Long road from college to a job

For more than a year, I’ve been following Tayler Anderson, a Minnesota native and young college grad trying to land her first job during the recession. In October 2009, she signed her email to me, AKA desperate recent grad.

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Her mom, Celia Gust, dropped us a note recently with a new way to describe her daughter: employed.

A graphic design major who graduated in spring 2009, Anderson finally found work with a Portland, Ore., design firm. Her story holds some hope for grads who still can’t find work in their chosen field.

I met Gust and Anderson back in fall 2009 as I wrote about the struggles of young adults in the recession. Gust, part of MPR’s Public Insight Network, and Anderson offered us a look at the challenges of new grads finding their way in the lousy economy and how to help kids find their footing.

Anderson, then, was confronting the recession head-on, cold-calling for jobs and working part time at a Bath and Body Works to pay the bills.

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“In a program where in previous years every student was placed in a job before graduation,” she wrote, “we now find ourselves moving back home and working the same types of jobs we were before we even attended college. Four months out and none of the extremely talented people I graduated with in my program has a ‘real’ job.”

Things started to turn her way after she landed a paid internship with Columbia Sportswear that let her earn some money and get a foothold on her career.

The nine-month internship ended in November and Anderson was back to searching.

“Tayler looked for work anywhere and everywhere. She sent hundreds of resumes to any job that looked remotely like it might fit,” said Gust. “She got one call back from someplace in Long Beach, Ca. She was figuring out how she could live there …but nothing came of it. She was even about to start an Interior Design program at a local junior college because three months of unemployment was too much idleness to handle and she needed to do something.”

The frustration broke in February when Anderson answered a Craig’s List ad for a graphic designer. Days after the first interview she was offered the job. “As far as she knows they didn’t interview anyone else and they got over 300 resumes in the first day,” said Gust.

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“If you asked her to describe her dream job for this time in her life, this job would be it. I am so happy and relieved that she is finally employed in a job that she went to school for.” It’s even more rewarding since Anderson’s car had been stolen weeks before landing the job.

There are a few lessons to draw from Anderson’s journey.

College educated young people have been hit hard in the Great Recession. We’ve written a lot about the struggles of young Minnesotans trying to find work in the recession. But it’s been harder than maybe many of us realized.

New college graduates in 2010, “entered a labor market with the highest rates of unemployment in at least a generation…Most young adults that come across hard economic times will fall through the large gaps in the public safety net,” the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank wrote last May.

Here’s a telling chart from that report:

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Don’t discount the power of the paid internship. Her ability to snag a paid internship that gave her practical experience helped bridge the gap between college and work life. That bridge has become increasingly more important during the recession.

This chart from the job site Simply Hired shows how paid internships grew during the downturn.

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They’re still a relatively small part of the job scene — at its peak last year paid internships made up only about 1,800 of the 3 million U.S. job listings in Simply Hired’s database. But, as Anderson discovered, it can be a lifeline.

It can be a long road. With the economy really good for so long before the recession, we lost track of the fact that a lot of people don’t get their dream job right out of college.

Dating myself now, but I graduated in 1984 following what was the worst recession in decades. I was juggling three part-time jobs and none of them seemed to offer any hope of a paying, long-term future. After months, one of them — a small newspaper — offered me a full-time job and a journalism “career” was born.

Anderson’s journey took close to two years with a lot of rough spots, including having her car stolen. But the good stuff came with perseverance.

“Life is good,” said Gust. “You just have to be patient sometimes and work your way through the rough spots.”

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