Friday, May 29, 2009

Recent Grads Remain Optimistic After Layoffs

As a recent Princeton graduate in June 2007, Ben Massey planned to work as a paralegal before going to law school. His plans changed when he was laid off in August of 2008. Thatcher, Proffitt and Wood, where he worked, was a boutique firm that specialized in mortgaged-backed securities. After several rounds of lay-offs, it was dissolved in January 2009.

Massey's experience is not unique among recent Princeton graduates. In the midst of the recession, many companies are laying off recent grads. Lucy Xu '08, says she was "cheap labor" for the convertible bond trading desk at Bank of America. But after surviving two rounds of layoffs she was also let go in February 2009. Merrill Lynch laid off "Nick," another 2008 grad, a few months later.

Some new hirees have yet to make it to work after receiving offers. Oliver Wyman, a consulting firm, has pushed back the start dates of many of its 2008 class. Oliver Wyman asked Irene Hu to start in January 2009. But in January, the firm deferred start dates again--until January 2010. Oliver Wyman still guarantees her spot, but has helped her find an internship in the meantime.
Job turbulence was a shock to many grads at first. Xu says, "I was naive. I really thought it wouldn't happen to me." In the first few weeks after leaving Bank of America, Xu felt "embarrassed." Massey obtained another paralegal position on a temporary-to-permanent basis. But when this second firm didn't offer him a full time job, Massey's became a bit cynical. "They're concerned with their bottom line," he says. "And that's fine, they have to make money, they have to survive. But it's not something I thought about before I was laid off from two different law firms." Hu found out about her job delay while she was tutoring in Taiwan last summer. She then returned home and took courses at a local community college while waiting for her job to start. "There was a feeling of hopelessness," she says of that time, "I was feeling not productive. So that was kind of tough."

Some grads find that inexperience is punished in this economy. Since Xu had already obtained four financial licenses, she initially searched for other finance jobs. She noticed that many posted positions looked for people with two or three years of experience. Though she got many interviews based on the her resume, she didn't have the client relationships that firms were looking for.

At the same time, the youth of recent grads also make them more flexible in the job market. Without the responsibility of families and college debts, some recent grads were able to take some time off before looking for new jobs. In the first month after being laid off from Thatcher, Massey biked, worked out and relaxed. Nick has learned to cook, taken up yoga, and went out in New York City more often than he did while at Merrill.

Young job-seekers have also taken time to re-evaluate their career plans. After her big-bank experience, Xu realized she wanted to work at a smaller firm where she could "try many hats" instead of being tied down to one specific job. Massey is now a fellow at the Institute for Justice, a D.C. think tank and plans to go to University of Virginia Law School in the fall. Nick is exploring some non-profit options such as Princeton in Africa as well as opportunities in marketing. At Princeton, Nick used to think that there was a trade off between short term and long term job prospects," but now sees making a career as a "long-term journey."

Older alums have also been helpful in the job search process. After using Bloomberg and Monster to no avail, Xu sent some emails to the regional alumni network email list and found that many people were open to giving her advice. Nick recommends that current job-searching seniors "get out there and start talking to people."

Recent alums remain optimistic about their prospects. Hu is now interning at the parent company of a start-up that Oliver Wyman introduced her to. She still looks forward to working there in 2010. Though not looking forward to the idea of taking out many loans for law school, Massey says "It seems to be that the system is still in place. Unless it undergoes some significant major firms are still going to need recent grads to change to train, to grow, to nature."

Xu's advice for graduating seniors is simple: "Don't lose confidence. The job process is not a reflection of you. You will always get where you want with confidence."


Anonymous said...

...please where can I buy a unicorn?