As a chemical engineering student at Stanford University, "I assumed that I would not have a hard time finding a job," he said.
His plan was to work for a few years before applying to graduate programs in his field, a move often encouraged by professors to broaden a student's perspective. In the fall of his senior year, Bowling casually began his search.
"I never considered that a year or two break would be a hard ordeal," he said.
Fall passed, and winter and spring quarters rolled by. It was graduation time and Bowling still didn't have anything lined up.
By that time, he was "desperate," he said. He decided to widen the pool of jobs he would apply for, and continue his search from his parents' house in Kentucky, with the eventual goal of heading back to the Bay Area.
"I was sending out tons of e-mails every day," he said, "applying for everything I could online, e-mailing alumni — anything I could do. But it was all so electronic and anonymous, and nothing came back."
"I decided I'd take the plunge and move out to California and just try my luck," he said.
'I felt guilty'
With the support of his family, Bowling began leasing a Mountain View apartment month-to-month in August. He kicked up his job search, but nothing came through, and unemployment began to take its toll.
"It was a really hard place to be in," he said. "It was a balancing act between convincing myself to a certain degree that it was just the state of the job market — but I also had to keep up the other side of it in that it was my responsibility."
"The whole time when I was searching for a job I felt like I could not really enjoy all the things that I normally did," he said. "I felt guilty during all of my free time. I realized that I could work only so many hours without getting totally down on myself. You can only send so many e-mails a day."
In order to save money, he didn't do much of anything beyond applying for jobs, he said. "I ate a lot of bean burritos."
His relationships with peers changed, too. While friends wanted to check in with him, he said, it was a "sensitive subject."
"It's really hard to take advice from people because you're doing everything you can," he said. "All your friends, when they're talking to you, they want to help you."
"It's also a hard place to be in, looking around at everyone else who has a job and think, what did they do that I didn't do? How did I fall into this?"
Heading into winter with no prospects, Bowling began applying for more "immediate" positions. He took weekend babysitting gigs, and submitted his resume at restaurants or retailers with "now hiring" signs in their windows.
At one point he went through two rounds of interviews for a serving position at the Olive Garden. Despite having restaurant experience in the past, the manager said Bowling was overqualified — he might leave the job if something better came up.
"The manager told me they had interviewed the broadest range of people they'd ever interviewed," he said. "People who had owned their own companies were coming in to work as waiters."
The irony, Bowling said, was his academic training made him too qualified for some jobs, but he didn't have enough experience for most science-related positions.
"It put me in a hard place because I really had to focus on entry level jobs which just weren't there," he said.
Finally, in March, Bowling landed an interview with Envia Systems, a Hayward start-up that makes lithium ion battery materials for electric cars. The company was looking to hire a Ph.D., but agreed to speak with him anyway on the recommendation of a professor.
Though he was unqualified for the open position, the company offered him a temporary job in their lab, with the potential for full employment in six months.
"It took a while to hit me, and it was also strange because I had numbed myself from getting too excited about job prospects," he said. "When I heard about it I didn't want to get too excited until I had signed the paperwork and sent in the signed job offer."
In the end, Bowling only interviewed with two companies during his time out of college. He said the quantity of applications he submitted and job-related e-mails he sent numbered well over a thousand.
Looking forward, Bowling said he would be more conservative about job changes, and about saving money.
"I'm just going to take everything as a positive right now," he said. "Even if I'm only at this job for a couple months it's going to be great experience and it's going to be a building block."