Finding a Job in a Bad Economy: 2020 Graduates

We need to address the elephant in the room on every graduating senior’s mind. Finding a job in a bad economy is incredibly difficult.

This article will navigate job-seekers through landing a position, even during an economic downturn.

This isn’t to say the process will be easy. This will most likely be one of the most challenging tasks faced by graduates in their lives.

Understanding Business

First, job-seekers must understand the perspective of the businesses looking to hire employees.

Businesses will only employ individuals that provide more value than they cost. Really, it’s as simple as that.

You must sell your labor to the party offering the best price!

Now, the calculation becomes more complex when comparing an accounting department to a sales department.

The sales department will bring in explicit, top-line revenue, but the accounting department can guide cost savings through enhanced financial reporting.

Nevertheless, a business that loses money isn’t in business very long. That’s called a bankrupt entity. You can’t have more money going out the door than coming in.

So, how do companies decide their hiring outlook? They use sales and growth models, with probability-weighted assumptions.

Forecasts are driven by the inherent risk in the model. Well, economic downturns provide a tremendous amount of uncertainty and risk.

This is why hiring slows because businesses don’t want to topple on additional fixed-costs in labor expense, while their revenue is plummeting.

You’re more likely to get hired when you accept a commission-based compensation package. This lowers hiring risk, and you only get paid if you provide revenue!

College Doesn’t Matter

Sorry to break it to you, but simply having a degree doesn’t guarantee you a job. This was a lie promised to you by politicians, parents, and your high school counselors.

In fact, there’s shocking evidence showing that going to college is not the primary driver in future earning potential.

Angela Duckworth wrote about this phenomenon in her article, “The Power of Grit“.

“In all those very different contexts, one characteristic emerged as a significant predictor of success.

And it wasn’t social intelligence. It wasn’t good looks, physical health and it wasn’t IQ. It was grit.

Grit is passion and perseverance for very long-term goals. Grit is having stamina.

Grit is sticking with your future, day in, day out, not just for the week, not just for the month, but for years, and working really hard to make that future a reality.

Grit is living life like it’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

I personally believe it’s the personality traits that drive someone to finish college that enhance future earnings. It’s not just that piece of paper (diploma).

Many people will soon be wondering, “Was college worth it?”

Learn to Learn

Businesses LOVE to hire former military veterans. It’s not because they’re extremely patriotic people (that certainly may be one of the reasons).

They love to hire veterans because they are taught discipline, and they learn how to learn in the military.

Now, I’ve never been in the Armed Forces, but I have plenty of friends and family members who were.

It’s the training and critical thinking that college was supposed to develop that leads to appreciating wages.

Unfortunately, we have too many Americans graduating with worthless degrees. These individuals will need to re-tool their skill set.

My favorite learning sources are Udemy, YouTube, Skillshare, and coding bootcamps. Also, the local library has never failed anyone before!

This information is all online and free. You don’t have any excuses to not start teaching yourself an in-demand skill right now!

Make That Register Ring

The best advice I ever received was you’ll never be unemployed if you can keep the cash register ringing.

Obviously, it is much harder to make a cash register ring during a recession, but it is still possible.

Last I checked, Google and Amazon are still raking in the dough. Find a way to keep making that cash register ring.

Get creative and innovative. The internet has greatly expanded the money-making opportunities around the world.

Every individual and business has access to almost 8 billion customers. You just need the right product, service, or expertise to sell them!

Credentials Matter

During my sophomore year of college I was interviewing for a consulting position with a bulge bracket firm. Think Boston Consulting Group and Bain level.

I had somehow snuck my foot into the door past the first round, but the recruiter bluntly told me they only hire interns from 10 colleges in the US.

There was no investigation into my ACT score, class rank, GPA, or other factors. But, this makes a lot of sense from a recruiting standpoint.

Recruiters can narrow their search to 10 schools because the college does the initial determination for them.

For example, there are few incompetent people at Ivy League schools. The same thing holds true for professional designations.

Credentials are a way to tell employers you are competent in a specific skill, without them having to directly investigate your claim.

Everyone applying for an accounting position says they’re great with numbers on their resume, but how could a hiring manager possibly know if that’s true?

These professional organizations don’t let random people off the street pass the CPA, CFA, CFP, Bar, or Medical Board Exams.

Attaining a credential can send a strong signal to employers that you take your career advancement seriously. This means they’re more likely to invest in you!


It’s so annoying when people say all you need to do is network, but it is entirely true. I know people that could get a job in a finger’s snap because of their connections.

If you’re anything like me, you probably HATE going to those awkward networking events. Seriously, they’re the absolute worst.

Forced small talk and acting like I actually care about something a random person is saying isn’t my forte.

The best way to overcome this is by building genuine connections, over an extended period of time. I prefer 1-on-1 coffee meet ups, with no hidden agenda.

The best time to network is when you don’t need a job. People can tell when you’re simply using them for your personal gain, and it’s not a great feeling.

The best way to meet prominent and powerful people in your community is by joining boards or volunteer groups for art centers, museums, and charities.

Now, don’t just join any random organization. Sign-up for something you are actually passionate about!

This will help you in finding a job in a bad economy!

