RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And this is the time of year for commencement ceremonies that send college graduates out into the world, looking for work.
At a speech this month at Hampton University in Virginia, President Obama stated what most graduates already know.
President BARACK OBAMA: This class is graduating at a time of great difficulty for America and for the world. You are entering a job market in an era of heightened international competition, with an economy that's still rebounding from the worst crisis since the Great Depression.
MONTAGNE: Now, the economy may be getting better, but its still a rough time to try to launch a career.
Today on MORNING EDITION's Business Report, we begin a series in which we'll meet college graduates from around the country. We begin with the very pragmatic accounting graduate.
Reporter Emily McCord, of member station WYSO, has the story.
EMILY McCORD: Meet Melanie Singer, a 22-year-old, recent college graduate who majored in accounting. She grew up in a rural town in Ohio, and then went to the University of Dayton, a private Catholic school. She got good grades, studied abroad and according to her LinkedIn profile, her hobbies include hiking, sports and fiscal responsibility.
Ms. MELANIE SINGER: Everything you read, accounting was in like, the top five positions to get a job in.
McCORD: She chose her majors so that she'd be employable when she graduated. But while she was in school, the economy tanked.
Ms. SINGER: After that - it kind of was like, dont just expect a job to come knock on the door.
McCORD: Melanie's been working with a career counselor since her freshman year, and did three internships while in school full time. She worked with a recruiter to help connect her with jobs, and started sending out resumes at the beginning of her senior year.
Ms. SINGER: I dont know how many websites or jobs I've sent my resume to. I used to keep a list of all the jobs that I applied for and the ones I heard back from, but after - I think a couple months, I was like, this is just - it's getting hard.
McCORD: Melanie hoped she would have a job by now, and she fights back tears as she talks about rejection after rejection.
Ms. SINGER: I dont know. You always want to put the blame on yourself. What did I do wrong? Did I say something in the interview that was wrong? Am I, you know, not qualified? Like, I dont know. You know, but what can I do better?
McCORD: She tries to present herself professionally, dressing as someone you'd see around the office rather than someone on her summer off. Melanie seems well-suited to be an accountant. She's good at math and likes the idea that everything has an answer. But a job search isn't math. There isn't a formula that always results in a job, and that uncertainty is worrying Melanie, who has about $15,000 in student loan debt, and is back living with her parents and her four siblings.
Ms. SINGER: Coming from a small town, when you go to a prestigious school, you graduate with a great degree, and then you come back and you don't have anything, it doesn't look real good.
McCORD: But things are looking up. Melanie recently interviewed at two jobs and is waiting to hear hear back. One is for a local freight company; the other, at a business research group.
Ms. SINGER: I guess crossing my fingers that one of these hopefully comes through. I really hope that within a month, I will have something.
Ms. SYLVIE STEWART (Career Counselor, University of Dayton): The waiting is the most - to me, the most difficult part.
MCCORD: Sylvie Stewart is Melanie's career counselor at the University of Dayton.
Ms. STEWART: Because that's where you're using a lot of your energy - hoping and praying and begging.
McCORD: Stewart says when youre waiting for a job, your perception of time changes. What can be a couple of days to an employer seems like weeks or a lifetime to a job seeker. And Stewart says lines like, dont take it personally...
Ms. STEWART: A job can be more personal. It's your livelihood.
McCORD: Stewart encourages students like Melanie to stay motivated and think long term. This is just the beginning.
(Soundbite of telephone ringing)
McCORD: So, its a week after her interviews for that freight company and business research group. I called Melanie to see if her new beginning is taking shape.
Ms. SINGER: Hi.
McCORD: Did you find out yet? Any word on the job?
Ms. SINGER: I heard back, actually, from one, told me that they had already hired a person for the position. And then I got an email on the other one, saying that they had hired someone else.
McCORD: Now, Melanie's worried that she got so excited about those jobs that she fell behind on applying. But Melanie's trying not to be discouraged. In fact, she's contacting both of those employers to get feedback on what she could do better in the future.
For NPR News, I'm Emily McCord in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
MONTAGNE: Tomorrow, we continue this series that we're calling "Setting Out." We'll meet Heather LaFave(ph), whos an English major from Brandeis University.
Ms. HEATHER LAFAVE: I'm trying to get a job in publishing. Frankly, I'll take what I can get right now. I've also signed up for some temp agencies because right now, I just - I need money.