Reflections on the Past: What We Learned from 9/11 and the 2008 Recession

By Mason Murphy and Melanie Reinersman

The 2020 pandemic triggered shock and fear in workers worldwide, as unemployment skyrocketed, remote work became the norm, and a focus on health and safety took precedence. Professionals in the field of career development acknowledge that employers, workers, and job seekers may be facing seemingly insurmountable challenges now. It is very important during this time to reassure everyone that we have been through crises before. In looking back at the last twenty years, there have been two major crises: the terror attacks on 9/11 in 2001 and the great recession in 2008. Career development professionals were able to navigate both challenges while aiding clients and now can use those same lessons to help them move forward today. Reflections in this article start with the basics then move toward technology, and offer practical lessons for today.

Back To Basics

When facing today's challenges, career services professional need to keep things simple for clients and focus on core career development resources and services (Cummuta, 2008). Working with clients on how to develop a resume, prepare for an interview, and communicate professionally are going to always be key elements to success. Similarly, career development professionals can teach the value of holding on to career aspirations, recognizing stress, and forgetting the words “return to normal” so as to focus on adaptability and resilience (Williams, 2009). By focusing on elements that our clients can easily see improvement, we will provide our clients with motivation to take even bigger steps in their career development journey.

How to Network

Networking during the early 2000's focused on face-to-face interactions. In fact, Zoom and Facetime were not an option, as they did not yet exist. Clients were taught to identify their network, establish a relationship, and maintain connections at events. How can we showcase the value of networking in today's world of social distancing? By bridging an old method with a new: teach clients to to pick up the phone–not just to call potential employers but to have a Zoom networking call to build or maintain relationships (Eberle, 2020).

Airport Experiences

The experience at an airport has changed in 2020, but this is not the first time. After 9/11, clients had to adapt to taking off their shoes, going through additional screenings, and altering baggage habits. After the great recession, airlines cut back on various amenities, such as food service and free carry-on bags. Clients who do fly to interviews today will need to deal with reduced flight schedules, wearing a mask, social distancing in flights, and separation in the middle seat. Non-traveling clients may need coaching as to how to interview without being in-person. We can lower their anxiety by reassuring them that change in air travel and interviewing has happened before, and it is more helpful now to create a singular focus on the interview preparation.

Photo By Cytonn Photography On Unsplash

No Handshake? No Problem!

A world where there are no handshakes may seem so foreign to people. The handshake is the most basic skill that we teach job seekers and it has been a significant part of the world of work, indeed a symbol of professionalism in the American culture. We can still teach our clients about professionalism without shaking hands. Our clients do not even have to touch or collect business cards to maintain a professional relationship. Typically, clients shake hands or collect business cards when interviewing and networking. We can instruct our clients to use smartphone technology (such as an app or “nearby” feature). For example, some conference apps allow a scan of another participant's name badge to trade contact information. This way, they can use this information to follow up with traditional methods of thank you emails or letters. This proactive use of technology can ease the awkward moments when seeking to appear professional.

Maximize Local Resources and Consider Federal Service Programs

During the 2008 recession, local job options were limited, so the federal service program (e.g. Peace Corp, AmeriCorps) saw applications triple (Konen, 2011). Grads who faced high unemployment and debt looked to gain skills, contribute to a need and wait out the recession in these programs. The positive gains in terms of career development to a student's participation in the Peace Corp are undeniable (Pyle, 2020) but this year's pandemic caused a temporary suspension of operations (Padilla, 2020). AmeriCorp is still taking applications and placing volunteers who are needed now more than ever (National & Community Service, 2020).

In light of current challenges with national and international job opportunities, local resources became more important. The local library is still a hub for technology usage and job search tools (EBSCO, 2016). Library presentations and job search groups that began operating during the great recession, now meet on Zoom or other virtual platforms while providing a wide range of assistance. Furthermore, local temp agencies and workforce development offices utilize library spaces for adult education workshops.

Financial Education Is Career Education

In any crisis or job loss situation such as 2001, 2008 or 2020, finances can become very tight. There can be a lot of misinformation disseminated, which can cause fear. Financial coaching may need to be in our holistic toolbox (Hemmann, 2020). For example, we can teach our clients to work with their bank to get the best information possible on how to effectively manage their accounts and maintain a quality credit score. Suggesting that people work with a local financial planner to get the best advice on how to manage their funds during this time has been useful in past crises and will be valuable today also.

