Lessons for 2020 Grads from 2008 Grads

For 2020 graduates, the job search looks drastically different than it did even three months ago. Every day more and more questions are presented. How do I navigate hiring freezes? How can I still gain experience and leverage my skills? What resources are out there during this time? While the current state of the world is a public health crisis, the job market has many similarities to that of the 2008-2009 recession. We interviewed three DePaul alumni who graduated amidst the recession to learn how they navigated the job market and leveraged their skills and adapted to the changes. 

  • Matt Isaia, who graduated from DePaul in 2008 with a B.A. in English and currently works as the Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake.
  • Mostafa Radwan, who graduated from DePaul in 2009 with a Masters in Computer Science and is currently a Solutions Architect at Docker Inc. 
  • Tara Genovese, who graduated with a B.A. in International Studies from DePaul in 2008 and currently works as a Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.

In general could you tell me a bit about your experience applying to jobs and finding employment upon graduation?

Tara: When I graduated from DePaul, I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after graduation and had very little guidance during that time. It was generally expected that once I graduated with a college degree that I would find a job easily afterward. Unfortunately, this was not the case. I remember one of my first professional interviews hearing in the waiting area about people’s 20 years of experience and master’s degrees competing for the entry-level job I applied for. Needless to say, I was not very confident in that interview or really in myself at the time. I would say compared to many of my friends who graduated that same year as me, I was lucky to find something. I had volunteered as an ESL teacher for a few months and I was contacted by the manager of the Non-profit regarding an AmeriCorp position there. That position did not pay me well at all, but at least I was able to get a forbearance on my loans, get really great experience, and be eligible for an end of year grant for each year completed to go toward further education or paying off my loans. I was not able to financially move out on my own after graduation and stayed with my mom. 

Matt: I graduated in August of 2008 and had been working a part time retail job that held me over. I began looking for work and quickly realized that in order to find this first job out, it was less about applying and more about networking. I was able to find a job with a small company specializing in government contracting. Networking was definitely the crucial component during this time. 

Mostafa: As an international student, there was already an additional level of difficulty. I had landed an internship and had experience as a software engineer prior to graduation which helped the most. Despite that, it was still very tough, I had a lot of interviews but not a lot of people were hiring. Many companies responded that these were “uncertain times” and they would keep me posted, but I began running out of money so I had to look for a plan B. I kept doing a lot of interviews and eventually landed an interview and job out of state in GIS mapping around September/October of that year. 

I found it most important to remember that you won’t be where you are forever, it’s okay that you’re in that job for now.

Matt isaia, Electronic Resources Librarian at the University of Saint Mary of the Lake

Did you have to shift your plan to account for the recession and economic changes? 

Tara: I was 22 years old so there really wasn’t much of a plan to begin with. I was still trying to figure things out back then. I really started looking at the money after this, seeing how certain positions weren’t in demand. I guess in this way my mindset changed. I wanted to work in a field where I could help others but wouldn’t starve. This in a lot of ways is why after getting my master’s in social work I went to medical directly instead of mental health because hospitals and health clinic’s pay better and offer benefits. If there wasn’t a recession, I probably would have gone straight to nonprofit work or after my master’s straight into mental health. I was always massively afraid of losing what financially I had or losing my job. I think this changed the way I negotiated my salary at work. Because the common saying was “just be happy you have a job.” This again is what I am hearing today but instead of “happy,” I hear “grateful.” I, personally, find these statements very problematic. 

Matt: There was a physical shift in that I wasn’t 100% sold on moving back home with my parents. Given the time, I ended up moving back home, which definitely wasn’t the easiest decision. The first job that I took after graduation had very little to do with what I wanted to do and what I had done at DePaul. I think that this shifted my thoughts. I began thinking more about pursuing other opportunities like advanced degrees. 

Mostafa: My original plan was to go into software engineering, but, at the time, there weren’t a lot of jobs out there so I tried to still stay in technology.

Are there any specific skills you had picked up at DePaul that helped you the most in that first post-grad job?

