Nine months into her first job, Mary Wisniewski returned from a business trip to Switzerland in April and was laid off.
"It feels like I dreamed it up," she says. "I could understand being fired if I messed up, but I never would have thought I'd get laid off."
As employers look to shed workers in a struggling economy, Wisniewski and other recent college graduates are finding their jobs are over just as they have begun.
Job counselors say an early layoff need not be career damaging. They encourage recent graduates not to take layoffs personally, to deal with the issue honestly and to quickly begin looking for another job.
"Getting let go is never a good thing, but it's not nearly the black mark on your resume it was 10, 15 or 20 years ago," says Brad Karsh, president and founder of JobBound, which helps college students and recent graduates land their first jobs. "It happens to the best of us, and it's beyond your control."
Karsh says those who have been laid off should reassess their situation and try to use the layoff as a catalyst for finding a more suitable job. He recommends being honest when interviewing for subsequent jobs, adding that most employers will understand, as long as they are told the truth.
Marcia Harris, director of University Career Services at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, urges those laid off to obtain a letter of recommendation before leaving the company, explaining what happened and why, indicating the employee wasn't at fault.
Harris says recent graduates may have to take temporary, freelance or part-time positions to pay the bills while they seek another full-time job. Most won't have big savings cushions, and many will still be repaying student loans or the costs of furnishing an apartment.
Recent graduates who find themselves laid off should check with their loan providers; many can help work out a deferral of or reduction in payment during times of distress.
Robert Graber, chief executive of www.Wallstjobs.com, a financial-services recruiting source, says recent graduates who landed their first job through campus recruiting will have to learn how to job hunt. "They may have to be more proactive," he says.
Graber encourages those in the financial sector to consider companies beyond the brand names, such as smaller boutique firms and hedge funds, including those in smaller cities.
He recommends not taking the summer off, noting that looking for a job can be a full-time endeavor itself. Graber says job-seekers should do as much networking as possible, through talking with friends and associates, attending events, and participating in alumni clubs and nonprofit groups. Harris says many college career centers offer services to alumni free of charge or for a small fee.
Wisniewski, a Michigan native who graduated from Pepperdine University last year and moved to New York for a job as an editor at a jewelry-industry magazine, has found it tough to move on in a sluggish economy. She has interviewed with a handful of companies, including one in Kentucky that would require her to move again. "I don't want to leave New York, but I might have to," she says.
She says she worries because her short job tenure often comes up during interviews. "I don't want it to be a huge red flag," she says. She has considered omitting the nine-month
stint from her resume, but is concerned that it will make her seem too inexperienced.
Wisniewski says that she has been advised that her layoff shouldn't be a problem once she explains it, as many hiring managers expect to see these situations in a poor economy. "Losing your job isn't the end of the world, of course, but it's still like getting a black eye," she says.
Professionals urge people who have been laid off not to lose perspective, and to try to grow from the experience. That was the case for Gerry Wilson, who says getting laid off turned out to be a good thing.
Wilson graduated from Princeton in 2000 and took a job with MicroStrategy Inc., an Internet software company. After two months training at company headquarters in Virginia, he headed to New York to begin work. The first day, he was told that his consultant position was being eliminated.
Wilson parlayed his expertise with MicroStrategy's software into another consulting position, making nearly double what his salary would have been. He later started consulting on his own and saved enough money to attend business school. There, he developed a plan for his own business, yoonew inc., an online exchange that lets sports fans bet on a shot at Super Bowl or World Series tickets, long before the event. He raised funding from angel investors and now runs yoonew.
"All I have done has been because I was laid off on my first day," he says.