What it’s Like Job Hunting in a Global Pandemic and Economic Recession
A Graduate’s experience navigating the job market in 2020.
Dissonance Between the Purpose of College and Reality
[August 2016 to May 2020]
Growing up in a middle class family, raised by parents of low-income backgrounds, education was highly prioritized in my family. This meant, my Kindergarten to Middle School years were focused on getting good grades and discovering what subjects I excelled in. My High School years were focused on becoming a “well-rounded” student, so I could be admitted into a good college.
Once I got to college, this so-called purpose didn’t dissipate. Yes, I did go to a liberal arts college, where I became a master in Authoritarian Institutions, Neuroeconomics (a combination of Neuroscience and Economics — I know, how much more liberal college-y can you get?!), and Japanese Literature. But there still was rationale behind the decisions I made to fulfill my college purpose.
My college focus was about combining what I learned in both lower and upper-grade school — it was about choosing to receive a degree in a major I excelled in and doing activities that would help me discover what I wanted to be when I grew up.
The purpose of college was to find a good job.
I worked toward accomplishing this goal before I even stepped foot in my new 4-year home. The summer before my first-year I completed an internship, and every summer following, I did internships. Through these internships, I was able to dabble in a few interests: graphic design, organizational psychology, sales, and marketing, etc., in the hopes that they would eventually lead me to find my dream job. I also participated in a few clubs and on-campus jobs in the underlying hopes that they too would help me decide what I wanted to do in the future.
Luckily, they both did.
I graduated from Scripps College in May of 2020, bright-eyed and ready to become a Marketer. Not just any Marketer, a Marketer in the Tech world.
Uncertainty and Reality Sinks In
Graduating and job searching during a recession and a global pandemic meant that my class couldn’t have an in-person ceremony and ended our senior year in front of Zoom screens. I shut my laptop screen to officially end my college career in a room where I had spent 18 years of my life, surrounded by stuffed animals I’ve had since I was a kid.
It was not the grandiose moment I was eagerly anticipating for four years.
Just like I started my internships early, I also started my job hunting early. I remember reading in my first year on LinkedIn that
85% of employees get jobs through their network
Networking with alumni and having informational interviews was something that was highly recommended at my school and the scholar program I participated in. Thus, I started networking my sophomore year. Through my ~100 conversations with alumni, I learned about different industries, career paths, and positions. The whole experience was extremely valuable.
When I became a senior, I used my internship experience, background from clubs, and networking conversations to guide my job hunting process. I knew I wanted to work in Marketing in Tech at a small/mid-sized start-up. Unfortunately, I quickly learned that most entry-level marketing jobs require agency experience and/or don’t start recruiting until 2–3 months before you can start working.
After a tiring recruiting process in the Fall, I took a quick break during the Winter and decided that I would ramp my recruiting back up in February.
Then, the pandemic hit.
Companies didn’t know who they could bring on, and yet alone keep. Mass layoffs were happening across every industry and now an influx of qualified, experienced candidates poured into the job applicant pool as companies like Airbnb laid off 25% of their employees. People were worried about their jobs, and community-built resources like this layoff tracker were created to ease people’s anxiety.
The job listings I bookmarked dwindled from 50 listings a day to only 25.
On top of this, the jobs that were being posted required more and more experience.
Nerves Leftover from the 2008 Financial Crisis
[June 2020 to July 2020]
While I was frantically job searching and now, internship hunting, studies from the 2008 Financial Crisis resurfaced. Typically, in times like these, learning from historical data is helpful. In this scenario, it just felt overwhelming. Through my avid podcast listening, I learned a few major graduating-during-a-recession facts. The one that stuck with me most was,
“college graduates who start their working lives during a recession earn less for at least 10 to 15 years than those who graduate during periods of prosperity.”
Sure, I learned other “fun facts” too, such as Millennials are less likely to have children, less likely to be homeowners, and are risk averse. But the one that stuck most was learning that my total lifetime earnings might be lower than my elder peers, just because of the time that I graduated.
It didn’t make sense and it didn’t seem fair.
Learning to Pivot
[July 2020 to September 2020]
With layoffs and the 2008 recession trauma looming in the air, I had to pivot.
