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A Decade After the Great Recession, Fordham Alumni Share Career Advice for New Graduates

Nerve-racking. That’s how Susan Martell Jenkin describes spring 2010, when she was about to graduate from Fordham College Rose Hill with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.

“I didn’t know what to expect or how I was going to manage financially without the stability of a well-paying job,” she said. “I also felt that I needed to say yes to the first job offer I got, out of fear that I would not get another offer.”

Martell Jenkin, now the chief equity and inclusion officer at Miss Porter’s School, a 9-12 all-girls independent school in Connecticut, was one of thousands of Fordham students to graduate into the Great Recession a decade ago. She said she can relate to some of the challenges faced by 2020 graduates, who earned their degrees as the COVID-19 pandemic plunged the global economy into a deep recession.

While the prospects for economic recovery remain uncertain, Martell Jenkin and other Fordham alumni provided a measure of hope, sharing how they found a path to meaningful work and offering some advice for navigating uncertain times.

Explore Your Creativity

When Santi Wong, GABELLI ’10, began looking for postgraduation jobs in financial services, she quickly realized that the Great Recession had “created a dearth of entry-level jobs” in the industry.

“There was definitely a sense of uneasiness and a heightened sense of anxiety in my senior year,” she said.

Wong, now a JPMorgan Chase banker, said she learned to try to turn the uncertainty into productive energy.

“Is there a way to redirect this situation into a positive one to inspire creativity? I took it upon myself to become more reflective or introspective during my senior year to build my personal identity and forge new meaning,” she said.

For Wong, the situation pushed her to try a different role in the financial services industry that she wouldn’t have considered before.

Network, Network, Network

The path to finding a job is often right in front of recent graduates, said Peter Slonina, GSAS ’10, who works in human resources.

“Nine times out of 10, we’re hiring people who know somebody who works at the company already,” he said. “Your best network is the one that’s in your phone.”

Still, Wong said that it’s important for graduates to remain thoughtful and considerate when reaching out to people to ask about opportunities at their company. “Networking shouldn’t feel like a business transaction, but a natural ongoing rapport-building that feels genuine,” she said.

Patrick Tighe III, FCLC ’10, GABELLI ’11, said that the Class of 2020 has an extra challenge—social distancing requirements to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“In 2010, if you were graduating you could conceivably go and network—even within the Fordham community—we could meet up for a happy hour or we could get a coffee, but now it’s even more challenging, because you don’t have those opportunities,” he said.

One way to get around that is to join a group or volunteer activity that allows for virtual interactions, Tighe said, so graduates can make initial connections and build on them when in-person gatherings are allowed again.

Consider All Options

Slonina encouraged graduates to consider jobs that are available, even if they aren’t exactly what they’re looking for.

“The idea that you’re going to walk out of college and find your dream job is frankly nonsense,” he said. “You’ve got to be open to opportunities that present themselves.”

Slonina worked as a data analyst before earning a master’s degree in medieval studies at Fordham, then moving into management consulting and eventually his current role in human resources strategy at Volkswagen of America.

“My first couple of jobs were not totally glamorous,” he said, “but they did lead me to what I would call my dream job—it just took 10 years.”

Martell Jenkin said that graduates should be willing to expand where they want to work and what they want to do. She took a temporary position as a teacher, she said, and from there worked her way to becoming the chief equity and inclusion officer at Miss Porter’s School.

“Be open to possibilities that might not look like the ones you were working on or dreaming of,” she said. “This may mean taking a job you weren’t originally thinking about or moving to another city or town for an opportunity even if that isn’t your dream geographical area.”

Ask for Help

As a first-generation college student, Martell Jenkin said she wasn’t able to lean on her family for help navigating postgraduate life, so she turned to her professors.

“I leaned on my professors at Fordham for letters of recommendations and general support,” she said. “They were great resources at the time.”

Tighe said he relied on Fordham’s Office of Career Services to help him find internships and opportunities.

“The two internships I can think of in my grad school career were in a way through Fordham—one was at Gamco,” he said, referring to the asset management company founded and led by Fordham alumnus and benefactor Mario Gabelli. “And the second one was at Deloitte,” he said, where he is now a business valuation manager. “I’ve been there for eight years, ever since.”

Wong said she turned to family, friends, and mentors for guidance during her senior year.

“As you’re reaching out for help, be selective in making sure that the person you’re asking is someone who truly listens to you and not just hears you,” she said. “It was important for me to not just have a mentor who would look at you while you’re sharing your personal plight, but someone who truly saw you.”

Consider Graduate School

As a mathematics and economics double major at Fordham College at Lincoln Center, Tighe realized early on in his undergraduate career that he would be graduating into a difficult economy. That’s why he decided to pursue a master’s degree at the Gabelli School of Business straight away.

“I realized the job market, at least in business and finance, was not hiring—or you had to have a lot of internships from an early stage in your university career if you were joining the marketplace at that time,” Tighe said.

Slonina said that having a master’s degree also helps candidates stand out among other applicants.

“Your skill set is a little bit more valuable, because [only about]10 to 12 percent of the population has a master’s degree. That does set you apart when you go to compete in markets for finding jobs,” he said.

Still, Martell Jenkin, who earned a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University in 2017, said that graduates shouldn’t just jump into a graduate program because they’re unsure of their next steps.

“If you are certain of your field of study, then pursuing a master’s degree now would be a productive use of time.” Otherwise, she said, “I would take some time to just explore and learn more before making the leap into graduate studies.”

Know How to Tell Your Story

At first glance, the connections between Slonina’s master’s degree in medieval studies and his career in human resources might not be obvious. But he said his graduate studies at Fordham helped him develop invaluable skills he puts into practice every day.

“You’re juggling and managing multiple complex assignments. You’re using contextual analysis … and you’re summarizing, through story, an argument or a position,” he said. “These are extremely powerful competencies.”

At his previous job in consulting, one of his main responsibilities included taking in a lot of information and turning it into a digestible written report.

“We get so narrowly focused on the idea of, ‘Well, I’m a medieval studies major, how am I going to go get a job?’” he said. “You’re not going to be selling Shakespeare. … You’re going to be selling those core competencies—I can whittle down … complex ideas, synthesize them, and present them in a poignant and persuasive way.”

Slonina said that these liberal arts skills can be applied to a variety of careers.

It also helps to have a passion or interest outside of a career path, Tighe said.

“For me, I loved history when I was in school, so being able to discuss historical events,” he said, allowed him to have interesting conversations with people on topics outside of work.

All of those factors can help graduates market themselves to potential employers, Martell Jenkin said.

“I think that right now, you want to think about what skills you have learned and how those might apply across careers,” she said. “Being able to highlight the skills more than the content area you majored in will be very helpful in marketing yourself.”

Learn about the career resources Fordham offers to alumni—a dedicated career counselor, an online job portal, virtual workshops, and more.


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