What I Wish I'd Done Differently After the 2008 Recession

Some words of encouragement for any British students and graduates staring down the barrel of the worst recession of any major economy.

The future is not looking bright for almost everyone, but the situation has reached peak bleak for British students and recent graduates. Last week, the UK plunged into the worst recession of any major economy, with 750,000 jobs lost since the beginning of the pandemic.

Experts warn that the worst is yet to come: many more jobs are set to be lost to the economic fallout of COVID-19, alongside a predicted 500,000 further redundancies related to Brexit.


This situation is unprecedented, but the closest point of comparison we have is the 2008 recession. So, as a generation faces both immediate and long-term uncertainty, I spoke to people who finished their A-Levels or graduated university the year of “The Great Recession” about what they wish they had done differently at the time.


Holly, secondary school teacher (A-Level class of 2008)

I would have made my degree a lot more career-specific, something with a clear end game, like Law, or even the apprenticeships they offer now – like in engineering and civil service work. You get a qualification from it, and you’re paid to work and study there. They’re definitely something I think is overlooked and shouldn't be.

Also, I should have gone in ready to get on with things. As much as I enjoyed university and had fun, I think it’s a time where you’ve just got to use your years really effectively. The job market is fucking horrendous. I would have made the most of joining societies, doing work experience and internships. By not doing them, ultimately my CV looked like I did three years of nothing except getting a 2:1. 

Jay, Undergraduate Admissions Officer (A-Level class of 2008) 

Before I even decided to go to university, I wish I’d thought about where I was going to be going after graduating. I should have had a handful of firm ideas on the kinds of things I could go into. Back then, I didn't really have any thoughts about that. 


I'm happy with where I am now, but it's taken me seven years after my masters to end up here. I spent the years after university figuring out what I wanted to do. I wish I’d done that beforehand – it might have quickened  things up. 

During university, I messed about a lot in first and second year, so I wish I’d applied myself a bit more and looked for part-time jobs or relevant work experience. There were opportunities that I remember looking at but never doing. I wish I had, because even if it didn't lead anywhere, it would have been a great experience. Leaving uni and going straight into work was quite a sharp shock too, so it would have prepared me better for that. 

Kirsty, Marketing Manager (University Graduate 2008) 

I would have tried to stress a lot less. I wish I’d known that change is OK, that you can take steps back to take steps forward. It's also important to remember it's normal that your friends will earn more than you at points too, and that's OK because everyone's journey is slightly different.

There's always new paths you can take. As long as you enjoy a job and keep growing each time, you'll be fine. The decisions you make when you're 17 – though we're told they will affect you forever – do not define who you are in your thirties, or at least they don’t have to. I'm not being asked for my A-Level results anymore, or even my degree – it's based on the experience that I've had. Had I known all of this, I'd have saved a lot of stress. 


Chris, Machine Operator (University Graduate 2008) 

I think I’d have tried to make connections as soon as possible, networking and trying to get experience while at university. Getting anything under your belt is going to work as a head start. 

I might have chosen a degree that had more security if I knew how uncertain things would become. There wasn't a lot of opportunity around, but there are certain sectors that we will always need people to work in. Given how hard the next decade or so was going to be, I would have tried harder to get onto a graduate scheme too, as that would have given me more security. At the time, I wasn't thinking long-term. 

I'd probably have told myself to not panic, too. If I had something to keep me going, I'd just bide my time a little bit. Things will come around at some point – the economy is up and down. So I think I'd just have liked to know it's OK to not feel pressured about having to be doing exactly what I wanted to do upon graduating. I think travelling for a year might have set me back about four or five years long-term, though. 

Helene, Sanctions, Law (University Graduate 2008)  

I think in times like these you have to be flexible. I wish I’d learned to go with the flow earlier on, as I would have been more comfortable with the decisions I made. At the time, I really wanted to go to a London-based firm, which is what most people think you need to do to do well in my industry and many others – but there was nobody really hiring in London, so I ended up working in Bristol. I think not sticking to a traditional approach meant I was able to get on track more or less right away.  


The different jumps I've taken since starting work have got me to where I am, whereas people who have made a point of sticking to being a more traditional lawyer won't have climbed the ladder quite as well. I don't think they regret that, but I think being open-minded has got me far and I would have saved a lot of stress if I’d just worried less about what other people were doing and kept following opportunities.   

Daniel, Senior Conductor (University Graduate 2008)   

I should have been looking at things like graduate schemes way before I graduated. I studied a pretty niche degree, Air Travel Management, and therefore I did think I'd just be able to walk into any airport or airline with my degree and it'd be sorted. The recession had other plans.

When the entire industry collapsed, where there had once been a pretty safe route into jobs, there was just competition. Some people got into the aviation industry, but I was too late to get onto the schemes. I was hoping to become a pilot. You can never be too prepared. 

I’d go back and start earlier, to make sure I had the time to look into what it is I actually wanted to do, but I’d also consider alternatives, as you really never know what's around the corner. 

I also would have worked a bit harder on my assignments. I was very complacent, thinking that just scraping by would be OK, but it wasn't, as the results I had needed to stand out a lot more than they did. I also should have made use of my tutors and asked for their advice.