Caroline Contillo, Hunter College, New York, 2010
I was doing a yearlong internship at the New York Department of Environmental Conservation as part of a scholarship program for public service professionals. We were told that people from previous years had gone on to work at the DEC and that we would be welcome to turn our internship into a job after graduation if we took the civil service exam. Unfortunately, towards the end of the school year we found out that due to the financial collapse, there was a state-wide hiring freeze.
My experience has taught me that I'm not actually that valuable to capitalism. If I derive my self-worth from how marketable I am, I’d feel awful.
If the adults and systems you thought you could rely on are not coming through right now, know that there are people out there who are very passionate about working together to make sure others do not fall through the cracks. Use your frustration, sadness and anger to connect with those people and push for a change to a system that would have such inequality baked into it that slowing down to care for each other during a pandemic would crash the entire thing.Graduating into a recession is going to be difficult. Don't be ashamed if your résumé looks like chaos. Learn to let go of expectations of what your career should look like. It's not [going to be] good, or fair, but it can possibly open you up to other ways of being that don't rely so heavily on a system that was designed to reward a few at the expense of many.
Are you graduating this spring? We'd love to hear from you. What are your hopes and fears about graduating now? Tell us. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
John Wilmes, University of Iowa, Iowa, 2009
I vividly remember my creative writing professor coming into class 20 minutes late on the day the stock market crashed in 2008, looking me right in the eye, and telling me to remember this moment. I was an English major, so I wasn’t really looking at a very straightforward career path anyway. The destabilized economy just compounded that.
Don’t listen to your parents. They grew up in a fundamentally different economy and it took me and most people of my generation several years to realize they didn’t know what the fuck they were talking about.
Lyz Mancini, St. John Fisher College, New York, 2008
I graduated with the dream of writing for a magazine in New York, like every other communications major [at that time]. We were constantly told to steel ourselves, that there would likely not be jobs waiting for us come June. I had almost six figures in student loan debt looming, and the only responsible option it seemed was to move home, find whatever job I could, and try to save money.I was always really obsessed with magazines growing up, and my dream was to work at CosmoGirl. In the years leading up to 2008, that was the idea: you leave college with a job. That narrative really started to change my junior year. It went from you get a job after college to there aren’t any jobs—especially for journalism at that point.I ended up moving to New York anyway, and decided to figure it out from there. I took an unpaid internship at Nylon four days a week, and then I waitressed on the side. I had two other unpaid internships, but after a while I got sick of not getting paid so I made a hard pivot to working at an immigration law firm for four years. I was still writing, it was just legal writing. But it made me remember how much I loved it so I started freelancing for xoJane and Refinery29 [Editor's note: Refinery29 is now part of Vice Media Group]. Eventually I found my way to branded [content] and copywriting, and have since worked for Real Simple and for brands like Clinique.
I think I’m unusual in that I ended up in the same field I went to school for. Try everything because you never know—you could stumble into something you really love.
Beck Simo, Marquette University, Wisconsin, 2010
I majored in theater arts and elementary education. Of course theatre companies were operating at bare bones at this time, so I had little hope of finding work in that sector. A lot of school districts had increased class sizes and stopped replacing teachers who left or retired—true hiring freezes—meaning I didn't get a teaching job either.I moved back in with my parents after graduation and would look for jobs every day. I’d go to different school district websites and there would just be nothing. Some days I would find maybe one or two jobs, but you could tell they were being really selective, and they only wanted people with experience, advanced degrees or certifications I didn’t have at that point. I applied to everything I could find and got absolutely nothing.I worked at a summer camp, but once it was August I wasn’t sure what to do. I taught some toddler classes, and then I found a family to babysit for full time. I also tutored a couple of kids, and so I sort of cobbled together a living for a year out of those things. About a year later, I cold-emailed the principal of my old elementary school and asked her if any of the teachers needed help—I told her I would laminate, make copies, anything. An old teacher of mine [heard about it] and had me come in; she let me teach and work with kids, and that was amazing. A year later they hired me as an aide, and the year after that they hired me to teach. The following year I got hired at the school district where I work now, and got to teach drama. So it did ultimately work out, but it was a long road.
Take anything that’s even a little related to what you want to be doing.
Stephen Parris, Culinary Institute of America, New York, 2007
You go to culinary school and you dream of working in a fancy restaurant, landing nice gigs in the city, and doing individual presentation work and stuff like that. But due to the economic downturn and the long-term effects of 9/11, the New York hotel industry took a real hit, and there weren’t any opportunities in downtown Manhattan right after graduation.Right after graduation, I worked at Chipotle. After that I got an internship at the Omni Berkshire in Manhattan, but there weren’t really any options [for a full-time job]. So then I went into construction and spent a summer roofing. I always focused on things I liked to do—I liked working on computers so I did some of that too. And that came back to help me. Recently, I got laid off from my job working as a manager for a Panera Bread location [because of the pandemic], but just Saturday evening I got a call from someone whose company I used to work for—I helped them set up a remote office, build their social media presence, set them up on Google drive, all of that—and he offered me my old position back. So now [during the pandemic] I have a job working from home. All of those little computer things I did back in the day, working in the culinary industry all of that time—if it wasn’t for keeping up with those side hobbies I’d be out of job.
Don't forget about your hobbies and side skills. Nurture them however you can.
Wes Yee, Cal State East Bay, California, 2009
I have to admit I didn’t think about [the economy] very much when I was in school. I was just focused on getting to the finish line, and I thought I would figure it out from there. Then I hit the job market and had to make a big adjustment to hustle mode.After graduation I moved back in with my mom and would spend my days pulling up every job page I could. Even unpaid jobs were so competitive at the time—I got turned down from multiple unpaid internships because there were so many other people applying, and so few positions open. I would send out hundreds of applications and only a couple would get back to me. I’d had internships in high school, but I didn’t have any professional experience, so applying to jobs and interviewing meant crafting stories around every little side hustle I had—I was a blogger, and I had an eBay store where I sold baseball cards.I feel like I benefited from really looking at finding a job as a job and treating it like one. I would also suggest having the right expectations and setting expectations with your family. I had a bit of a tiger mom, and there was this idea of, Hey, why aren’t you going out to work every day? Be honest and say, I’m doing the best I can and pursuing whatever opportunities I can, it’s just taking a while. That tempered some of my anxiety about not finding work at the time.Another thing that helped was finding things that were in my control, like writing on the side—things that keep you working and can help you develop skills and get experience. When the time was right, those things helped make me an attractive candidate.Now I’m a hiring manager at a tech startup. I’m super sympathetic to any job seekers, not just in a tough economy. I’m lucky in that my company is still planning on hiring this year. There are still good opportunities [for 2020 grads], they just may be a little different. And one year at a company [or odd job] doesn’t make your career—it’s more about who you are as a person and what your skill set is like. You need a résumé to get a job, but I’m not hiring you based solely on what you did last year or the year before; I’m hiring you based on what I think you can do next year or the year after.Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily. Follow Marie Solis on Twitter.
Now I'm a hiring manager…One year at a company [or odd job] doesn’t make your career—it’s more about who you are as a person and what your skill set is like