August 2020

Graduating during a recession: Advice for the Class of 2020

Leeds alumni around the world have been here before.

Wind the clock back 12 years, and Leeds graduates entered the job market amidst the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. Alumni in a range of industries and sectors battled through the consequences of extended economic downtown.

Now, it is understandable that the Class of 2020 face similar uncertainty and anxieties over their future.

That’s why we’ve asked our global alumni community, those who have walked this path before, to offer their advice to those embarking on their careers. What would you tell the Class of 2020?

Keith Sansom (Chemistry 1968): “Don’t worry about the status of your first role.”

I landed my first job as a laboratory assistant. Not only was the pay low, I had to relocate, too. I moved south where housing costs were high, followed by another move to just north of Grimsby two years later. But it was from there that all my future opportunities arose.

I had found myself in a bit of a rut. I was very shy and knew little except research and laboratories. Soon enough I started to meet the marketing team on a regular basis, and against all the advice, I took the plunge to move into technical service. Another house move was called for back down south.

The risk paid off; my life started from that point as I discovered how wide and wonderful the world was outside academia and laboratories. The key is to step out of your comfort zone, to take risks, and expose yourself to lots of different scenarios. Don't worry about the status of your first role. Soon enough, opportunity comes knocking.

Barney Newbould (Geography 2009; MSc Transport Studies 2010): “Once you have a foot on the ladder, it is far easier to keep your job and move upwards.”

I graduated at a time when competition for jobs was fierce. I knew I wanted to get into transport planning, but each role I applied for I seemed to be up against candidates with Masters, or more work experience than me. It felt hopeless.

I was determined to put myself on a level playing field. I did three month’s work experience at Metro, and I did a Masters. When I finished it, things were still tough, but I was better qualified and I was offered a position in Birmingham – not exactly where I wanted to be, but I had to be flexible. Once you have a foot on the ladder, it is far easier to keep your job and move upwards. After two years in the role – dropping to part-time hours at one point because of the lack of work – things picked up and I was in demand. I was able to move back to Leeds as a transport planner, which is where I wanted to be.

Kaizin Sadri (Corporate Communications and Public Relations 2016): “Use the alumni community to network with those in your field.”

With the pandemic bringing unprecedented challenges in the job market, you may face setbacks. I’d recommend using the alumni community to network with those in your field – the Leeds Network, MyCareer and the general community all present opportunities to make valuable introductions and gain a foothold in a field. I’d also suggest building your personal brand online to help you connect with the right people.


Mohammed Fayaz Ali (LLM International Business Law 2008): “If you have a passion to pursue a particular career, pursue it.”

I graduated in 2008 during the economic crisis. It was tough. My hopes of securing a job in the UK were shattered, and many of my fellow classmates were in the same situation. I felt dejected and frustrated at first.

However, I picked myself up, and I returned to my home country, India. I remained positive and started my own law practice. With a lot of effort and hard work over the years, I have now established a good practice. If you have a passion to pursue a particular career, you should pursue it come what may. Things will work out.

Helen Cadwallender (French and German 1998): “Everything you do will benefit you in some way.”

Following graduation, I went to Paris where I found temporary work as a bilingual secretary. I worked for a relatively small clinical research company and I was the only native English speaker, so I would often be asked to do more than the basic admin tasks. I knew it wasn’t a job I would do for any long period of time, but it gave me my first proper experience in a professional environment.

Like me, you may not find your dream job straight away, but everything you do will benefit you in some way, even if you might not see it immediately. I stayed with the company for around 10 months and then decided to move to London where I took a role as a marketing assistant in a multi-national French company. These first roles are all part of a learning curve which doesn’t end after your degree. The skills you have acquired at Leeds will serve you well on the journey - they certainly have for me and still do as the head of conference service at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Tara Brennan (Italian and Linguistics 2008): “Look at where the jobs are.”

I graduated into a difficult job market with few graduate opportunities. There was a lot of uncertainty in the market and strong competition for a small number of openings.

I looked at where the jobs were, and realised that IT was one of the few areas that had lots of opportunities. I decided to enrol on a Masters course in Information Systems, which also included a three-month work placement, and it was the best career decision I ever made. I managed to get a role as a Technical Analyst at Deutsche Bank, and now I'm a cloud consultant at PA Consulting.

Diane Nixon (Maths & Computer Science 1979): “All the 30 graduates were made redundant 12 months later and for me it seemed like the end of the world.”

When I graduated, I gained a role at NCR as a graduate computer programmer based in Nottingham. Unfortunately all 30 graduates were made redundant 12 months later and for me it seemed like the end of the world. I had moved to Nottingham, didn't know anyone and was living in an awful bedsit. But that first hurdle in my career was probably the best thing that could have happened. I decided that I had to stop feeling sorry for myself and find another job.

I managed to find work in a software company where I developed bespoke programs for large companies. Later, my husband gave up his job to start a business and I developed a software package for the company in my 'spare' time. It was very demanding and unfortunately the business folded. We kept working hard to improve our financial situation – even though we faced stressful times I knew our situation would improve.

I always had a desire to live overseas, and we decided to emigrate to Perth, Western Australia. It was my degree and IT skills that enabled us to apply for visas as it wasn't easy to be accepted into Australia. For a year neither of us were able to get jobs, but my Leeds degree opened doors to a second career – I completed a graduate diploma and retrained as a Maths teacher, a role that has given me greater satisfaction than my previous jobs. I now work in a remote Aboriginal school in northern Western Australia, and feel that I am now in the career that I am meant to be in.

Resilience, a passion to always improve oneself and to enjoy life is what Leeds gave me all those years ago. Thank you Leeds.