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Graduating in a recession? Here’s what you should know.

Written by Eric Titner

If you’re about to graduate from high school, college, or some other academic or professional certification program, then congratulations are in order for your accomplishment! You likely have grand plans for what comes next, which may include landing your dream job and jumpstarting your climb up the career ladder.

While ambition is great fuel to propel you forward through your professional journey, it’s not the only factor at play that will help determine your success. The truth is, some of these variables aren’t even in your control, and more often than not a little luck and good timing can go a long way—including when you happen to graduate. Why is timing so important? Because the state of the economy when you graduate can heavily affect the sorts of opportunities you’ll encounter—or not encounter—as a new graduate.

In a booming economy, companies are likely to adopt a more optimistic and growth-oriented mindset, and job opportunities for new graduates will often be more robust and plentiful. Conversely, in an economic downturn like a recession like the one we’re currently in, companies tend to operate more cautiously in an effort to reduce expenses and avoid overextending themselves. This means they’ll be less likely to hire and more likely to implement layoffs or furloughs to reduce overhead, which means more competition in the job market at all experience levels for fewer open positions—not exactly an ideal environment for a new graduate to be jumping into.

Today’s job market is as volatile as it has been in recent memory, with a multitude of converging forces—including the global pandemic and its resultant impact on the current economy, as well as waves of new technological innovation—compelling businesses across industries and sectors to adopt lean and defensive strategies to try and offset the significant headwinds they face in an effort to stay profitable.

Simply put, entering the work world during a recession can pose some real challenges. There are more people vying for a smaller pool of available jobs, and companies are trying to figure out how to accomplish more with less in the face of a bleak economic outlook. Forecasting models for employment opportunities, at least in the short term, are less than optimistic for a wide array of fields. It certainly isn’t any job seeker’s idea of perfect timing.

That said, despite the intense competition and decidedly grim outlook, there are some strategies that you can deploy to help you navigate the choppy job market waters during a recession and try to turn the situation to your advantage.

Consider internships

True, internships are typically opportunities you take advantage of while still in college in the hopes that paid opportunities will abound upon graduation. But during a recession, when opportunities are slim, a good way to gain additional valuable experience and exposure with a potential employer is to take on an internship position. Yes, these are often not lucrative or glamorous positions, but they can be great opportunities to get your foot in the door. If and when economic conditions improve, you may be setting yourself up for serious consideration when they decide to start hiring.

Leverage your network

Job searching during a recession can be tricky, and it often requires you to be more resourceful than you’d otherwise have to be when the economy is in better shape. This means that you should think about tapping into the entire universe of contacts and tools at your disposal to find opportunities. Everyone and everything is fair game—from your friends’ parents to your parents’ friends, peers who have successfully transitioned to gainful employment, even businesses you’ve had meaningful contact with. If you can demonstrate value and convince them that you’d be a viable asset, opportunities may arise from previously unexpected sources. Also, remember that many schools continue to offer employment assistance to recent graduates—make sure you know what resources are available to you and take full advantage of them.

Be patient

Sure, after graduating you’re going to be eager to charge forward and take the work world by storm, but an economic recession may put more obstacles in your path than you were hoping to encounter. In this scenario, patience can be a real virtue. The truth is, recessions don’t last forever—economies and forward-thinking businesses tend to work through tough times and rebound. Even in difficult times there are opportunities to be found. Some companies persevere and even thrive during recessions, so don’t let news of a recession dissuade you from getting out there and finding the right job for you.

If your job hunt is taking longer than you were hoping it would, then use your free time to build and hone the skills that are most desirable for your target industry, which will only work to your advantage. Here’s the bottom line: You may have to be a little more flexible, open-minded, and patient than you normally would have to be during a booming economy, but fortune tends to favor the bold and persistent.

About the author

Eric Titner

Eric is a NYC-based editor and writer, with years of experience in career-focused content development across a wide range of industries.