Matt: I definitely picked up a lot of soft skills that were useful. DePaul has robust general education requirements that helped hone my excel skills, allowing me to become familiar with spreadsheets and looking at data. My English classes also helped hone my writing and research skills. With these skills I was able to say I have a lot of experience writing and ask if I could work on a certain project. 

How did that first post-grad job help you in your later roles? 

Matt: Honestly, it was most helpful in that I was able to learn what I really want to do versus what I don’t want to do. At the first job, I had an overwhelming sensation that I don’t want to stay here and saw it as just a stepping stone to what I do want to do. I started asking myself what it is I need to do in order to get out of this work. Where do I want to be? I could stay where I am or I could challenge myself. I think it’s more than okay to try jobs that you might not see yourself in because you’re able to learn about what you want to do and don’t

Additionally, what were some of the best resources you found while job hunting? 

Tara: For me, I didn’t stop learning about the job-hunting process. There are so many resources out there on how to formulate your resume, cover letter, what colors are best to wear during a job interview, everything on the internet. These help. Keep learning. For me, I primarily used indeed.com like websites where they take postings from multiple job boards. I would also try to use the same verbiage in my cover letter and resume as in the job post.

If there is a company you like, make a schedule of when to look back on their job board. Start finding people on LinkedIn who work for the company and look at their experience. Even though it’s scary, just contact them for an informational interview and come prepared and on time. 

tara genovese, Social Worker at Fresenious Medical Care.

Matt: Networking was definitely the most important resource during that time. I think the ASK network has really streamlined the process within the DePaul community. I wish it had been around for me. I also utilized the Career Center’s resume review service which helped get my materials in order to apply. 

Mostafa: LinkedIn wasn’t very popular while I was job searching but it definitely is now and I’d recommend checking out LinkedIn. Candor is also a great resource to find out who has a hiring freeze right now. I made sure to take advantage of the services at the Career Center as well. I made appointments for a resume and cover letter review a few times which made sure everything was the best it could be. I landed my internship from the Career Center job fair so I would definitely utilize them during this time. 

Finally, what is some advice that you’d give graduating seniors during this time? This could be related to careers or could be overall life advice. 

Tara: Life is always uncertain. You will get what you want but you have to be prepared that it is not going to be with plan A. It’s never easy to be flexible and adaptable, but it will teach you to persevere. I graduated in the time of the worst recession this country had ever seen until today, I have a master’s degree, I work in the field that I got it in, I own my home, and I have a small business. I didn’t allow someone to tell me how to live my life. I didn’t listen to how the media always insulted my generation. I got what I wanted and for the most part, getting there wasn’t by plan A or B. If you want what you want, you will get it but you have to believe it in order to do so!

Matt: Try to look for jobs that are very in demand right now. If you’re able to, try looking at COVID-19 response jobs. I would also keep in mind that once the economy opens back up there’s going to be a big flood of people looking for jobs. Be aware of the competition; it’s a numbers game in any economy. Right now, there’s so much that we can’t control, so it’s important to try to stay positive. Focus on the things you want to do, and ask yourself ‘what can I do now that I couldn’t do before.’ This could be hobbies or upskilling, try to embrace the situation as much as you can. 


Make sure to take care of yourself first, before others; make sure that you’re meeting your own personal needs (getting sleep, eating well, surrounding yourself with loved ones).

Try to see what’s available out there resource wise, any income or recovery plans. It’s going to be super difficult to concentrate on a job search if you don’t know how to pay for your rent. Apply to lots of jobs, and find or create your own opportunities, even ones you might not have normally considered. In life, it’s important to never stop learning, even outside of class; this can be a great time to upskill. Try to continue to foster relationships during this time, network, reach out to people through the ASK network. Your career is a work in progress, it’s never going to end, where you land after graduation doesn’t determine your entire future. 

Introducing: “How I Got This Job” Event Series

Have you ever encountered someone in a cool job and wondered how they got there? 

