In the spring of 2008, I went on a fishing trip with several of my friends from university. Two of them were about to graduate, one as a petroleum engineer, the other with a degree in finance. We were packing up our tackle boxes when the finance major stepped away to take a phone call. From afar, we could see that something was amiss. Our friend’s face had turned white, and his typical smile had given way to a scowl. A few minutes later, he put his phone back in his pocket and walked back towards the group. “Well, JP Morgan just rescinded my Bear Stearns job offer even though they said they were going to honour it a month ago”.
The finance major was unbelievably frustrated because he was one of those people that had done everything “right” throughout his life. He studied hard. He earned his spot at a top finance programme, where he graduated near the top of his class. He excelled during interview season, eventually landing him a summer position at Bear Stearns, which was the fifth-largest bank in the world. They liked him enough for him to have earned a full-time job offer, which he accepted. His life was going according to plan, and according to all the rules written in the preceding half-century, it was a safe plan. After all, he hadn’t pursued a career in acting.
All bull, no Bear
He had played it safe: he followed all the rules handed down to him by earlier generations, and he was expecting to be rewarded. Instead, the avarice of earlier generations had destroyed the structures into which he had bought. So, instead of moving to New York City to be a young investment banker on Wall Street, he was now going to be just another unemployed recent graduate with student loan debt to pay off.
The reason that the Great Recession was so hard on the Ambitionists is that most companies adopted a “first in, first out” policy regarding their employees. That means that when it came time to lay people off, the most recently hired people were the first ones to be given the boot. It’s a policy that made sense. After all, those who had spent the least time there likely had the least experience to contribute. But this widespread policy also helped cripple an entire generation.
Because of the Great Recession, graduates were entering an increasingly competitive job market. Companies no longer wished to hire people without experience, but Ambitionists were too young to have any. Plus, they weren’t just competing against their peers for positions; they were competing against people from the experienced Diplomat Generation (born 1973-1984) who had lost their jobs. It was not a fair fight. Faced with scant job opportunities, many Ambitionists chose to go back to school to obtain a graduate degree and “wait out the storm”. But because graduate programmes saw such massive increases in applications numbers, they could be more selective. So, yet again, Ambitionists faced much tougher competition than anybody had imagined just a few years prior.
Ambitionists grew angrier and angrier. They felt that they had never been given their “shot”. And it was true: the opportunities available to earlier generations just were not there. When Ambitionists finally entered the workforce, things did not get any easier, which we will discuss in Part 3.