Give a bunch of academics long enough, and they'll come up with a study that can suggest just about anything—including an upside to this terrible job market.
According to an article in The Week, researchers at Emory University's Goizueta Business School have found that there may be a correlation between job satisfaction over the course of a career and the economic climate that you graduated into. Put simply: if you graduate into a tough market, you're more likely to feel happy in your career than if you graduate in prosperous times.
As the piece says "Even though graduates who enter the workforce during recession years typically take lower quality jobs, advance more slowly, and make less money years into their career, they also tend to have higher levels of job satisfaction."
The reason? There appear to be a couple:
No choices = no regrets
Candidates who graduate into a booming job market may well find themselves weighing several competing job offers—sometimes in different fields, or locations. According to the research cited in the article, that can lead to second-guessing further down the career path: "Much like the negotiator who can more easily imagine different ways events might have progressed, these graduates are more likely to wonder whether unchosen paths might have yielded greater outcomes."
Rejoice, then, if you happen to have graduated into a situation where simply finding any job is a challenge—you might not be as successful, but at least you can't second-guess a decision when it was the only option on the table. And, as a special bonus, you're also much more likely to experience…
The hardest-won achievements in our lives tend to be the ones that we recall most vividly. When asked during interviews for examples of problems we've overcome, those are the experiences that spring to mind most readily, their lessons most likely to affect our future actions and perceptions of the world around us. It's no surprise, then, to find that people who land their first job in tough markets carry the memory of that experience with them more vividly than their boom-era colleagues. During subsequent difficult times—like that meeting where you just got denied a raise or a promotion you felt you were due—you still have that positive memory to fall back on as consolation. After all, if the job was difficult to get, the simple act of holding on to it even in times of adversity is likely to seem more rewarding than it would to someone who didn't have to struggle—or perhaps turned down other opportunities—to find it.
How much of a silver lining you consider the above points to be depends on your own circumstances; personally, I'm not sure that being freed from looking backwards, coupled with a lasting sense of gratitude for being rescued from unemployment are worth the tradeoff for the diminished opportunities and earning potential a poor job market brings. But a more interesting question is surely how lasting such mindsets will be and what, if any effect they will bring to bear on the workforce and the wider economy in coming years. Will that "gratitude" manifest itself as a willingness to accept poorer working conditions or lower pay even as the economy recovers? Will it have an effect on labor mobility? Or will it simply evaporate at the first sign of an upswing, as employees find themselves in the position—for the first time—to make decisions that they may later come to regret?
The Week: The upside of graduating during a recession