How to turn crisis into a career maker

30 June 2020
Written by Ashton Jones (BCom '07)
Having graduated during Global Financial Crisis, Bachelor of Commerce alum Ashton Jones shares four tips for building a career in uncertain times.
Ashton Jones

Ashton Jones

We're all living through the defining crisis of our generation. Some have dubbed it the Great Virus Crisis or Great Corona Crisis. This harkens back to the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), the reigning "defining moment of our generation" until a global pandemic and resulting economic shockwave knocked it off its smug perch.

Starting one's career in 2007 at the precipice of the GFC was a tumultuous experience. Going quickly from being a fresh-faced Big Four accounting firm intern with semi-unrealistic dreams of being the youngest partner in history to staring down the barrel of a two-year pay freeze brings you quickly back down to Earth.

But in 2008-2009, many starting their career fared a lot worse than that, with hard-won graduate offers unceremoniously rescinded and swathes of investment banking associates made redundant as mergers and acquisitions deal flow dried up.

Eerie similarities abound with our current crisis, as companies throughout Australia reshape their expense base, fearing that the economy will continue to get worse before it gets better. But hope remains for young graduates across the country if they take time to reflect and learn from these lessons from the GFC.

1. The economy, your career and even life itself is cyclical.

It sounds corny, but it is empirically proven. Markets and economies go through booms and busts. Smug financial commentators often repeat the clich├ęd mantra during a market crash of staying calm and remaining invested for the long-term. History has shown that generally this approach works better than the alternative. Think of your career and life itself in the same way: it's a long game and a lot can change in a week, month, year or decade. Put yourself out there with enthusiasm and courage every day and you'll be surprised by the great career opportunities that might come your way when the market turns, and things get rosier.

2. From a crisis also comes opportunity.

Some of the greatest companies in the world today were founded during the GFC and in the years of recovery after. Uber, Airbnb, WhatsApp, Dropbox, Kickstarter, the list goes on. Crisis can often lead to reactionary and short-term thinking, particularly by large incumbents that are ruled by a fear of shrinking or getting knocked off their comfortable perch. If companies start looking too inwardly, they will miss seeing the emerging opportunities that will come from the post-COVID-19 social and economic landscape. Think of the consumer trends that are already being created from remote working, online delivery of everything, interconnected 5G devices, personal hygiene/sanitation, staycationing and, believe it or not, board games!

3. There's never been a better time to create your own career.

A decade ago, all the whizz-kid business school graduates fought like cats and dogs for investment banking and consulting internships. But those stopped being the coolest ticket to the big show years ago. Having been to several careers' fairs in recent years, the cream of the crop now aspires to only one thing: "Tech Entrepreneur." It doesn't matter if they've done a business degree, engineering degree or dropped out after 1 year. So have no fear that the graduate jobs have dried up and go out there and create your own graduate job! You'll be the coolest kid in your class.

4. What matters most from your university experience.

No matter how hard it gets - and it will feel very hard if offers get pulled and interviews go nowhere - just remember that your university experience can still provide you something invaluable no matter where your career takes you. At the end of the day, the content of what you learnt (be it economics, finance, accounting, zoology or rocket science) is secondary to how you learnt and who you met along the way.

Above all else, university teaches you how to solve problems and how to connect with people from many different walks of life. These are the skills you need most to succeed in business or any career path really. So study hard, don't give up and treat every interaction with people as an opportunity to learn from them, help them and share with them your experiences. Good things will come your way eventually.

Ashton Jones is the Head of Investments, Retirement and New Propositions at TAL.

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