From Big Bucks to Hard Luck
by Miranda Wellman '99
It was a blessing and curse to graduate from Scripps in 1999.The blessing was being able to leave college with a high-paying job in hand and one amazing education.The curse was the unrealistic picture I held of job security and earning potential. Over the past four years, I have experienced professional lessons at hyper-speed, thanks to a volatile economy and having no prior reference for what it is like to be a worker during a downturn.
I spent spring semester of my senior year writing my thesis and securing a job in the finance industry. I approached
each project with equal discipline, keeping one calendar for interviews and one for academics. I interviewed 22 times, and
graduated with six job offers. I selected the highest-paying one (also the most interesting), which took me to San Francisco to work in corporate finance.
At the time, I thought these results were primarily due to my academic record, my clever answers during interviews, and
my professional potential.These reasons existed, but the driving factor was a booming economy that encouraged firms to over-hire without fear, offering graduates juicy signing bonuses and base salaries.
The next two years in San Francisco were phenomenal. By my second year in corporate finance, I was making more than my mother did after 10 years of being an attorney. It was a satisfying yet odd fact to consider.Virtually no one questioned
the economic growth in technology and investments, and people blew off employers who weren’t willing to give them a bonus equal to half their salary. Market bears were ignored, and recent graduates making good money kept living as if this state was normal. We learned it was not.
San Francisco turned out to be the ultimate economic barometer. It boomed first, and it busted first. In our firm, rumors began that 350 people would be laid off. We heard it would happen during the summer of 2001, and then we heard in the fall. In reality, lay-offs happened just in time for Christmas. I was laid off, along with 200 of my colleagues and friends.
I still had $2,200 in rent to pay each month, and other normal living expenses (for The City). But I was slow to panic
because our firm gave out severance packages, granting me another three months of income. I assumed I could find a job in that time. Bad assumption. For 11 months, I looked for work. I quickly discovered that finding a parallel position was
not possible. All of those positions were deemed “trimable fat” by senior management teams.The only choices were to consider
changing careers or to start working in a record store and get five roommates.
I pretended to be a senior again. I organized myself, and I asked critical questions such as: What do I need to be happy
in a work place? What am I good at? What am I not good at?
I made columns and lists. I read articles and collected lists like “the 100 best companies to work for” and “fastest growing companies.” I also stopped sending résumés cold, and started making networking calls. I created a personal mission statement and taped it to my refrigerator. I learned that you must use any connection you have.
While searching for permanent work, I landed a consulting project through my mother. It closely resembled a paper I would have written at Scripps. I had a question to explore. I researched it, wrote up my results, and got paid. Not bad, but not permanent. In the meantime, I contemplated working for a nonprofit in the area of financial strategy. I wanted to leverage what I learned but work in an environment where my contributions meant something.Then I got the call from my Scripps advisor. She told me of an opening and encouraged me to apply to my Alma Mater.
That was an odd moment for me. I had to decide whether I viewed this opportunity as slinking back home after the post-Scripps world chewed me up, or if it was a genuine opportunity to work and grow professionally. I chose “b” because Scripps needed someone smart and capable of helping to advance the College’s financial goals. I had experience. I needed a job. And, most important, I believed in Scripps.
I still have friends who have never succeeded in replacing that job they lost in 2001. They found others, but nothing
offering similar compensation or opportunity for professional advancement. It’s harder now. It takes more time to find work
and even more time to reach earning levels that could make your mom shriek. Titles and pay don’t mean everything. But it’s easy to let your sense of professional worth get wrapped up in that.
A year after I took the job with Scripps, I was offered and accepted a management position at a nonprofit in Portland, OR. I now oversee all fund-raising efforts for Raphael House, an organization that serves battered women and children. For the second time in my life, Scripps has prepared me to contribute in significant, meaningful ways.
What’s the moral to my story? Simply this: Expect your career path to get difficult. But know when your luck is down, it is not well-meaning friends or an inspirational poster that gets you through. It is coaching yourself to push forward and be aggressive on your own behalf. It is taking what you’ve learned and applying it over and over and knowing that when you reach your goals, you’ve earned your way and determine
d your own professional value, rather than winning at market timing lotto.