Rather than applying to full-time salary jobs, I began applying to internships. This was also a small hurdle because many internships required candidates to be still enrolled in school, which left every 2020 graduate in a dilemma. The job market required too much experience and the internship programs required student-enrollment, neither of which I had.
A catch-22 situation!
Luckily, I was able to receive two internships during this time, in the hope that I could gain more experience and potentially convert full-time in these roles.
I was content with my decision to be an intern, so I could gain more marketing experience. But I couldn’t help but feel like I made the wrong decision every time I saw a new LinkedIn or Instagram job-update. I realized that I could’ve taken a job that perhaps wasn’t my ideal job, but could give me stability. Regardless, I persisted in searching for my dream job.
I vowed I would continue for at least a year before changing paths.
Still, seeing those job-updates was just another reminder that I still wasn’t fully employed.
Taking a Step Back
[September 2020 to December 2020]
At this point, it had been around a year since I had begun my job search. I felt exhausted. After a few TikTok binges, thinking more about my thesis on gender equity, and some self-reflection, I realized that:
1. I am more than my career.
2. Tying our self-worth to our jobs is an American idealism that is deeply rooted our capitalistic society.
3. I had made progress. No matter how small it might seem in the larger picture. I was a few steps forward from where I had been a year ago.
4. Some things are just out of your control.
Some Things Are Just Out Of Your Control
[Relevant until these issues are resolved]
If you’re a minority in the industry or position you’re applying for, you might experience homophily, this concept suggests that people are more likely to connect with those similar in “characteristics like age, race, gender, and income.” Therefore, making it harder to break into a particular role where you might not “fit the mold.”
Recruiters and Hiring Managers tend to look for candidates who arbitrarily culturally “fit” the organization. The issue is, fit is hard to measure.
Recruiters often use themselves to measure fit because it’s all they have to go on.
Additionally, sometimes recruiters often have a pre-conceived idea of an ideal candidate, which tend to be traits more present in masculine people, such as confidence, logic, and rationality.
This puts any candidates who don’t naturally exude these traits at a disadvantage.
Beyond these initial stages, before the candidate is even aware of the position, they might be at a disadvantage. Information doesn’t disseminate as easily in minority groups compared to networks of high levels of homophily. Therefore, minority groups might not get information about a new job opening as quickly as the majority-homophilic groups. This is demonstrated as men tend to refer more job applicants than women. On top of this, men refer more men to companies than they refer their counterparts.
This unfortunate pattern can continue to perpetuate as women have been laid off, during the pandemic, more frequently than men. This means that women are even more at a disadvantage when it comes to finding a job. Additionally, Black and Hispanic workers were 2x as likely to be laid off than White workers, which also puts candidates that have a similar background in an uncontrollable situation.
Another layer to the uncontrollable factors is your social class or your socioeconomic status, an individual’s standing in society that factors in education, income, and occupation.
The domino effect begins when a child’s elite private school leads to them getting into a prestigious college, and this school provides them with the resources and opportunities to be considered for high-paying careers.
Job applicants who listed upper-class social symbols on their resumes, such as wealthy sounding names, awards, and expensive personal interests, were more likely to receive an interview than the ones with lower-class social symbols.
From my previously stated research, we know that:
- 85% of candidates receive job offers through their network
- Most job information is passed within networks of homophily
Therefore, when it comes to job hunting, it can be presumed that those in lower classes struggle more than those in higher classes for reasons such as lack of connections and information.
Yet, Americans still love to believe in the American Dream, the ideology that if you work hard upward mobility is possible for everyone and anyone.
This is far from the truth.
Americans actually overestimate our own and our peer’s ability to climb up the socioeconomic ladder. While we might think that it is possible for rags to turn into riches, it’s quite the opposite nowadays. Most Americans stay in their same social class. Therefore, there’s an inherent disadvantage for those who don't have legacy parents, top connections, or fancy internships when it comes to job searching.
Stereotyping, having preconceived notions of a group or individual, can also occur in the hiring process. Unfortunately, studies show that childless candidates receive more callbacks than parents.
Additionally, men are called back 3% more frequently than women.