Both OOH and O*NET are Still Valuable Resources

Even though we are helping our clients manage both a health and economic crises, the online resources we have always utilized are still vital to the success of job seekers. Both the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH) and O*NET still provide data on career opportunities (especially the burgeoning fields such as health care) that will assist clients in career transitioning, job searching, understanding the job market, and salary information.

Looking Back and Forward

What do we need to do now and in the future? Kathy Evans, NCDA President during the COVID crisis, makes our role clear:

As career counselors and professionals, we have an awesome responsibility. We need to discover resources that may not have existed before the outbreak and we also will need to help more clients rediscover themselves and find alternate paths for their lives. More than ever, we will need to be creative, supportive, empathic, and realistic. Some clients will be truly broken, and it is imperative that we assess, ethically, what we can and cannot do for each client. (Evans, 2020, p. 2)

As we look back at the post-9/11 world and the 2008 recession, there were lessons learned during that time that are valuable today. We can utilize these same steps to help workers and job seekers move forward, have less anxiety, and be successful in their career journey.



Cummuta, M. (2008). 8 ways to fight globalization's negative impact on your job search. https://www.cio.com/article/2373777/8-ways-to-fight-globalization-s-negative-impact-on-your-job-search.html

Eberle, S. K. (2020). At-home networking strategies. https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/03/23/how-network-while-you-are-social-distancing-home-opinion

EBSCO. (2016). Public libraries: Transforming the lives of job seekers. https://www.ebsco.com/blog-archives/article/public-libraries-transforming-the-lives-of-job-seekers#gsc.tab=0

Evans. K. (2020). The COVID crisis. Career Developments, 36(3), 2.

Hemmann, G. (2020, March). The role of financial coaching: Powering up your career coaching practice. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/"http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/09/27/Take-Your-Recession-Job-and-Shove-It" target="_blank" rel="noopener">http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2011/09/27/Take-Your-Recession-Job-and-Shove-It

National & Community Service. (May 14, 2020). Prospective member and volunteer questions. https://www.nationalservice.gov/documents/2020/prospective-member-and-volunteer-questions

Padilla, M. (April 28, 2020). Peace corp volunteers can get unemployment benefits, officials say. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/28/us/peace-corps-americorps-coronavirus-unemployment.html

Pyle, K. R. (2020). The peace corp experience: Impact on student career development. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/"https://ncda.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">https://ncda.org/"thumbnail imgleft" title="Mason Murphy 2020" src="https://ncda.org/" alt="Mason Murphy 2020" align="left" border="0" />Mason Murphy, MEd, MPA, works as a Career Counselor at Texas State University. He is visually impaired and holds an MEd in College Student Affairs, an MPA in Public Administration, and is pursuing a Ph.D in Adult, Professional, and Community Education. His research interests include international students and students with disabilities. Mason also serves as a Field Editor of NCDA’s Career Convergence web magazine. Mason can be reached at mmm210@txstate.edu



Melanie Reinersman 2017Melanie Reinersman, MA, is the Website Editor for the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and the Editor of NCDA’s web magazine, Career Convergence. She is also the Publications Development Director for NCDA. From 2007-2010, Melanie was the Editor of Career Developments, NCDA's members' print magazine. Previously, she worked for over ten years in career services in higher education. She has been awarded the JoAnn Harris-Bowlsbey Award for Excellence in the Field of Technology in Career Development, and the NCDA Presidential Recognition Award. Her Masters Degree is in Educational Psychology with an emphasis in Counseling from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She can be reached at webeditor@ncda.org

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Brian Montalvo   on Wednesday 12/02/2020 at 08:34 AM

Great article! I enjoyed reading it and have shared it with others. Thank you for all you do Mason and Melanie. :)

Paul Timmins   on Wednesday 12/23/2020 at 02:30 PM

Thanks for writing this piece -- great reminders about the lessons learned in the past and important suggestions about the help our clients need today.

Sara Fugett   on Tuesday 01/05/2021 at 08:56 AM

I appreciate this perspective! Also, having worked through both 9/11 and the 2008 recession, the suggestion that we drop the phrase, "return to normal" really struck a chord with me. I will be sharing this with my colleagues.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the comments shown above are those of the individual comment authors and do not reflect the views or opinions of this organization.