Be Nice, Smile, Dress Accordingly

Here’s probably the easiest, but most important part of any job interview. Assuming you nailed everything in the sections above, this will knock the socks off any interviewer!

Being nice should apply to everyone, at every moment in time, but you really don’t want to be a crabby person during a first impression.

All you have to is smile, be personable, and friendly! The dirty secret is any work you’ll do can be trained. People just want to work around individuals they like.

A lot of times you are spending more time with these people than their own family. An arrogant, crabby, mean person gets old REAL FAST!

When it comes to dressing accordingly, just use some common sense. Guys, if you’re interviewing with a professional services firm, wear a suit.

finding a job in a bad economy is tough but dressing nice will help

PLEASE, for the love of all things, iron your clothes, polish your shoes, and comb your hair! Candidly, it takes 15 minutes, and it will appear that you didn’t just roll out of bed.

I have received multiple compliments for my shoes looking nice during an interview. These are $75 Cole Haan shoes from Nordstrom Rack. They’re not Gucci.

All I did was buff them for 5 minutes the night before. It’s not expensive; you’re just being lazy.

Girls, I really don’t know anything about how you dress, but I’m sure good ol’ common sense will suffice!

Temper Expectations

Assuming you crushed your interview and landed an offer, please temper your expectations!

Be thankful you even received a job offer at all. I’m sure there would be a thousand kids killing to be in that same position!

Now, don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying jump on every single offer that comes your way.

But, I’m also not saying to hold out for that one dream job that probably doesn’t exist. Find a healthy balance between the two! It’s all about knowing yourself.

Hardly anyone is going to make $100,000 straight out of college. Get used to it because life is cruel.

Stable Sectors

Don’t go all-in on a lucrative, but cyclically bound sector. The perfect example is petroleum engineers.

Even 2-3 years ago, it was common for graduating seniors to receive $150,000 job offers to work in the oil sector.

So, what naturally happened? Everyone and their brother started majoring in petroleum engineering!

Want to know how many petroleum engineers are going to be hired when oil is priced at $18 a barrel? That’s right! A big fat ZERO!

Don’t stake your entire career potential on a risky, volatile sector of the economy. Opt for generalized (but still specific) skill sets like mechanical engineering.

Regulated Industry

The perfect example of careers in a regulated industry are public accountants and lawyers.

All publicly traded entities require an independent audit, opined upon by a certified public accounting firm.

The AICPA has written about this topic extensively over the past decade!

“The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires that the management of public companies assess the effectiveness of the internal control of issuers for financial reporting.

Section 404(b) requires a publicly-held company’s auditor to attest to, and report on, management’s assessment of its internal controls. 

The AICPA has consistently urged implementation of Section 404(b) for all publicly held companies.

Section 404(b) has led to improved financial reporting and greater transparency.

The AICPA believes that all investors in public companies should have equal benefit of the same protections.

Some small companies have argued that the regulatory cost and burden of having the assessment outweighs the benefit to investors.”

Now, whether I agree with this regulation is beyond the point. These laws will not be changing anytime soon.

Here are some other examples of regulating oversight boards/legislation:

  • Dodd-Frank
  • FDA
  • USDA
  • SEC

Start a Business

Sometimes the best time to start a business is during an economic downturn. I’m not telling you to run out a take out a bunch of debt for your wonderful idea.

However, drastic times call for drastic measures. You might need to take matters into your own hands.

Ask yourself three simple questions. What am i excellent at, what am i passionate about, and what do people need?

Combine these three areas together like a Venn-Diagram. Then, form a business focused on the intersecting answers for those specific questions.

I know everyone would like to call themselves an entrepreneur, but you must be able to put food on the table to end the day. Be wise.

Government Jobs

This is an absolute last resort because government bureaucracy is a funnel of wasted tax dollars, but government jobs are very safe.

Especially during a bad economy, when private companies are not hiring, the government will step-in to provide jobs.

These are just a few of the government jobs programs during the New Deal when unemployment reached 30%.

  • Public Works Administration
  • Tennessee Valley Authority
  • Civilian Conservation Corps

There were times during the Great Depression when the government was paying people to dig holes and fill them back up.

F.A. Hayek, a famous Austrian Economist, noted it’d be easy to have full-employment. We could just have everyone in the army, but there’d be nothing to eat.

We need the goods and services that are produced, not people digging holes and other make-work. Only accept a government job if you will actually gain valuable experience!

Keep Burn Rate Low

It’s like waking up after a night of heavy drinking. It was fun the previous night, but now your bad decisions are exposed.

Remember that car, house, and clothes you bought, but you could only afford them with your previous paycheck?

Well, you might need to consider selling the car and clothes and downsizing your house. Bad decisions are exposed when the tide rolls out.

During a bad economy, individuals need to deleverage. What does this mean? Avoid all unnecessary spending, debt, and tighten your budget.

You won’t have a lot of income, so you can’t have a lot of cash flying out your back pocket!

Finding a Job in a Bad Economy

Graduating seniors and those recently laid off, I know finding a job in a bad economy is incredibly difficult.

Hopefully, this article will help you land a position, even during an economic recession.

This isn’t to say the process will be easy. This will most likely be one of the most challenging tasks you have faced so far in life! But you can do it!

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