For 2020 graduates, the job search looks drastically different than it did even three months ago. Every day more and more questions are presented. How do I navigate hiring freezes? How can I still gain experience and leverage my skills? What resources are out there during this time? While the current state of the world is a public health crisis, the job market has many similarities to that of the 2008-2009 recession. We interviewed three DePaul alumni who graduated amidst the recession to learn how they navigated the job market and leveraged their skills and adapted to the changes.
- Matt Isaia, who graduated from DePaul in 2008 with a B.A. in English and currently works as the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.
- Mostafa Radwan, who graduated from DePaul in 2009 with a Masters in Computer Science and is currently a Solutions Architect at Docker Inc.
- Tara Genovese, who graduated with a B.A. in International Studies from DePaul in 2008 and currently works as a Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.
In general could you tell me a bit about your experience applying to jobs and finding employment upon graduation?
Tara: When I graduated from DePaul, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation and had very little guidance during that time. It was generally expected that once I graduated with a college degree that I would find a job easily afterward. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I remember one of my first professional interviews hearing in the waiting area about people’s 20 years of experience and master’s degrees competing for the entry-level job I applied for. Needless to say, I was not very confident in that interview or really in myself at the time. I would say compared to many of my friends who graduated that same year as me, I was lucky to find something. I had volunteered as an ESL teacher for a few months and I was contacted by the manager of the Non-profit regarding an AmeriCorp position there. That position did not pay me well at all, but at least I was able to get a forbearance on my loans, get really great experience, and be eligible for an end of year grant for each year completed to go toward further education or paying off my loans. I was not able to financially move out on my own after graduation and stayed with my mom.
Matt: I graduated in August of 2008 and had been working a part time retail job that held me over. I began looking for work and quickly realized that in order to find this first job out, it was less about applying and more about networking. I was able to find a job with a small company specializing in government contracting. Networking was definitely the crucial component during this time.
Mostafa: As an international student, there was already an additional level of difficulty. I had landed an internship and had experience as a software engineer prior to graduation which helped the most. Despite that, it was still very tough, I had a lot of interviews but not a lot of people were hiring. Many companies responded that these were “uncertain times” and they would keep me posted, but I began running out of money so I had to look for a plan B. I kept doing a lot of interviews and eventually landed an interview and job out of state in GIS mapping around September/October of that year.
I found it most important to remember that you won’t be where you are forever, it’s okay that you’re in that job for now.Matt isaia, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake
Did you have to shift your plan to account for the recession and economic changes?
Tara: I was 22 years old so there really wasn’t much of a plan to begin with. I was still trying to figure things out back then. I really started looking at the money after this, seeing how certain positions weren’t in demand. I guess in this way my mindset changed. I wanted to work in a field where I could help others but wouldn’t starve. This in a lot of ways is why after getting my master’s in social work I went to medical directly instead of mental health because hospitals and health clinic’s pay better and offer benefits. If there wasn’t a recession, I probably would have gone straight to nonprofit work or after my master’s straight into mental health. I was always massively afraid of losing what financially I had or losing my job. I think this changed the way I negotiated my salary at work. Because the common saying was “just be happy you have a job.” This again is what I am hearing today but instead of “happy,” I hear “grateful.” I, personally, find these statements very problematic.
Matt: There was a physical shift in that I wasn’t 100% sold on moving back home with my parents. Given the time, I ended up moving back home, which definitely wasn’t the easiest decision. The first job that I took after graduation had very little to do with what I wanted to do and what I had done at DePaul. I think that this shifted my thoughts. I began thinking more about pursuing other opportunities like advanced degrees.
Mostafa: My original plan was to go into software engineering, but, at the time, there weren’t a lot of jobs out there so I tried to still stay in technology.
Are there any specific skills you had picked up at DePaul that helped you the most in that first post-grad job?
Matt: I definitely picked up a lot of soft skills that were useful. DePaul has robust general education requirements that helped hone my excel skills, allowing me to become familiar with spreadsheets and looking at data. My English classes also helped hone my writing and research skills. With these skills I was able to say I have a lot of experience writing and ask if I could work on a certain project.
How did that first post-grad job help you in your later roles?
Matt: Honestly, it was most helpful in that I was able to learn what I really want to do versus what I don’t want to do. At the first job, I had an overwhelming sensation that I don’t want to stay here and saw it as just a stepping stone to what I do want to do. I started asking myself what it is I need to do in order to get out of this work. Where do I want to be? I could stay where I am or I could challenge myself. I think it’s more than okay to try jobs that you might not see yourself in because you’re able to learn about what you want to do and don’t
Additionally, what were some of the best resources you found while job hunting?
Tara: For me, I didn’t stop learning about the job-hunting process. There are so many resources out there on how to formulate your resume, cover letter, what colors are best to wear during a job interview, everything on the internet. These help. Keep learning. For me, I primarily used indeed.com like websites where they take postings from multiple job boards. I would also try to use the same verbiage in my cover letter and resume as in the job post.
If there is a company you like, make a schedule of when to look back on their job board. Start finding people on LinkedIn who work for the company and look at their experience. Even though it’s scary, just contact them for an informational interview and come prepared and on time. tara genovese, Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.
Matt: Networking was definitely the most important resource during that time. I think the ASK network has really streamlined the process within the DePaul community. I wish it had been around for me. I also utilized the Career Center’s resume review service which helped get my materials in order to apply.
Mostafa: LinkedIn wasn’t very popular while I was job searching but it definitely is now and I’d recommend checking out LinkedIn. Candor is also a great resource to find out who has a hiring freeze right now. I made sure to take advantage of the services at the Career Center as well. I made appointments for a resume and cover letter review a few times which made sure everything was the best it could be. I landed my internship from the Career Center job fair so I would definitely utilize them during this time.
Finally, what is some advice that you’d give graduating seniors during this time? This could be related to careers or could be overall life advice.
Tara: Life is always uncertain. You will get what you want but you have to be prepared that it is not going to be with plan A. It’s never easy to be flexible and adaptable, but it will teach you to persevere. I graduated in the time of the worst recession this country had ever seen until today, I have a master’s degree, I work in the field that I got it in, I own my home, and I have a small business. I didn’t allow someone to tell me how to live my life. I didn’t listen to how the media always insulted my generation. I got what I wanted and for the most part, getting there wasn’t by plan A or B. If you want what you want, you will get it but you have to believe it in order to do so!
Matt: Try to look for jobs that are very in demand right now. If you’re able to, try looking at COVID-19 response jobs. I would also keep in mind that once the economy opens back up there’s going to be a big flood of people looking for jobs. Be aware of the competition; it’s a numbers game in any economy. Right now, there’s so much that we can’t control, so it’s important to try to stay positive. Focus on the things you want to do, and ask yourself ‘what can I do now that I couldn’t do before.’ This could be hobbies or upskilling, try to embrace the situation as much as you can.
Make sure to take care of yourself first, before others; make sure that you’re meeting your own personal needs (getting sleep, eating well, surrounding yourself with loved ones).
Try to see what’s available out there resource wise, any income or recovery plans. It’s going to be super difficult to concentrate on a job search if you don’t know how to pay for your rent. Apply to lots of jobs, and find or create your own opportunities, even ones you might not have normally considered. In life, it’s important to never stop learning, even outside of class; this can be a great time to upskill. Try to continue to foster relationships during this time, network, reach out to people through the ASK network. Your career is a work in progress, it’s never going to end, where you land after graduation doesn’t determine your entire future.