Bucknell's Library

Bucknell's Library (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This past weekend was my 10 year college reunion. I traveled back to Bucknell University in Lewisburg, PA (where, let me tell you, they know how to throw a party) and spent a lovely weekend with friends and faculty some of which I hadn’t seen in years. We mostly spent the weekend learning we’re all too old to be partying that hard.

But the whole process has made me think about what it was like to be a new graduate a decade ago. There are students all over the world right now that just graduated from college who are entering a really crummy job market and are terrified about what the future holds. Or you’ve just been let go from your job and you feel that same terror of having to start all over. And I know people like to pretend that the economy just got bad but it was a very similar story when I graduated in 2002.

While at school, I worked for the Alumni Office’s website as my part time job. In 2000, they held a big tech conference at our school and the Alumni Office paid for their staff to go. I don’t remember everyone who was there but it was overwhelmingly internet companies as the dot com boom was still in full effect. And, as each of these dot com companies got up to speak, nearly every one invited a current Bucknell senior or two to the stage that they’d already extended a job offer to. I remember seeing those smiling Bucknell grads that knew they had a job lined up after graduation (All male, may I add. I think I was one of 3 females at the whole conference.) and hearing all these companies talk about the future and everything seemed so hopeful. They were giving out all these really high class freebies all of which just screamed “We have money and we are just giving it away!” and, sitting there as an underclassman with a ton of web and business experience, I felt like the future was wide open.

And then there came the dot com crash. The mood on campus was grim. Many who’d already gotten job offers had them abruptly retracted and I couldn’t help but think of those guys I’d seen up on stage at the tech conference looking so sure of their future now in a tailspin. Those that were still looking for a job found more doors slamming in their face than ever before.

In my class, many of my friends saw what was happening to those ahead of us and changed plans. They switched gears from looking for jobs to looking for grad schools, trying to stall their entrance into the real world until the job market got a bit better. They changed their major or added a minor that seemed more likely to get them a job. Everyone was freaking out about the future. By the time we were seniors and 9/11 happened, it felt like we’d done a complete 180 where this bleak and seemingly hopeless world had replaced all the shiny optimism of the previous years. I think, for a lot of people graduating or out of work right now, it feels very similar.

I mention all of this because… it worked out. My friends span a wide variety of career fields and all of them eventually found jobs, even if it took them a while. Some ended up changing career paths, taking out loans for some extra schooling that later lead to a job, or taking part time or temp jobs until they lead to full time. I, one of the infamously useless English majors, should have been the most screwed. But instead I was one of first people to find a good job which is a story for another time but I mention it because… everyone is different.

You may be hearing non-stop doom and gloom from the news but your experiences will be completely unique to anyone else’s. There is no certainty in anything, especially not failure. Even the toughest job market isn’t impossible to conquer and, in watching my former classmates over these last 10 years, triumphing in a bad economy comes down to three things:

  • Hustle. You have to be willing to work smarter/harder than maybe you did in the past. Get involved in as many things as you can to give yourself the best chance that one of those things will pan out. This is NOT the time for sitting around waiting for the world to come to you.
  • Flexibility. Stay open to opportunities even if they aren’t exactly what you thought you’d be doing. Don’t lock yourself into anything, be it a job, a city or an idea of what your future will be like. Many of my friends discovered they actually hate what they majored in and vastly prefer the tangent they ended up going down instead.
  • Adaptability. Maybe you’ve always done things a certain way and it’s comfortable but now is truly the time to adapt… or perish. Would paying for some extra training give you an edge in this job market? If your field is dying out, can you apply your skills to a new emerging career instead? Instead of bemoaning where you fit in the changing job market, figure out how to shape yourself into someone who fits what the market needs.

I know my readers are all of very different ages and backgrounds so I’m hoping some of you will jump in with your own experiences after graduation (college or high school). What kind of job market did you and your classmates graduate into? What obstacles did you face and how did you overcome them?