I mean, I don't think that I—I definitely didn't go back to school so that I would get a specific job.

At that point, also, I'd taken an internship with the City and County of San Francisco for one of the Supervisors' Offices. I really enjoyed what I was doing, but I definitely felt like if I continued I would need to have a master’s.

Now that I have this degree, as of not that long ago, I feel like it has opened up jobs— that I meet the minimum requirements. So I feel like there's more opportunity for me out there. Now I'm being faced with the fact that I might be eligible [for a] position, but there's a lot more people with a lot more experience than I have. When I'm looking for jobs, I'm the least qualified person they could have, because everybody has to have that degree and everybody that's older than me has already been working. The pool is bigger for the jobs that I can get, but I'm a smaller fish.

I wake up and I spend about two hours online looking for jobs, looking over my email—and then I'll do that again for maybe another hour later in the afternoon. If I find something that I like, which happens, twice a week maybe, a job that I'm interested in and think that I'd be good at, then that's probably a two hour commitment to writing a cover letter and getting the resume submitted.

I've been looking since before I graduated even, and towards the end of the year I definitely noticed that there weren't as many jobs, which makes sense. And then as soon as January started, I saw a lot more. So I feel like there's jobs out there.

I wouldn't take a job that seemed "alright." I wouldn't take a $40,000 a year job working as reception at Gap, where it would be just good enough that it might be difficult to leave later. I rather take something like a restaurant job so that I could easily walk away. It would be such a flexible schedule, I also could be doing things like working for the City as an intern or working for a nonprofit. I just would rather do that than taking a full time job that's gonna stagnate right there. Does that make sense? Like a restaurant job seems like it might definitely be a means to an end at this point, because it allows me to work in the other capacity. Getting me the experience.

Part of me worries because other people are going back to school. Nobody can get a job and people are getting laid off and may not be able to get a job as quickly. [They] are going back to school. So I'm a little worried that in the future there might be more competition. I can't exactly afford to, for instance, just get a restaurant job again and not do anything [in my field]. I feel like I have all of the schooling that I need, I feel like I need the physical experience behind me.

Right now I work at the Food Bank on Friday mornings, at the church up the street. I've been doing that for probably four months.

I ask her if she’s always volunteered.

Yeah, I've always done something. I mean, I wouldn't say I'm seeking out and have to have a volunteer job, but something just sort of seems to come up. I don't know. Just seems to come up and I'm like, yeah, why wouldn't I do that? I have time. Especially now, I'm not doing anything for many hours of the day, so if I can help somebody else, why wouldn't I? You know, it gets me out of the house to meet's kind of fun.

Basically I want to go into government work, so I feel like the recession has hit that a little bit later and I think it will last longer, but it seems to me from what I hear on the radio, it seems like things are doing better all of the time.1 I don't know, even the government seems like it's hiring and there's enough positions and now I feel like I'm qualified enough. I feel pretty good about it.

I actually applied for what I would've considered my dream job. It was a nontechnical planning position for neighborhood design through the [City’s] planning department. I applied for that at the beginning of December.

This is exactly what I'm really interested in and when I wrote that cover letter I felt like everything about my entire background really channels up to this one job. I never felt more like I was the perfect person for this position. Unless they're looking for someone with experience that isn't fresh out of school. Maybe people really fresh out of school are really annoying, I don't know. The man who is doing the hiring looks really nice though, I don't think he'd be annoyed by exuberance. She laughs.

1 Note, this interview was conducted in January 2011.

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