Does Graduating College in a Recession Mess You Up?

Suppose you graduate with a BS in enginerring, and the economy is in recession (like now). So you cannot find a job in your field-you go several months, perhaps working at rapMart. You then take a sales job, and find it OK-the money is pretty good, and at least you have a jo. Suppose this goes on for a few years-does this hinder your attempt to get a job in engineerng? You have forgotten a lot of the stuff you learned, and are now at a disadavntage woth anew graduate-does getting out in a recession permanently damage your career?:eek:

Permanent damage is awfully hard to imagine - set back for a couple more years, yeah that I can see.

My opinion is yes. I graduated from a good engineering college in a recession and was unable to find a job. Even though my undergraduate major was Engineering Physics with a strong minor in electronic engineering, the only job I could get was a drafting job at a large manufacturing company. I worked there for ~4 years drafting parts and tooling (and a lot of time doing the actually engineering though this was far from my specialty) when they finally offered me an engineering position. Unfortunately, it was a position designing parts and tooling for the machines (mostly large presses, some conveyors, palletizers, etc…). I had on and off looked for positions more in my field with no luck. Finally I said screw it and went back to grad school where I received a MS in EE specialized in Optical Engineering / Computing. I finally (~8 years after getting my BS) was able to get a job more to my liking.

Yup, in many professional fields graduating during a recession can screw you badly. Firms often have a set method of hiring recent graduates and if they aren’t hiring that year …

I don’t know, but I worry about that in my own life.

Doing a masters degree can segue you back into your field after a hiatus. I asked this same question (more or less) on this board and was also told that trying to get a part time job in your field could help you get back in since demand was lower for part time positions.

An internship (possibly paid, but I don’t know how many of those there are) might also help you get back into your field after a hiatus.

I think yes. While no one is going to think badly of you for not having a job, both new grads and the unemployed and experienced workers with the knowledge that a company needs are going to be in a better situation. I’d recommend that anyone in this situation try to do something technical to keep his or her hand in, even if going to a community college for a class or two, some hobby type stuff, or even trying to work through the free course material MIT offers.

In the book Outliers the author makes a case for the impact “timing” can have on your life/success.

I can see it having a long-lasting effect. If a large number of folk are not able to get “meaningful” jobs upon graduation and a couple of years pass before the market picks up, they will then be competing against more recent grads

I just want to be clear that you believe that your career was permanently damaged? It sounds like you had to do a lot to get it back on track, but it sure sounds like you got it back on track. Am I missing something?

In the long run, probably not. And it depends on what you mean by “mess you up”.

I basically did what you described. I graduated in the mid 90s before the tech boom with a BS in engineering. I spent about six months living with my parents and working temp jobs to make some extra cash until I found a job in my field. And that ended up being with a small mom&pop firm in my home town. Meanwhile some of my friends were staring at firms like Accenture, JP Morgan (then Andersen Consulting) or UBS in NYC. But a year later, I took a management/tech consulting job in Boston and 14 years, an MBA and a few job/career changes (I didn’t like engineering) later I’m a manager in one of the largest consulting firms in the world working in Manhattan making pretty good money. And I wasn’t a star student either (which did hurt me initially).

OTOH, my college roommate works as an electrician. But that’s his choice. He was an even worse student than me and he didn’t like the whole corporate environment. He would rather work with his hands than crunch spreadsheets, so he’s earning a living doing something more in line with his interests.

Yes and no. If your goal is to work for a prestigeous, highly competetive white-shoe firm in law or investment banking or strategy consulting and get on the fast-track to partner or MD, I think there is a limited window of opportunity. They tend to hire new associates in “classes” right out of camus recruiting so if you don’t get selected that year, it’s tough to get in later on. That said, there are a shitload of lawyers, bankers and consultants that don’t work at Cravath, Swaine & Moore, Goldman Sachs or McKinsey and their careers are just fine. And all companies hire experienced hires.

Some people might consider their life “screwed up” if they can’t get into one of those top firms right out of undergrad. That’s why you occassionally hear about some kid from MIT or NYU tossing themselves off the dorm roof after they get a B in some class.

I graduated during a recession with a degree in computer science, and a job in QA was the only thing I could find. That company folded, and I got another job that involved testing, because it was the only thing I had experience in. As time passed the usability of my programming knowledge decreased, until my experience in QA totally outweighed it. I am still QA.

I concur with the yes vote, and I would argue that permanent damage is not overstating it. At least it would cause a major shift in your career path, and not upwards. I’m talking of course in general terms; there will always be isolated examples that go against the trend.

I graduated in 1983 and many friends in geology or engineering had to take jobs that were far beneath their skills, or they found no job at all, and had a major career change. It was a far crry from several years previous, when employers were lined up at career fair booths, begging new grads to give them a look.

When the recession ended, the first thing the companies did was cheerfully go back to campus to recruit new grads again. When the “lost generation” of engineers was finally hired into the profession, they found themselves frequently working for someone who had graduated 5 years after them, and their careers never caught up.

People like me who graduated in Biology never had a hope of a career in the first place, so we really didn’t lose as much.

Well, sure. If you vary your expectations, it need not “screw you up”. Indeed, it may open up a lot of possibilities that you otherwise would not have considered. Some people like being a sole practitioner or consultant and would not have considered that path, if they had been hired by a major firm.

But if your expectations are set on getting a prestigious, professional career, timing can seriously hurt your chances, no question; and do so permanently.

Certainly there are plenty of folks who can buck this trend, it’s a question of probabilities and not certainties.

You are right that my career was not permanently damaged, but I did have to go back to school to get it on track. If, for whatever reason (financial, non-acceptance, etc…), I had not been able to go back and get a Masters degree, I would have viewed it as permanently damaged. But as it is, you are correct.

Oh, and one more thing on edit: Euphonious Polemic makes a good point, while I am back on track I am also 5-8 years behind my peers.

Being that inflexible is never a great idea. You have to play the best hand you can with the cards you are dealt.

5-8 years over a 40 year career doesn’t sound like that big of a deal to me. Dinsdale is right about the book Outliers. There is so much that is a result of good timing and being in the right place at the right time.

Is this really going to make you more marketable when the economy improves, though? Getting an advanced degree is one thing, but taking a class or two? Is an employer really going to think that fills the hole in your resume? I can see where it might make you feel more confident about your self and your own skills, but I don’t think employers are swayed by a class or two.

From the Wall Street Journal:

So yes, graduating during a recession is bad. When you consider the interest that the luckier graduate could earn on that $100,000, I think it’s reasonable to say that the other guy is messed up.

It will help in having more skills to bring to the table, and in showing that you kept involved. When hiring finally picks up, there are going to be lots of good people with holes in their resumes. No employer who anyone would want to work for is going to hold it against anyone, especially a new grad. It is just like the stigma of being laid off that existed 30 years ago no longer does.

Unless you are interested in a highly-competitive career with a big firm, I think it’s not as big a deal as it could be.

Even in the best of times, most people’s careers take unexpected twists and turns. We had a thread a while ago where people traced their career path. It was rarely anything near a straight line. Graduating in a recession is just one of many bumps your career is likely to have in your lifetime. It’s how you handle it that determines if it does permanent damage or not.

Link please?

I don’t disagree, but the same can of course be said about any misfortune. The issue is whether of not graduating in a recession is a “misfortune” that has a strong potential to harm your career, all other things being equal. To my mind, the answer is clear: on average, it is.

To say that one has to be flexible, that one can modify one’s expectations, etc. is all true and all very well, but all that is really saying is that one should mitigate that misfortune to the best of one’s ability.