Sunday, March 20, 2011

Before You Graduate College 5 Things You Must Do

Nina Markowitz wrote this article and is still looking for a job.

In one week, I will be 23 years old and nearly a full year out of college.   Over three months unemployed.

I graduated Cum Laude from the University of Miami in May 2010, which I attended on academic scholarship. I was a member of the college's honor society, the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, and a Spanish-language honor society. I wrote articles featured on the front of my college newspaper. I organized incoming international students and paired them with American students who volunteered as mentors. I was a mentor, too. And a tutor. In Spanish and Physics. Yes-physics.

After graduation, I wrote for several blogs and online newspapers in Westchester County. I worked weekends at the mall. I saved my money. Then, I set sail for Sweden and spent three months interning in the American Embassy's Economic Department.

I wrote cables to Washington. I gave presentations with pie charts. I casually threw terms like "GDP" and "repo rate" into daily conversation.

By the time the internship was up in December, I couldn't wait to get back to the States and apply for my First Real Job. I was home not more than three hours before revamping my resume, submitting it to jobs online, and signing up for several volunteer activities for wounded service members. I pushed to start volunteering right away. I wouldn't have long, I thought, before I'd get hired and have to put volunteering on the back burner.

I have it all, I thought. A flawless academic record. A successful stint at an American Embassy abroad. Online portfolios of dozens of articles I had written over the past couple of years. Glowing references. I knew the economy was tough. But I was tougher. What's more, I was full of hope.

Flash forward to now, where I exist as the shell of who I once was: the girl who thought she had it all, who now doesn't think she has much of anything. Months and hundreds of job applications later, volunteering has become my primary responsibility. That and filing for family members with disorganized invoices.

These past three months have humbled me and challenged my beliefs both about the future and myself. It has brought out the best in me (hours spent volunteering and giving back in new and meaningful ways) and the worst (resenting those who fell into jobs as easily as a leaf falls from a tree). I am going through the monotony and disappointment of unemployment like the stages of grief: First, denial: The economy can't effect me!. Then, anger: Why isn't this working out?. Bargaining, too: I'm willing to do whatever it takes to get a foot in the door! And- this goes without saying- depression.

I went through swings as crazy as this past winter. But with every rejection, every cover letter, every interview, I learn. I learn the kinds of things they don't teach you in class, the things they try to teach you in college career centers (but, let's admit it, nobody goes in there until the 12th hour as graduation fast approaches). The kinds of things parents are always trying to get across to their kids who, by design, tune out. These are the things I wish I had known when I was in college. Things that- had I known them- would  have made this post-grad period less of a shock. And, perhaps, less idle. It can't help me now, but I sure hope it can help somebody.


I majored in Journalism and International Studies, with a Spanish minor. I loved the history and human rights classes of the International Studies major, and tossed in the Journalism to make myself a little more marketable. I love to write, I thought. Why not? But I made a couple critical errors that only become more evident to me as I continue to apply- I don't want to be a journalist. And all the perks of a Journalism degree (web design, video editing, using programs with names like "Dreamweaver" and "Photoshop") were not at all a part of my degree. What I wish I did? Picked something that I was interested in, that taught me real skills, and that matches perfectly with job qualifications. Great majors: Accounting, Nursing, Finance. Not so great? Creative Writing. What I wish I did? Nicked the Spanish minor for Web Journalism, to pick up all that tech stuff. And double-majored in International Relations and Economics. Similar classes. Totally different marketability. Wholly employable.


Oftentimes, it's not what you know. It's who you know. Too bad I spent my college career locked up in the library solo or YouTubing electronic music videos with three friends. As awkward as it might be at first, learn how to network. Ask for business cards and save them. Shake hands. Create a LinkedIn page the summer before Freshman year. Use it. Get to know people, and cultivate those relationships. You never know who you'll meet. College is one big party anyway. At least get some solid connections out of it.


You're in college, so you're probably poor. Only you're not really poor, because your parents are helping you out and you eat at the (albeit toxic) dining hall. Sure, it'd be awesome to have some extra money to go on that road trip to Mardi Gras. But you know what's better than a road trip to Mardi Gras? Flying to actual France and staying in nice hotels, which you can do post-college when you're employed and making the big bucks. Spend your summers, your breaks, your weekends, your evenings- interning. It doesn't matter if you're making coffee and copies at NBC two consecutive summers for zero pay. "Executive Assistant at NBC" looks way better on a resume than "Secretary at Dad's Law Office." I made this mistake for a few extra bucks. These internships are the best opportunities for you to network (see above). Babysit on weekends and learn how to live on 20-minute naps. You'll have plenty of time to sleep when you're vacationing in Cannes.


You have to take three semesters of language to fulfill requirements. Bummer! Like most people, you're probably going to enroll in Spanish, Italian or French. But you think you might want to work for the government one day? Get in on some Farsi. You want to do business? Sign up for Chinese. Get in on those break sessions that take you overseas for courses in something ridiculous like "Eastern Architecture." There's another gem for the resume. Make yourself stand out.


What nobody ever told me was that interviews are a series of ridiculous questions that have no real right or wrong answer. Supposedly, you take these questions as prompts to mini-speeches that hark on your past. What you did, what difficulty you faced, and how you triumphed in the face of tragedy. What a hero you are! I thought my story was pretty good- how I taught myself economics purely for the internship at Embassy Stockholm, having never been exposed to it beforehand. How I ended up falling in love with the discipline. How with hard work, anything is possible. But then I realized, I only have this one story. How I wish I had tales of week-long camping trips where I singlehandedly saved a troop of boy scouts from starvation in a ravine. Well, you know what I mean. Get life experience, as much as possible as a 20-something, and learn how to market the hell out of it.

When I was a senior in high school, I put all of my college rejection letters in a file folder and I saved them. Taped to the front of the file folder is a newspaper clipping that reads, "[This year] translates into record heartbreak for high-school seniors because... college are rejecting them in record numbers... It's little consolation to the kids that got the thin envelopes, but in prior years, even last year, they would have gotten in their school of choice." The Wall Street Journal called the year I applied to college "the most brutal admissions season ever." The letters, and this clipping, remained in my attic until last week. Now, it sits on my desk.

It is a reminder of the tough times I have been through before, the accidents that have made my life beautiful. I never intended on going to the University of Miami. But I am tremendously grateful that I did.

Maybe you're in my shoes, or once you were too. Or maybe you're forwarding my tips right now to your college kid, so they can avoid the same fate I am facing. Whatever it is, I thank you for reading. And I ask you-- now that you've gotten to know what I'm about-- how about a job? All I need is for someone to take a chance on me-- a chance they won't regret. I guarantee outstanding work, professionalism, team spirit, commitment, unflagging enthusiasm and a willingness to get every job not only done, but perfect. I will be an asset to any team that hires me. And that you can count on.

Sometimes I lose track of the girl who tutored Physics and hobnobbed with government officials. But then I remember-- it's me! I've really done those things. Tackling challenges and becoming proficient is who I am. And now I'm in line for my next great success.

E-mail Nina at, and find her on LinkedIn at


Anonymous said...

After reading your article, I wish I had a job available. It's easy to see that you would be an asset, and anyone who hires you would be lucky!! Good Luck in your job search, and please keep us posted!!

Mark N said...

Come on all my fellow readers, somebody's got to have a job for Nina! Let's make it our business to help her out! Hey Nina, keep us posted. We are all rooting for you. You are an outstanding writer and so obviously intelligent. Anyone that hires you would be lucky to have you. Hang in there!