Alum Shares Graduating in a Year of Job Outlook Uncertainty

ISE alumnus Patrick Murray graduated with his ISE degree in the Spring of 1988, not long after the infamous Black Monday, the biggest one day fall of the stock market since the great depression. By the winter break of 1987, an anxiousness began to build about whether or not students were going to get jobs before they graduated. So, during these difficult times, he thought it might help to share a story with all the students preparing to graduate.

“In the Fall of 1987, as a senior in IE, I remember a time full of anticipation and anxiousness; the home stretch, the economy was humming along with the stock market hitting records all year long. It was our last year on campus to experience stuff, finally get to take the real interesting engineering classes, and it was job interview time.”

“After the NC State Fair opening weekend, the Economy was hit with Black Monday on Oct 19th, the biggest one day fall of the stock market since the great depression (the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down over 22%). Since we didn’t have smartphones and social media, I’m not even sure when I heard about it. However, whispers of worry began to circulate among the seniors and some grad students.  The economy was in bad shape; what would happen to our job prospects? On Nov 2nd, the Technician ran an article about job losses, and that’s probably when the whispers became voices.”

“I can recall that after Thanksgiving break, many of us had come back to campus with concerning news from our parents, something to the effect ‘your graduation timing isn’t too good; have you thought about grad school?’ A few students talked about job interviews being canceled or postponed. As we were getting ready for fall exams, we heard from our classmates about more canceled interviews with companies like IBM, Nortel, JP Stevens, Data General, Dupont, Burlington, Milliken, RJReyonlds, Fieldcrest, etc.  We were caught off-guard, this was supposed to be our great final year of college, everything was supposed to be coming up like roses just like it was for the students a year ahead of us.”

“Although I had completed three co-op rotations at Intel Corporation, I had not yet heard about a full-time position. That fall, I was working part-time for a professor’s start-up venture. We had some projects from Dupont, one of the companies canceling interviews. Anxiousness turned to worry, and I started giving serious thought to grad school.”

“Over the winter break in 1987, I was typing up cover letters, mailing out resumes, and putting in hours at the start-up. As the Spring semester started, there was great concern about having a job offer before graduation. I still hadn’t heard back from Intel. However, some classmates were getting letters back from smaller companies; many that none of us had heard of before. Most of the large companies were responding with ‘at this time, we are not hiring entry-level positions’ type letters. We were getting interviews with those smaller companies, which I would consider Intel to be since it had less than 20K employees. Also, having exited from the memory market, its revenue was barely over $1B.”

“As we were preparing for Spring Break, the word around was that students were getting some offers. A few from the larger companies and governments, but many seemed to be from these smaller companies.”

“I finally heard from Intel, an offer for a full-time position in California as they had a solid business year in 1987 with the growth of the PC market. They were looking for people with PC architecture knowledge, which I had picked up working on projects with IE professors. As I recall from my classmates, there was a demand for optimization, efficiency, and process improvement skills. The economic downturn created opportunities for engineers and students to help companies improve how they did things and run their operations leaner.”

“While the world is in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, your expectations about what you might be doing and where you’ll be doing it may get challenged. I share this story because a generation ago, we ISE seniors went through a similar period of job outlook uncertainty, and it worked out for us.  Many of the companies that we thought we wanted to work at don’t exist today.  Economic downturns are stressful and emotionally painful for sure, and how you thought your last year or semester to be is now completely different. While you finish strong on your studies, keep your eyes and ears open to new and different opportunities to leverage your skills and knowledge. Especially as the flaws of the contemporary global supply chain and logistics networks get exposed.  Stay healthy and be strong.”