RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And now another in our series "Setting Out," where we profile recent college graduates looking for work. Melanie Singer graduated 18 months ago from the University of Dayton - into one of the worst job markets in recent history. She did have reason to be optimistic. She had majored in accounting, she'd gone to career counseling, and completed several internships.
As Emily McCord, from member station WYSO, reports, it took Melanie Singer longer than she thought it would to find a job.
EMILY MCCORD, BYLINE: You can smell chicken cooking in the oven. It's warm and clean in Melanie Singer's first apartment. And what's more important, it's not where she was right after graduation in the spring of 2010 - living back home with her parents.
MELANIE SINGER: I mean, I felt like I shouldn't be living with them. I have a college degree and I, you know, should be on my own. And it's time for me to grow up and move on.
MCCORD: There's a knock at the door.
(SOUNDBITE OF DOOR OPENING)
ERIC KRISSEK: Hello.
SINGER: How are you?
KRISSEK: I'm good; how are you?
MCCORD: Eric Krissek is Melanie's boyfriend. In 2010, Melanie was looking for a job in Dayton - in part, to be close to him. Now, he's come over so they can make dinner together.
SINGER: Do you want to cut up the peppers? They're sitting out there; you can just cut them up.
KRISSEK: Into those little pieces?
MCCORD: They're both busy with work, so dinner on a weeknight is special. It took Melanie a whole year after graduation to find work as an accountant, a field that was supposed to be a sure-fire path to employment.
SINGER: I even remember - I looked over my books, my accounting books, before I started, just because I was nervous that I wasn't going to remember something important.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
MCCORD: Now, she balances the spreadsheets every month and reconciles the accounts - all of the things that her college degree prepared her to do.
SINGER: For once like, it felt like OK; like this - all this work is finally paying off.
MCCORD: And now with her job, she's paying off her $15,000 in student loans. Let's go back for a moment to that time when Melanie was unemployed. She'd gone to interview after interview, and sent out more resumes than she can remember. After a while, she said, it took a toll on her.
SINGER: When you see something exciting, you get really excited - OK, you know. But you don't want to get your hopes up, either. I don't know, you always want to put the blame on yourself. What did I do wrong today? Say something in the interview that was wrong? Am I, you know, not qualified? I don't know. You know, but what can I do better? Like what - I obviously did something wrong, you know.
MCCORD: And even now, when she hears herself 18 months later, her eyes well up thinking about that time.
SINGER: I feel like I've grown up now, and I've become that independent individual. It's a much better feeling than feeling like you're hopeless - and living off someone else.
KRISSEK: Shoot. The chicken was not done.
KRISSEK: The big, the biggest one.
SINGER: Look at you. Good job.
MCCORD: In the kitchen, Melanie's boyfriend, Eric, is frying up some peppers to go with that chicken.
KRISSEK: There's a big difference in her - probably - personality, as far as how confident she is.
MCCORD: Eric, who's a middle-school math teacher, says now they can talk about their days at work when they sit down to dinner. Before, it was nerve-wracking to talk about job stuff because Melanie's news usually wasn't good.
KRISSEK: She was working her tail off to try and find anything, and to just keep coming up empty - so it was really difficult.
MCCORD: During that time, Melanie says she learned patience and perseverance, and what it means to take responsibility for her own life.
SINGER: That was definitely the next stage that I was looking for.
MCCORD: Melanie likes making facts and figures balance, so being an accountant suits her. And this year is extra exciting; this will be the first time she's doing her own federal and state tax returns. Still, when it comes to the future, she's not taking any chances. Melanie Singer is going back to school at night to get her MBA, just in case.
For NPR News, I'm Emily McCord.