I got body-slammed by the 2002 dot-com recession and took years to recover personally and professionally. One aunty even told my mother to her face that “Computer Science is dead! even U.S people are coming back to India jobless. How is your son going to get a job?“. This was in 2002. The 9/11 attacks had just happened. We had exactly one IT company that came for a campus interview and then cancelled all the job offers as the recession worsened. My batchmates who studied Computer Engineering went to work at call centers. I was too embarrassed to even sit for a call center interview on campus. But many of my peers did not have the luxury of being choosy. Others worked at low-paying jobs from morning till night. Still others like me “escaped” to do a second degree. Basically it all came down to each family’s finances, risk appetite and plain luck.

I’m close to 40 years old now and the memory still hurts. I want to share some of my learnings when a recession happens in your early 20s. No news article will talk about these blunt truths. Let me list them out first and then share some ideas on how to make the best out of a bad situation and still come out on top.

Blunt Truths about an “Indian” recession:

Yes, you did everything parents, professors and society asked you to do : Study, Study, Study. Yet, here you are jobless.

  1. Campus placement offers will be cancelled if they haven’t already. Most students who receive campus placement offers are going to be jobless in 6 months when the company withdraws the offer. Irony: The same IT company that did this to our batch 20 years back is doing it again this year. Saying in the headlines that they will hire everyone who was offered a job and then silently undoing it off-camera 6 months later close to the join date.
  2. If you are a girl in your 20s and without a job, then you are most likely getting married off soon. So high likelihood of breakup with your boyfriend unless he has a secure job by Indian Parent standards. Indian Parents are very risk-averse and will panic in a recession like this one. If you are a girl who does not want to get married off, try living away from your parents by getting any job/internship or a higher-education that takes you away from home.
  3. If you are a guy who is jobless and living with your parents, you will be under tremendous pressure to get any job even if unrelated to your major or do higher studies to keep up appearances. Most of this is just parental pressure and the “aunty/uncle” pressure.
  4. If you think you can ride out this recession by doing a Masters degree or some higher degree, everyone else has the same idea. So competition for the limited seats, scholarships and jobs after 2 years will be fierce.
  5. For the rest of your life, your salary will be much lower. This is because you will be taking your first job at a low salary in a recession. Since increments are based on your previous salary, your absolute salary will grow slowly even when the economy recovers. So your junior might make more money than you since they will be hired at a higher starting salary in a good economy.
  6. Your self-confidence will take a beating. You will suffer from Imposter Syndrome in your professional life.
  7. Mental Health will go for a toss. Constant Stress and Hopelessness combined with a lack of support system will take a toll.
  8. It’ll slowly dawn on you that your out-dated college education really did not prepare you to get a job. In good times, students get hired inspite of their colleges but in bad times is when you can see the true worth of a college.
  9. If we are being honest, you knew most of this already while you were in college or in the workforce. You just didn’t think it will happen to you. But the musical chairs stopped only for you not others who were equally unprepared. If you are truly interested in your field of study you can use the spare time now to learn the skills needed by your industry by looking at the job postings.

Silver Lining:

The recession of 2002 was over by 2004 and an economic boom started

  • The recession of 2002 was over by 2004 and an economic boom started mainly in IT, Telecom, Financial Services and Real Estate
  • Google went IPO in 2004.
  • Facebook was launched in 2004.
  • iPhone was launched in 2007.
  • A SaaS, Social Media and Mobile Apps startup boom started in the U.S and later spread to India as well. Example: Flipkart, Ola etc. This meant more IT outsourcing jobs in India
  • I turned out O.K. Did a masters in U.S right out of college, worked for an MNC, then at a startup and returned to India to start my own software business in Goa.
  • My friend who worked in a call center for those 2 years applied for a U.S Masters program. He works in California now.
  • Most of my college batchmates have landed on their feet here in India and all over the world. Some are even entrepreneurs, research scientists, CEOs etc. 20 years later there are no stories of computer engineers begging on the street as many aunties/uncles had cynically predicted.
  • But the mental trauma we went through and all the lost opportunities/money is real. I’ve listed them in the blunt truths above. Like they say “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. I would like to think that we are more resilient than someone who has never seen a recession before.
  • Our “Computer Science is dead” aunty is probably now using WhatsApp on the computer in her hand (a.k.a phone) without a hint of irony and sending out fake news to scared parents of youngsters. Maybe this time she will say “Office work is dead/Medical Science is dead/Human Progress is dead” or something ignorant.