It’s this very question that led the Career Center’s Health Care & Science Community team to create the new quarterly “How I Got This Job” series.  Each quarter, current students will sit down with a DePaul alum or professional in the health care and science field to learn about their career journey, ask questions, network, and connect with fellow students who have similar career interests.  

Join us for the series’ inaugural event on Thursday, February 27, as we welcome back Ciera Hester-Smith (BS ’14), Senior Manager of Operations at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush, to share her journey from hospitality leadership to health care administration and an MBA.  



How I Got This Job: Ciera Hester-Smith, BS ‘14
Senior Manager of Operations at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush
Thursday, February 27
1:00 – 2:00 PM
McGowan South 107
Free lunch provided


As Ciera’s story shows, major does not always determine your career, and you can use your education in a variety of fields and industries.  Students from all years and majors are welcome to attend.

Interested in other opportunities to connect directly with alums like Ciera?  Check out the DePaul Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Network to connect with DePaul alumni for career insight and conversations.


Pave Your Own Career Path, Discover Your Interests with the Help of These Tips

By: Gina Anselmo, former career advisor for the DePaul University College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences 

Recently, I learned what a “desire path” is from a faculty colleague who is well versed in exploring the art of walking. A desire path refers to a natural path made by a walker or bicyclist as opposed to a path that already exists, like a sidewalk. It occurred to me that perhaps a desire path is the kind of path a College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (LAS) student is looking for in order to respond to some internal sleuthing of an “I know it when I see it” type of career. To pave your own desire path, you need to jump into exploratory resources that help you lay the foundation of what makes up your professional identity as well as explore sites of inspiration that help you investigate fit.

Here are a few exploratory resources and inspirational sites to help you discover your professional identity and interests, and to help you pave your own desire path.

What is your Primer? Developing your Professional Identity

Exploring elements of your professional identity can help you connect what you want to learn and do (interests), what motivates you (values), your strengths (skills), and your characteristics (personality), which will in turn uncover paths.

After you have identified terms that describe your interests, values, and skills, think about the following:

  • What themes can you identify in your reflection?
  • Can you start to see how these areas can be applied to different settings and professional roles?
  • Try to think of different career titles/settings that complement your interests
  • Can you identify action steps that would help you test out “fit” in the interests you identified?

Finding Your Buckets, Gathering More Language

ONET is a rock star, career exploration site that can help you uncover more connections between your professional identity and which occupations interest you the most.

Explore ONET through some of the following searches to discover occupations that link to a mash up of your interests:

  • Job Families
  • Interests (your top three)
  • Values Clusters
  • Skills Search

Food for Thought: Stories Sparking…More Stories

The following sites can help you find topics or stories that resonate with your professional self, and allow you to further uncover interest paths. You may also find stories from others who have likeminded interests.

  • Medium, a community of readers offering unique perspectives
  • Exposure, adventures and stories through a photographic lens
  • Ted Talks and more Ted Talks that inspire college students

People, Places and Positions

Sometimes uncovering interests will stem from learning about other people’s paths and stories. By exploring alumni profiles, you can uncover the paths that alumni have taken with the same major:

  • Search away on LinkedIn and explore the studies and career paths of alumni
  • Connect with the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) network to get assistance with finding alumni with the same major/minor or who are currently in a job or industry that interests you

Calling in Reinforcements – Work Place Culture

The vibe that an organization executes can set the tone for engagement, happiness, and satisfaction among professionals. It also goes hand-in-hand with identifying your work values. Here are two sites that can help you explore workplace settings and cultures and determine which environments you will thrive in.

Scavenger Hunt of Inspiration – Job Search Sites

The following sites might spark ideas of how your broad areas of interests could narrow to specialized areas, settings and professional roles:

  • Lumity npo.net, a job board of nonprofit and community service opportunities
  • Idealist, a platform where 118,600+ organizations post career opportunities
  • Chicago Artist Resource, a site providing artists with national and international resources
  • Back Door Jobs, a place to find summer jobs, internships, seasonal positions, volunteering opportunities and more
  • Indeed, a platform to discover fresh job listing

My Advice to You When Looking for Career Inspiration

Remember that many careers have more than one starting point. Every career can be unpacked to have many adaptations, which can lead to more career possibilities. Build on the foundation of what describes you and use a mash-up of your interests, values, and skills to continue to create the road you are looking for.

