3 Steps to Getting Hired Amid a Recession: Tales from a 2009 College Graduate

Build your resume: soak up any experience you can


Jenny Radloff

3 years ago | 6 min read

Graduating college seniors are faced with a reality that bears no resemblance to what they had anticipated for May 2020: an economic whiplash with skyrocketing unemployment rates across the nation.

Some have been fortunate enough to land and maintain jobs or internships, while others are anxious about how they can possibly secure a position in their chosen fields as many businesses reduce headcount and tighten budgets.

This is a rude awakening for Gen Z and younger millennials, who have been noted for their bold entitlement. It’s a stereotype I have witnessed myself (though like any generalization, it applies to some, not all members of the group).

Why do the youngest workers with the least experience often demand the most? It finally occurred to me that it’s because the younger generations haven’t lived through a recession before.

The only economy they’ve ever known is a strong one, with record low unemployment rates where businesses would pine after them, meeting their demands for raises and faster promotion timelines.

A global pandemic none of us saw coming has abruptly flipped this dynamic. While the Great Recession of 2007–2009 featured a different series of events, it was the last time in recent history where we faced such a major hit to employment. It’s also when I was looking to enter the workforce.

I graduated in 2009 with an undergraduate degree in communications, seeking a career in public relations…with zero job prospects. I’ll never forget my uncle pulling a page out of the newspaper for me — featuring a “hot to cold” job market thermometer.

PR was sadly listed at the dead bottom as the “coldest” field. In fact, 20% of PR agencies decreased headcount at that time.

Flash forward 10+ years, I’m now a director at a top PR agency in Boston. Not only that, but I managed to work in my chosen field shortly after graduating.

As we face another bleak job market more than a decade later, I thought I’d share some advice for those looking to join the workforce, to make the most of a less than ideal situation:

1. Build your resume: soak up any experience you can

In recent years, I have seen graduating seniors turn down paid internships. They want the prestige of a “real” position — and adding another internship on their resume can be a hit to their ego.

However, internships are a great option for continuing to gain valuable experience in your desired field. It could also lead to a permanent position and arm you with new contacts to grow your professional network for future opportunities or references.

If you’re unable to land an internship in your field, cast a wider net to peripheral industries that can still help you develop new skills.

Or, take an online course; many are even available for free. It’s all about building your resume, your network and making yourself more marketable so when that dream position comes along, you’re the best candidate for it.

In my case, I was fortunate enough to be able to live at home with my parents free of charge after college. Without rent to pay, I could take on a full-time unpaid internship in my chosen field (I realize that this is not feasible for everyone).

Most internships these days are paid, but I was willing and able to work for free. It gave me the necessary experience to then land a paid position in the same field. The summer prior to my senior year of college, I also decided to pass on my usual camp counselor job to seek a relevant internship.

While that wasn’t in the cards for me in 2008, I did accept a temp position at an insurance company as an administrative assistant. It wasn’t in my field, but it did give me the professional experience I lacked — where I learned how to use corporate email, filing systems and things of that nature.

2. Maintain & tap into your network

If you’re reading this and are attempting to enter or re-enter the workforce, I assume you’re already on LinkedIn. Use this tool to your advantage, connecting with anyone you know who would be beneficial to have in your network.

Keep in touch with former professors, advisors and employers. You’re new to this and you’ll want people you can rely on to provide advice, serve as a reference or think of you when they hear of a relevant opening.

Additionally, it might be that former classmate, orientation leader, mutual friend, sorority sister or someone else who passes an unexpected job prospect your way.

I consider myself lucky yet again, because I attended a small university where class sizes generally ranged from six to 30 students. This means I developed close relationships with my professors.

It was my journalism professor who recommended me for my first undergraduate internship. And when I received the offer for my post-collegiate unpaid internship, it was another professor I turned to for advice.

He worked in the industry and gave me his honest opinion, confirming that despite the bit about not getting paid, this was a good opportunity and a reputable firm. Today, I am part of an alumni Facebook group for communications majors managed by another professor, where job postings are frequently shared.

3. Play the long game

It’s easy to think about what you want right now and how you want to impress your friends with your salary or title. But take a breath and a step back.

Don’t focus on the now; play the long game. I had many peers who were making more money than me out of the gate, but within a few years I had passed them. A few years might seem like a long time, and a few thousand dollars might seem like a lot of money — but it’s not when you consider the full perspective of your career.

Taking an internship instead of an official entry-level position might seem like taking a step back. But, it could be the investment you need to make to propel your career forward. Try not to compare yourself with others too, as difficult as it may seem. Think about what is best for your path, and the rest will come.

There is no guide book for making the right decisions, but success often requires risks. Don’t make them blindly. Define your goals and map all decisions back to them: does this choice help you get to where you want to be in the future?

Once I landed that unpaid internship and worked for five months (eventually earning minimum wage), I then received an offer from another firm for an entry-level position.

I was working there for about three months when I received a call to interview with the agency I had been after since I was a student. My initial thought was to decline; I was already employed and so new that it wouldn’t look great if I were to depart — to that employer or on my resume.

But I agreed to just have a conversation, which ultimately turned into an offer. The new position offered better benefits, as well as a culture and company size that would suit me much better in the long term, so I made the uncomfortable decision to resign.

It was the right move for me, as I’m still at that company a decade later. While the right choices aren’t always easy or obvious, risks can be worth taking — if they help you along your own career path.

While the graduating class of 2020 couldn’t have anticipated the job market they’re walking (or clawing their way) into, all hope is not lost. For recent graduates or anyone trying to enter the workforce or get their career on the right track, remember this:

There are factors beyond your control: the economy, the job market, when your peers land jobs or get promotions. But there are things you can control. Focus on those. Your resume, your network, your work ethic, your attitude, your choices.

You might not land your dream job this month, this year or even next year. But there is the potential to get there eventually. Once the pandemic is behind us and the economy bounces back, you’ll look back on this time. Prove to yourself that you made the most of it.


Created by

Jenny Radloff

B2B technology PR professional. Boston-area native. Pug mom. Competitive runner turned recreational jogger.







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