What you can do right now:

When life hands you lemons, learn to make lemonade

  • Don’t believe the doomsday news about jobs not being available. Some are firing while others are hiring. I myself am actively hiring for my software business paying market salary. I’m unable to find good candidates who have the skills and experience.
  • Most colleges suck at campus placements even in normal times. Read this article on how a campus placement actually works in IIM Ahmedabad and why they bag the best offers. If your campus placement cell does not work their ass off like mentioned in this article then you are doomed. So force your campus placement cell to get their act together and canvass the HR of companies more aggressively. Make a list of all your college alumni and where they are working these days using LinkedIn. Start contacting them for interviews.
  • Even if you don’t get placed through campus, there are a ton of opportunities to apply for jobs online – LinkedIn, Indeed, Monster, Naukri etc. There are many small software companies that offer a trainee software position these days. See Example This will help bridge the gap between your out-dated education and skills actually needed by the industry.
  • If you were already working but have been laid off recently, make sure to post your skills and availability on your college alumni group on LinkedIn/WhatsApp. A lot of small software companies and non-profits are eagerly looking to hire talent previously cornered by corporates with their untenable promise of “job security”, “career path” etc But you have to be willing to lower your pay & perks expectation to bag these.
  • Only take up a low-paying job if it is going to help you make more money down the line or connects you to powerful people. For example : If you join a startup or small outfit you will be paid less but you will learn a lot more in one month than you will in corporate in a year. That will help you command a higher salary when you change jobs. You can do an unpaid internship if it helps you connect with top people in the industry on a “first-name” basis like working at NASSCOM, Niti Aayog, Smart City initiatives etc
  • It is better to do “job-guarantee” courses offered by the industry instead of useless higher education degrees offered by colleges. Because this recession might not end by the time you graduate from these colleges and you’ll be left with a big student loan and no job.
  • Only go for higher-education if the ROI is high. Example: don’t pay a ton to do an MBA at a third-rate college. Instead try to get a scholarship or do a short course at a prestigious place like IIT/IIM etc. This will add prestige to your resume without burning your pockets. I myself studied at a mid-rank state school in the U.S where the fees was very low comparatively but our lifetime earnings boost was order of magnitude high.
  • Try to do tangential degrees/concentrations instead of just the popular fields. That will ensure that you will get a scholarship & admission easily. You can always pivot back to the popular field when it comes time to get a job. True Fact: you will find many IITians who studied Metallurgy in the Software industry.
  • Many students who apply for higher education don’t know that they qualify for many scholarships. All they have to do is apply.
  • Entrepreneurship is a good option provided your family is supportive. Even re-selling designer masks online will mint you a lot of money in this time. But the greatest obstacle for youngsters to do business in India is parents.
  • If all else fails, you can Freelance on sites like UpWork. You can get hired hourly instead of on a permanent basis while putting your education to work earning money and a portfolio.

Preparing for the next recession 7 years from now

Invest in 3S : Skills, Savings,Social Network

  • Recessions will happen every 7 years or so. It is simply a matter of what goes up coming down in the economy. India’s economy was already in bad shape before COVID made it worse meaning you would have had a recession any way.
  • Invest continuously in 3S :
    • Skills – to get you a high paying job. if recessions are frequent then you need to make a lot of hay while the sun shines
    • Social Network – knowing all the right people in all the right places will help you find a job even in a recession. This is pretty much the only reason everyone is crazy about getting into IIT/IIM
    • Savings from a high paying job to achieve financial independence from a job. Read this blog on achieving Financial Independence using just your job salary.
  • Hold your immediate boss accountable for your career growth. The deal is : you get him promoted and he/she promotes you. Don’t stick around with a boss who does not have the leadership quality of being demanding yet nurturing.
  • Keep switching jobs for higher salary until you close the pay gap caused by graduating in a recession. If your boss is smart he will get promoted and promote you along with him.
  • Never be shy or embarrassed to share your salary with friends or colleagues so you know if you are being underpaid and either confront your boss or switch jobs.
  • Raise your hand for big assignments in spite of your confidence level. You’ve already seen the worst ie. being jobless in a recession.
  • If you don’t know something at work, don’t pretend. Instead loudly say “I don’t know that but I’ll learn it in a day/week and get back to you” That’ll give you the confidence to rid you of your Imposter Syndrome at work. Basically you’ve already let everyone know that you don’t know something you should have known. So there is no risk of anyone “finding out that you are a fraud”. Once you’ve been humiliated by joblessness there is nothing else to be embarrassed about. Does wonders to your self-confidence!
  • Try to think independently of what your parents want of you. Chart your own course based on what’s good for you and your Life Satisfaction.
  • Never ignore your mental health as it will severely affect your ability to do your job and be happy in life. That unexplainable sadness and disinterest could be depression. That sleeplessness could be from Imposter Syndrome. That paranoia could be from a stressful job loss. You can now try affordable online therapy in India. Parents or Friends are only good for bad advice.
  • Lastly, read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It will teach you more about how to get what you want from life than anything else you’ve been taught so far. You will read it and feel “If only I had known all this sooner….”

3 COMMENTS

  1. Good relatable writeup. I muself graduated twice into recession ( Bachelor’s -2002) and (Masters -2008).

  2. Nice one.
    Can you also get a finance expert to also talk about other saving options (other than the traditional FDs).

    Thanks,
    Hema

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