Are you interested in strengthening your understanding of professional interests? You can meet with a career advisor who specializes in supporting your college. You can also check out the Career Center’s online exploration resources and connect with the ASK network.

Handshake Hacks: Connecting with Mentors

By: Leslie Chamberlain, associate director of DePaul’s Alumni Career Services & Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK)

Connecting with a mentor allows you to explore college and professional transitions, life challenges, and university and career questions.

As you connect on Handshake with DePaul mentors or alumni in the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) network, follow this guide on how to maximize your mentoring experience.

1. Be clear on your purpose: What are the top two or three reasons you want to connect? What are your expectations for this connection? Be prepared to address these topics, and make sure the questions you have are clear. Base your mentor search on who might be able to answer your industry, career, college or life questions.

2. Use appropriate search terms: You can browse through the mentor directory on Handshake by clicking Mentoring in the left menu, and then visiting the Find Mentors tab in the top right corner. From there, utilize the search bar by typing in specific keywords that correlate with your career and life interests or goals; choose strong keywords that communicate your reasons for connecting with a mentor. You can also use the Industry, Major, Job Function, Employer, Organization, Skill, and additional search criteria for an excellent, more advanced search.

3. Reach out to a variety of mentors: Your mentor search results may have multiple pages. Check the full list before making requests. The best fit for you might be listed on the last page, so make sure to take your time and browse a variety of profiles. The value of speaking with several professionals is that you can compare their experiences.

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Consider requesting at least five mentors. For example, you may reach out to three within your major or field of choice and two that share an interest with you (ex. running, art, movies, etc.). You never know what a mentor has to share until you meet!

4. Write a great introduction letter: Make your introduction letter stand out, and personalize your request based on the mentor’s bio. A short three-line message is best that includes the following:

  1. Explain what interested you about the mentor
  2. Share some background information
  3. Request a specific time range to meet (ex. 15-minute chat in the next two weeks)

In addition to reading the mentor’s Handshake profile, see if the mentor has a LinkedIn page, as you may be able to find more information.

5. Follow up and stay connected: When a mentor accepts your request, you will receive an email notification. Here are a few steps to take once you receive that notification:

  1. Send the mentor a follow-up message thanking them
  2. Schedule a time to speak in person or over the phone
  3. Schedule an “update” meeting after you meet
  4. Give the mentor updates about discussed goals

To send and read your messages, click, View Mentorship Details, on your list of mentorships.

[Please note: Handshake has a built-in direct messaging function, so your email address will not be displayed or public.]

6. Be remembered for your strengths and interests, not for your needs: Share your values, goals, strengths, and interests with your mentor. For example, instead of being known as an English major who needs a job, be known as an English major who enjoys understanding the needs of the community and making a difference through writing. Go beyond job discussions and share with your mentor what motivates and inspires you. This will help you build a stronger connection with your mentors – you never know what door that conversation may open.

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7. Show appreciation and gratitude: Show your appreciation by thanking your mentors whenever they set aside time to meet. Honor their generosity by making your meetings more convenient for them. For instance, offer to meet them at or near their office rather than asking them to meet you at DePaul. Try to be more flexible with your availability so you can accommodate their schedule. If you tried something they suggested, tell them what happened. If they assisted you in selecting a career path, preparing for an interview or a job application, or simply building your courage and confidence to pursue the next step, share with them your progress and acknowledge how they helped. The best way to thank someone is to express how his or her support has helped you.

The ASK team is here to help! At any step of the way, please do not hesitate to contact the team by email at ask@depaul.edu or phone at 312-362-8281, if you need assistance connecting with ASK mentors on Handshake.

