So, you did everything right....passed all the classes...made the right decisions, but nonetheless, coronavirus had other plans for your life post-graduation. I know the feeling. It wasn't too long ago that I was in your shoes during the 2009 financial crisis. Back then, it really seemed like recent grads were screwed - and yes, we really were screwed.
After six months and 500 resumes, I finally got two entry level finance job offers on the same day. The first job paid $36,000 with no benefits and the second paid $32,000 - I was thrilled. Since then, I've worked in investment banking,, and now live very comfortably with an easy 40-hour work week corporate role.....I guess something worked out. Enough about me, let's jump into my 7 item to-do list for a prolonged recession:
1. Get Humble Quick
If you're only willing to apply to positions that you really want, you won't be applying for much. Of my 500 applied positions, maybe 20 actually fit what I wanted to do after leaving college (). Whether it was bank teller positions, cash box positions, mortgage processing clerk positions, or operations, I applied to anything related to my degree. A lot of people on this website scoff at the back office. Trust me. After being unemployed for 4 months, you're going to shit your pants with or call with a back office position - I sure did. The quicker you start applying everywhere; the quicker you will get responses.
2. Don't Get Depressed. This Is Only a Career Sidetrack
You're going have to work a worse job than originally planned. That's basically it for 99% of people in your shoes. If you don't get that first great job out the door, don't worry. Your career is just sidetracked for a few years. It's not over. You've been dealt a bad hand. For reasons out of your control, you didn't make the varsity team this year. Don't worry and don't get depressed. Instead, get tough. There is next year and the year after that too.
3. Plan Resumes and Cover Letters for the Long Term
When you're first applying, there is a tendency to rush and send the same resume and cover letter to everyone. Fight that urge. This is a marathon. If there is an operations position open, tailor your resume and cover letter to that position. Spend half the day if necessary getting the cover letter right. Save it under a folder titled "Operations". Repeat for every job title. Before you know it, you will have 20 folders with custom-tailored cover letters for whatever position comes up. If the cover letter takes 4 hours to perfect, consider that you may be using the same one 20 more times before this is all over. The early investment of time is worth it in the long run.
4. Don't Shun Corporate Websites
On the same topic, take time early on to fill out the really boring corporate websites that ask a million questions and take almost two hours to fill out (I'm looking at youbanks!) Yes, they feel horribly impersonal. Yes, you feel like your resume will never be seen by a human being, and yes you're probably right most of the time. However, I got maybe 25% of my interviews from these corporate websites. Also, think long-term again. Some of these sites may have 10 worthwhile positions over the next six months. Put up with it once, and from then on, it's as easy as clicking a mouse.
5. Use Your Time Wisely
At the end of the day, you will have more free time than open positions. I used my free time to volunteer at a homeless shelter about three times a week. I met a few amazing homeless people that I still think about today....and about a million others who were complete scumbags. Personally, it was a very character formative experience. In addition, it gave me something to put on my resume. Look, if a job is between a kid distributing food during covid and one who stayed home playing Xbox, I'm giving the volunteer kid a job, all other things equal. Also, working at the charity, I met the head of HR for a large asset manager and got an interview there. So you never know how this will expand your network. Toward the end of my six months of unemployment, the charity had given me a higher level of responsibility and were even considering a position for me. I was never trying to play those angles, but I was pleasantly surprised by the career benefits of volunteering as well.
On that topic, also use your free time to get in shape. It's a recession. You'll be lucky to land a job, and when you do, your employer will work you like a dog for no money. Exercise now while you can. I lost 10 lbs while unemployed but in hindsight wish that I had done even more.
One caveat to using your time wisely is attending graduate school. I know a lot of people who continued on to grad school to avoid the recession. I'm not saying that's a terrible idea, but I personally don't know of almost anyone with a great career who did that. In my opinion, the value of a graduate degree comes from a combination of experience and the additional book knowledge. One without the other is not that useful. I worked for over a year and then got into a graduate program part-time while continuing to work full-time. After graduating and passing CFA level one, I then made a jump to my first investment banking analyst job.
6. Stay Persistent
This is a really tricky one. I sent 500 resumes. Everything in my gut told me to quit after the first 200 resumes. I kept going. I felt like an idiot after 300 resumes and plenty of interview rejections. I still kept going. After 400, it really seemed hopeless, but I kept at it. I say this is tricky because at some point, you probably should quit and change paths. However, at the same time, it seems that great career breakthroughs only happen long after you've lost hope, yet you continue trying anyway. In fact, I'd say that this is one of the reasons that there are so few financially successful people. You almost have to be irrational. The rational person quits and goes on with an average life. I can't blame them - they made the rational decision! People like me are the weirdos who don't understand "no".
7. Don't Trust Advice Too Much - Forge Your Own Path
I wrote this to help out kids who might be stuck in a prolonged recession much like I was during the financial crisis. However, covid-19 is different. In many ways, I think it's worse. That means that you'll have to adapt and play some things by ear. My playbook worked for the last recession which was the worst since the Great Depression, but today is not the same. You'll probably get a lot of bad advice - I definitely got it from Baby Boomers back then (side note: anyone who thinks the 1991 recession was terrible does not need to give you advice. I would have prayed every day and night to graduate in 1991). Your parents and elders are going to be pretty clueless as to your experience. Just realize that and move on. Feel free to ignore bad advice regardless of who it's coming from.
Well, that about wraps it up. I know things seem bad now, but your future is bright if you play your cards right. The U.S. is still one of the greatest countries in the world to do business and will be after the coronavirus as well. Things might be tougher than for the past generation, but this is still a place of opportunity. Don't let adversity swallow you up. If you give up, Bernie might get a few more votes in 2024....but seriously, don't quit and don't vote Bernie.
When you get out of this mess, you're going to be stronger and tougher than your elders and younger peers. People have been talking a lot of crap about Gen Z. After this, you'll be the one talking down to Gen X and Baby Boomers about how easy they had it. Stay strong and get to networking and sending those resumes.