Friday, October 21, 2011

Advice for Recent Grads, Part II: Beyond the USA

Nora Strecker is a 25 year-old, 2010 Arts and Science graduate. She attended NYU for both her BA and MA in economics. Ms. Strecker currently works as a research assistant at the Swiss Federal Institute, and lives outside of Zurich, Switzerland.

We had an opportunity to talk to Ms. Strecker about her experiences at CAS/GSAS, what ultimately led her to search outside the box (aka the US) for work, and how she went about the international job search. She has some very interesting and encouraging advice (applicable also if you wish to stay in the US), so we encourage all recent grads to continue reading!

Upon graduation, Ms. Strecker was worried. “There was a joke in the Econ MA program that we weren’t getting an MA in economics, but rather in economic crisis.” She had begun graduate coursework in 2008, so at that time, the economy was looking especially bleak.

“I had friends who graduated in 2009,” says Strecker, “who were still looking for work by 2010 graduation. Or who were working jobs they were wildly overqualified for and just needed to get by.”


After witnessing others struggle to find employment since 2008, when she graduated in 2010, Strecker decided to investigate other options. “I decided to look elsewhere. I didn’t want to set out for a different city in the US, as all of the US was facing a similar battle with the deluge of recent graduates (from the years 2008, 2009, 2010 all looking to find something)… I moved in with my brother in Switzerland… to a place where I had never been as a working adult.”

Although Ms. Strecker had lived in Switzerland until the age of fourteen, she had never experienced the country as an independent, with “real-life” responsibilities.

“Switzerland’s economy was strong at the time, and as it is the land of banks and money, I thought, it would be a great place for me and my economics MA from a prestigious university in the US. So I moved to Switzerland in August of 2010. Immediately after arriving, I had a job interview at the university. It was a research assistant job… Well, they would end up taking someone who had two masters’ degrees. That was blow number one, I was very disappointed, I never thought that I could be rejected with my awesome degree.

So my job hunt ensued. I would apply for jobs, wait for responses. Mainly negative. My economics degree wasn’t what they were looking for. They wanted someone with a business degree, and although economics might be on the list of ‘qualified candidates should come from the field of [blank],’ their definition and NYU’s definition of economics was very different. I had already perfected my CV, so after my brother had helped me ‘Swiss-ify’ my cover letter, I sent out multiple applications…

In the three months I was actively looking for a job, I got invited to five job interviews, of the 30 job applications I had sent out.”

Ms. Strecker found that going abroad imposed some similar challenges as many of our recent grads are facing here in the US. Applying for jobs and writing cover letters requires you to devote a lot of time and energy to the process, and it can be frustrating if you’re seeing no return on that investment. It is important to reflect on what you could do differently to promote yourself to potential employers. “I had people look over my resume and cover letter,” says Strecker. “It helped to just have people read it and tell me whether my wording was too complicated or how it made me sound. Confident is good, arrogant is bad. Finding that line is hard, so I needed help. Besides, it’s hard to praise yourself without praising yourself.”

Ms. Strecker stressed the need to “get help when you need it.” Having others look over your materials, especially if they are well-acquainted with your chosen profession, can be paramount to you impressing an employer and landing that job.


Lastly, we asked Strecker what advice she had for fellow NYU alumni who are struggling to find work in this harsh economic climate:

“I had so many days when I just had crying fits, regretting my decision, thinking I had been so stupid to give up on the US, but friends and family continued to encourage me with new ideas and gave me a chance to bawl on their shoulders. So get help… Either through NYU, friends, family, your network, friends of family. I had recommendation letters ready to go from my former bosses and professors just in case a job came up that required it.

Ask questions in the interview. I failed in the first interview once he asked ‘have you got any questions for us,’ and I answered ‘not really.’ Big mistake. Research them, prepare bullet points. Even having that list on the table looks good. Plus you’ll feel prepared and ready.

Confidence is good, keep that, but don’t think that you should get that 80k/90k/100k job just because you spent that much on your education. That piece of paper you got in the mail doesn’t have much heft, [it wont] knock anyone out... but YOU can. You learned a lot. So show them that…

And lastly, consider taking the oddball stuff. You never know what’ll happen. Even if you end up in the land of cheese and chocolate, you might always come back to the US or even go somewhere entirely different. The world’s not that big anymore.

What’s NYU’s motto? Perstare et praestare. To persevere and excel. NYU couldn’t have chosen anything more fitting for these economic times.”

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