Reframing the Idea of Networking

So, are you networking?

This is a question that almost every student I advise will hear. The importance of making connections in the world of work cannot be underscored enough. More than once, a student on the receiving end of my inquiry has squirmed a bit in their chair before expressing a deep-seated discomfort with the whole idea of networking. This often stems from the commonly cited phrase, “It’s not what you know, but who you know!” Rightfully so, these students feel uncomfortable with the idea that a job might be undeservingly secured by way of a back room handshake rising out of nepotism. In over 12 years at the Career Center, I have found DePaul students to be firm in their desire to earn a position based on their knowledge and skills.

With this in mind, I challenge students to reframe their concept of networking by putting my own spin on the “It’s not what you know…” claim. I ask them to consider that it is indeed WHO you know that allows you to PRESENT what you know. I find this to be a far more accurate way of describing the importance of networking.

The simple fact is that for every available position, employers receive far more applicants than they can accommodate. As such, referrals and past interactions can be welcomed channels for sourcing candidates. Building relationships by way of networking can help you get your application noticed. Being a known candidate or having a trusted colleague speak on your behalf can go a long way when it comes to being on a hiring manager’s “must interview” list.

With all of this in mind, here are a few quick tips for successful networking:

Start with warm connections: It can be more comfortable and fruitful to first approach those with whom you have an existing relationship – faculty, classmates, former supervisors, family friends, and neighbors, for example. As part of your conversations, ask who else they might recommend you talk to. Personal introductions are among the best ways to grow your network!

Build rapport: Don’t start by asking for a referral. Instead, take time to build a relationship with the contact first. They’ll need to get to know you as a professional before they feel comfortable recommending you to others.

Frame it as an opportunity to learn: As you build rapport, relish in the opportunity to gain insight into the profession, field, and industry that your contact has established him or herself in. Conducting an “informational interview” is a great way to get insider information about your contact’s career and organization, and gather recommendations for those who wish to follow a similar path.

Follow up the right way: Following your initial conversation, send an email to thank your contact and connect with them on LinkedIn. Should you come across an article or other resource that might be of interest based on your previous conversations, share it by email.

Finally, when an opportunity presents itself that the contact may be able to help you with, reach out. Thank them for their previous help, mention the connection you believe they may have to the opportunity (e.g. they work with the organization or may know the hiring manager), and ask if they might be open to helping you think through your approach. At this point, they may offer you advice on how to best frame your materials or, if they’re able and comfortable, offer to recommend you.

So, are you ready to network? Consider utilizing the Alumni Sharing Knowledge (ASK) Program to connect with DePaul alumni who have volunteered to be networking contacts for students, just like you. By jumping on Handshake, you can explore the many alumni who are willing to connect today, as well as search for upcoming networking events and workshops.


Is Your Future Career in Social Services?

By: Alejandra Ruiz, DePaul University honors marketing major ‘16

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.39.26 AMInterested in pursuing a career in social services? Eager to learn and connect with professionals in the field? “Working for the Common Good” is a professional development and networking event that provides undergraduate and graduate students the opportunity to participate in discussions around key topics, best practices and issues within the social service community.

You’ll have the opportunity to talk to over 30 notable professionals that will be representing different settings including non-profit organizations, associations, schools, government agencies, research centers, clinics, cultural institutions, and more.

Specifically, this event will provide you with the opportunities to:

  • Participate in roundtable discussions where representatives discuss topics ranging from community outreach, advocacy, program development, research, school counseling, and more
  • Hear representatives talk about their work cultures, the range of entry to seasoned roles, and key competencies needed to work at their organization
  • Network with fellow DePaul alumni and pick their brain about best practices, trends and marketability
  • Learn about participating student organizations and how to be a part of various projects

This is a great opportunity to meet professionals in all areas of social service and to learn more about unique roles, best practices, and ways to be marketable in the field.

To get a sneak peek of the roundtable topics, the list of guests attending, and to register, please visit Handshake!