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Character

Alums who graduated during past recessions share advice to new 2020 grads

'You will get through this and come out the other end a better leader.'

Grad photo illustration

With much of the world’s economy shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many graduating students feel anxious about how to navigate a potential economic crisis. In an effort to connect former and current students, Marriott School of Business Dean Brigitte Madrian encouraged alumni to share words of counsel and encouragement by commenting on a LinkedIn post.

Many of the comments came from alums who graduated from BYU during the last great recession. These former students — and former students from other periods — shared their advice to current students, business or not, who will soon be navigating an unsteady job market. Here are a few of their stories and messages of encouragement.

Jonathan Sanchez, BS Management (2010), MBA (2016): “Stay positive, take risks, and make the most of this. You will get through this and come out the other end a better leader.”

The job Sanchez lined up on graduation fell through and he ended up taking a position at a call center to support his pregnant wife and baby. He was barely able to pay his bills during those early days, but the experiences and lessons were “worth more than gold” to him. He said some of the best lessons on leadership came from that experience at the call center.

“Our group of ordinary people became the No. 1 pod in sales results among about 40 pods, breaking many sales records,” Sanchez said. “It was so fun and those people were some of the best I've ever worked with! I was there six months before I got a job at a tech company that had little to do with my degree. This tech company gave me great experiences and set me up to be ready to return to BYU for an MBA. Potential employers loved my experiences so much from the tech company and even the call center that I had little trouble getting multiple great offers. It wasn't my intended path, but looking back I wouldn't change a thing!”

Corey Riley, BS Nutritional Science (2009), MPA (2011):

Sara Picard, BA Communications (2012), MBA (2019): "There may be amazing opportunities that present themselves that aren't part of the original plan that end up leading to exceptional experiences that are ultimately better in the long run."

When preparing to graduate with her undergrad degree in 2012, Pickard remembers one of her favorite professors (Susan Walton) telling her that the job market would be tight because people had been downsizing for years and her class would be competing against people with a lot more tenure for the same positions. She ended up making a decision to take a completely different route and joined Teach for America for two years.

"It may have seemed like a major deviation from a more traditional career path — for instance, I never anticipated being a teacher or getting a Master's degree in Education," Pickard said. "However, that experience ended up setting me up for success later on in my career and the experiences I had while in that program proved invaluable. While I do think it's important to continue to 'work hard' and 'do your best,' I think it's also important to allow for some flexibility in your path."

Josh Albrechtsen, BS Information Systems (2009): “You’re going to get through this stronger than those who didn’t struggle right out of the gate.”

Albrechtsen lined up what he thought was his dream consulting job, but a month before graduation (and a month before his start date), they pushed back his start date six months due to the recession. He was out of money; his student loans had run dry and he had already wrapped up his college job.

“With no income I realized I at least needed a temporary six-month job,” Albrechtsen said. “I interviewed with a local CEO, Dave Bateman, and told him I’d start for a half salary and prove my worth. Four months later I had an offer to stay on and a full salary (and a signing bonus making up for my half salary months). I declined my dream consulting gig and never looked back. While my past can’t predict your future, I’m confident if you focus less on making money and more on adding value, you’ll be just fine! Also, this is an open offer to help anyone. Just message me (on LinkedIn) and I’ll do what I can.”

Jaymon Yazzie, BS Finance (1994) “As a Native American alumni who has immensely gained from his ‘ladder of an education’ at the Y, I offer simple words of encouragement: Hózhó!” (The term Hózhó refers to a concept found in Navajo culture that refers to an interconnectedness between beauty, harmony and goodliness in all things physical and spiritual that results in health and well-being for all things and beings.)

Wye Leng Wong, BS Marketing (1989) and MA Comms (2003):


David Van Blerkom, BS Finance (1985), UCLA MBA (1989): “Stay close to the Lord. Keep the faith, and you will be blessed.”

Van Blerkom was in business school when the stock market crashed on Oct. 19, 1987 and he remembers wondering if there would be any jobs in the investment industry. All of his classmates went on to have successful careers in finance. He was also working at a hedge fund in 2008 when the great recession hit, ending many jobs in his field.

“I can only begin to imagine your struggles right now as you face this crisis of health and economic confidence. Have courage, this too shall pass,” Van Blerkom said. “You will have lived through one of the historic crises in our country's history and be stronger and better prepared because of it. I encourage you to read President Eyring's talk from April 2009 General Conference on Adversity.”

Brittany Larsen, BA Communications (2011): "It's going to be OK! The key is not to let naysayers tell you to play it safe. Now is the time in your career to take risks."

When Larsen graduated in 2011, her dad had just lost his job of over 30 years and the outlook was bleak. She had friends who couldn't find jobs. She was able to leverage her internships to get a job as a communications director on Capitol Hill, a decision that has set her up for success throughout her career.

"It can feel like the first job you take is such a huge decision and it has to be exactly right, but it's just your first job! I was discouraged by some family from moving across the country without a guaranteed position, but it was the best thing I could've done. It's OK if you have to take a job you're not completely excited about just to get your foot in the door and get some experience. It'll all work out and you'll learn a ton in the process."

Joe Nabrotzky, MBA (2010): “What if everything that is happening to you right now is the exact way it's supposed to be and is happening FOR you and not TO you!?"

After years of finally getting through the struggle of starting a company, Nabrotzky’s mortgage company started to thrive. But in 2008, his hope for a promising future collapsed with the housing bubble burst. With his second child on the way, he spent sleepless nights wondering how he’d provide for his family.

“I can now see that was probably the only way a Higher Power could have shown me it was time to go back to school and get my MBA, Nabrotzky said. "And just because it was the right decision didn’t mean it was easy."

Nabrotzky entered the BYU class at one of the most challenging times in recent history - the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index was down over 50% from the prior year and companies were implementing mass layoffs and hiring freezes. “But my classmates and I not only survived but also learned lessons in those toughest of times that gave us the foundation to now thrive," He said. "Now over a decade removed, I see how those times helped me to more humbly turn to His mentorship. How He orchestrated giving me the needed experiences to do what I do now and become who I am today. How His divine hands transplanted me and my family throughout His vineyard, growing and serving in a way that I couldn’t have imagined. Most every experience that I now see as a blessing, came AFTER the initial plan of what I wanted was swallowed up in something greater."

Melissa Connor, BA Communications (2012):

Additional resources for graduates:

BYU’s Career Services provides graduating students with access to their own, personal career coach free of charge while they’re at BYU. Students can get resume help, cover letter help, practice interviewing, learn the most effective job search methods, learn how to network and get advice on any other aspect of career prep. More details here: https://careers.byu.edu/

Have you heard of BYU Connect? Find a mentor. Be a mentor. Network with other BYU grads. Search for available jobs. Sign up for BYU Connect today.

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