Sometimes a non-Anglo-Saxon name can be off-putting to Hiring Managers. Recruiters are more 2x more likely to call candidates with whitened names than ethnic ones. Whitening a resume consists of removing information that clearly points to the applicant’s minority status such as removing race-centered student organizations, changing foreign names to sound more American, and adding Western interests.
Even though I am very-Americanized, was born in America, and my parents were also born in the States, my name sounds completely Japanese or “othered” to an American person. There were times when I debated adding my full name to my resume, Kimberly, rather than Kimi, even though this is a name I hardly go by. I also considered altering my last name, a name I’ve vowed to keep even after getting married, just to see if that would make a difference.
I never did it. But the thought of it was in the back of my mind at times.
So what’s the solution?
If you’re a minority candidate:
Do what’s best for you.
Find ways to ensure you’ll be recognized as a quality candidate even with the odds against you.
If you’re in a position of power:
Recognize your power and be the change.
Beware of these biases when you’re recruiting and screening candidates.
New Year, New Outlook
[January 2021 to February 2021]
As companies learned to adapt to the “new normal” and budgets were finalized for 2021, I began to see the horizon. I noticed that more jobs were listed than the previous season, which proved to be a good sign.
I continued to chug along and apply for more jobs and start my informational interview process all over. It felt like a positive sign that things were getting better and gave me hope for the future.
During this time, a few people I had networked within 2020 came to me with career opportunities and I began getting more LinkedIn messages from recruiters than I had before. I was experiencing what I had read about homophily. The connections who came to me with these jobs were also Asian women.
I remembered thinking, “Is this really how easy it is to find a job outside of a recession and a global pandemic?”
One of these opportunities passed along to me from a connection was the job I am working at today. Connections really do help!!
I’m now at Apartment List as a Content Marketing Associate.
(What a meta-ish situation to write a blog about finding a job and now my job is to help optimize & strategize blog content.)
Surprise, surprise. I ended February of 2021 with not only one job offer but two!
Self-Confidence is Key
Throughout my job search, I had several interviews. Even though I made it to 90% of the final rounds with each of these firms, I was told I didn’t receive the positions because there were more qualified candidates.
This was just another hurdle of job hunting in a pandemic.
I didn’t receive any offers until February 2020. This was 1.5 years after I started my search.
The whole process was exhausting, but worth it in the end.
I recognize that my situation is privileged. I was able to wait for almost a year after graduating to find a salary job, rather than accepting a job or interviewing for one that I didn’t love but at least paid more than an internship.
If you’re in a similar situation — where you just graduated or graduated in 2019 and were laid off or graduated in 2018/2019 and still haven’t landed a job — keep working hard.
Reach out to alumni in your network.
Go through your friend’s LinkedIn connections and have them connect you with their connections.
Find ways to improve and tailor your resume.
And most importantly, have self-confidence in yourself and know your worth.
Lastly, if a job isn’t paying you a reasonable amount or if you’re going to be hired to do something you know you’ll get bored of in a month, don’t feel the need to take it.
More Job Hunting Tips and How Non-Job Hunters Can Help
Whether you’re employed or not, you can help others find a job!
Here are a few ways I’ve been able to help others during their job hunt:
- Run through interview prep with your friends/job-seekers
- Connect your friends/job-seekers with others in your network
- Review your friends/job-seekers resume and cover letters
- Turn on LinkedIn notifications for jobs that your friends/job-seekers are looking for (BFF & PRO MENTOR ALERT!)
Here are additional steps you can take to find a job:
- Complete all of the above steps
- Follow recruiters and other career professionals in your industry on TikTok, LinkedIn, and Medium
- Subscribe to newsletters catered toward students job hunting like Ladder and Jumpstart
- Join more-specific job listings sites beyond LinkedIn and Indeed like AngelList, Planted, and Built in NYC
A Few Thank Yous
Thank you to the countless mentors and professionals in my life who gave me advice, throughout this job hunt and lent me your time when I asked so many questions. I will be forever grateful!
Thank you to Paige Williams for her advice on the blog’s direction and for being such an encouraging friend.
Thank you to Annalise Ko for her design expertise and being my second set of eyes.