The Post-Grad Survival Guide


How to Find Work You Love in a Recession

Lessons from someone who graduated into the last recession

Image for post
Image for post
Photo: Free to Use Sounds/Unsplash

The US is now officially classified as being in a recession.

It’s an outcome that might have been obvious during these past few months, but now that it’s been officially announced, things are going to suck a bit more for recent graduates.

You might have taken a few weeks off after graduation, which means that this news is coming just as you’re beginning your job search.

As someone who graduated from college during the 2008 recession, I’ve seen firsthand what it’s like to try and find employment during difficult times.

First and foremost, it sucks. And I’m sorry you have to go through it.

Second, I have a few lessons that I learned from that struggle.

Risk is now a big factor

When you think about it, hiring someone is always a risk.

Businesses are essentially taking strangers with certain credentials and paying them a chunk of money to handle specific tasks. Many steps can go wrong with that, which is why businesses tend to have a little leeway with their hiring budget.

But in recessions, many companies are going to try and mitigate risk as much as possible. When combined with the job market being a seller’s market, it means that the deck is stacked against you.

There are a few things you might have seen already. Perhaps you applied to the job online, only to discover that the job doesn’t exist due to hiring freezes.

Or you may have noticed that job descriptions suddenly require much more experience.

What you need to understand is that they’re not doing that to be mean to you: they’re doing that so that they don’t risk a bad employee. Someone very senior who has those years of experience is less likely to screw something up versus a fresh-faced college graduate.

So you have two options here: make yourself seem less risky, or embrace the risk.

The value of free work

In his book Recession-proof graduate, Charlie Hoehn talks about the value of free work, which bridges this gap.

Setting up trial periods with a company where you do work on a project for free, with a firmly established end date, is something that removes a lot of that risk for companies. They see how you work, how you interact with the team, and whether you’re able to get the job done.

And I know what you’re saying right now: why would I ever work for free?

That seems like a scam. But, it could also lead to your dream job.

Let me ask you a question. If you saw your dream job posting on a website, how would you stand out against 35-year-olds with a decade more experience who just lost their jobs?

On paper, there might be next to nothing you can do. But by mitigating that risk, you suddenly make the choice more competitive: Do I hire the 35-year old that looks good on paper, or the 22-year old that works well with the team?

Also, choosing to do free work doesn’t mean you do it for everything.

Instead, if there’s a project that interests you, with a company that you like, then offering to work for free means that you get to have real-world experience working with them.

And if you’re still morally opposed to free work, make a Fiverr/Upwork account and charge $10. It’s still the same basic principle: getting real-world experience with companies and showing that you can deliver.

At the very least, you can learn something: practicing your skills with real-world clients, learning about team dynamics, or even adding to your portfolio.

Not to mention, researching companies and fields is going to be an essential skill to learn.

Disruptive technology and risk

Imagine that you tried to do the ‘safe route.’ You chose a conservative major like Engineering, you did your internships and classes and then were hired by a large manufacturing firm out of college.

Then the 2008 recession hit, and you were out of a job.

What types of jobs would you be looking for during that time? More manufacturing companies, which were a rapidly shrinking industry at that time? Or would you look to transition your skills into another field?

If you making yourself as low risk as possible doesn’t sound appealing, you’re not alone. Between competing with experienced job seekers and taking jobs at companies where you weren’t sure if they’d implode, not to mention being a decade behind financially in major life choices, there weren’t many good choices.

If that’s the case, then the other option is to embrace the risk and try to understand emerging markets.

One of the effects that the 2008 recession had was changing fields for better or for worse. While manufacturing and retail suffered immensely, disruptive technology changed the face of Silicon Valley.

Startups like Slack, Uber, and Instagram rose out of the last recession, embracing the risk of turbulent markets and eventually changing the way we work, drive, and socialize. And the driving forces behind these companies? Fresh-face college graduates.

It may be too early to tell for this recession, but some fields are going to shrink or expand significantly in the next few years. Nightlife and retail might shrink, while telehealth and remote work technologies may expand.

Keep an eye on startup-focused job sites like Angelist to see if there’s a risk you want to take.

Have patience with yourself

The last thing that I want to tell you is to have patience with yourself. It’s a hard thing to say, but you must recognize it. This is a recession, which means that times are going to be tough, and you will likely face a certain amount of rejection.

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Make sure you spend a significant amount of time doing what you like as well. Spend some time learning things or skills that interest you. As I did, you may find that you can turn your hobbies or skills into your primary career. Or at least some supplemental income.

These past few months have been hard on everyone.

And I know that it seems like this is just one more piece of bad news.

But that doesn’t mean that you can’t find work that you’re passionate about in this climate: it just means you need to factor risk into your job search.

By making it easy for risk-averse companies to hire you, or by choosing risky markets that are seeking out fresh talent, you can still find your way.

A 5-day email course with amazing tips on budgeting, investing, and productivity for 20-somethings. Sign up for free.

Written by

Healthcare-focused UX designer and researcher. Creator of two online courses on design communication and UX research planning:

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store