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Finding a job during a recession? We’ve been there

Rochester alumni who graduated during the 2008-09 recession—Nazmia Comrie ’08, Catherine Nguyen-Martinez ’08, Yorda Yenenh ’09, and Asher Perzigian ’09 (clockwise from top left)—say students graduating in a recession need to keep a positive perspective and rely on their Rochester education as they embark on the next steps after college.
Alumni who survived the Great Recession of 2008–09 offer advice to the Class of 2020 as they face an economy that’s playing havoc with job opportunities.

Degree conferral has come and gone, and many new University of Rochester graduates are afloat in a job market severely hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four alumni who graduated during the Great Recession of 2008–09 offer tips to the Class of 2020 on how to navigate rocky economic waters. Meeting by Zoom, the conversation was hosted by Joe Testani, executive director of the Greene Center for Career Education and Connections.

Joining Testani were:

  • Nazmia Comrie ’08, a senior program specialist at the US Department of Justice in Washington, DC
  • Catherine Nguyen-Martinez ’08, a clinical research coordinator at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City
  • Asher Perzigian ’09, a senior manager at Accenture Health in Chicago
  • Yorda Yenenh ’09, an associate at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett LLP in New York City

Acknowledge that the path may not be straight

Comrie says she was “terrified” to be graduating during an economic downturn. “It was a very scary time, thinking about what I wanted to do, and the money attached to that,” she said.

Comrie took a gap year after graduating with a degree in psychology, and an advisor at the Greene Center connected her with an alumnus who worked out of a neuro ophthalmologist’s office. Comrie worked there for a year. “It was a fabulous experience and showed me that I didn’t want to go to medical school,” she says. “Instead, I went into law enforcement. Being able to get advice at the Career Center was so beneficial to where I am today.”

Nguyen-Martinez was turned down for a job at Memorial Sloan Kettering out of college. She was discouraged, but she used the resources available at the time— and Craigslist were big then—and landed a job as an administrative assistant for Weill Cornell Medical College. She worked there three years, then was recruited for a job at Memorial Sloan Kettering, where she has worked the past nine years.


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The COVID-19 pandemic has created turmoil in the job market, presenting a challenge for college students not seen since the Great Recession of 2008-09.

Perzigian was looking at a career in consulting when the financial crisis hit at the start of his senior year. He didn’t panic. “What is consulting? It’s problem solving,” he says. “(I asked myself), who else is problem solving? How can I speak to as many people as possible to figure out who’s hiring, so that my first job out of college could keep the lights on and be intellectually stimulating?” He landed a job as a project manager for Epic Systems, a health care software company then based in Madison, Wisconsin, one month after graduating and has kept the lights on ever since.

Yenenh spent two years in the Peace Corps after graduating, and during her time in Morocco she took her LSATs, knowing she wanted to attend law school. By the fall of 2011, she landed a job as a legal intern in Reno, Nevada, left 10 months later for a similar job in the Bronx, and then took a summer internship with Simpson Thacher & Bartlett before being hired for her current position five years ago.

Take advantage of new tools and technologies

Perzigian sees “a phenomenal amount of similarities” between the Great Recession and the current economic crisis, but with one major difference that may benefit today’s job seekers. “Where we bridge off is technology,” he says. “We are so much more advanced than in 2009. We’re on Zoom. The vast majority of us have smartphones. I’m extremely bullish that COVID-19 will be the pivot to radically change how the workforce looks, how we telecommunicate, and how we engage our internal colleagues and clients.”

Comrie says Rochester students and recent graduates should use networking tools such as the Meliora Collective, an online platform that connects University students, staff, and alumni.

“Send a simple message to an alumnus,” Comrie says. “You’re already halfway there with alums who have joined Meliora Collective. They’re eager to help.”

She says there are many options for connecting with alumni besides asking for a job.

“Ask them to look at your resume, or do a Zoom mock interview with you,” she says. “There are also lots of free online courses out there. Use your time to explore some of those fields. Find those mini wins.”

Try to keep a positive perspective

Yenenh says it’s important to “think outside the box” when pursuing job leads. “You don’t need to have the job you want for a long period of time,” she says. “Be true to yourself and recognize what you need, and what you’re looking for from a financial and mental stimulation perspective.”

Take comfort in the past, says Perzigian. “What we’ve seen in every single downturn the last 100 years is, as soon as we get to the upside of it, the investment and economic boom are phenomenal,” he says. “Look at the past 10 years. Just from the stock market perspective, it more than doubled. When we get to the other side of this, the job surge will be huge.”

Nguyen-Martinez believes patience is key to finding a job in a time of economic challenge.

“This is all going to end eventually,” she says. “Follow your goals. Don’t give up easily. In the end, it will all work out the way it was supposed to.”

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