Finding an entry-level position is a challenge. Many times, graduating seniors are walking across the stage without jobs lined up and fearing the worst. This was not the case for Hofstra U Alum Marisa Russell. After securing a full-time position weeks before graduation, it became clear Marisa had mastered the college to career transition. She has kindly passed on some of her key ingredients to success for all soon-to-be graduates.
What is your current position?
I’m the social media specialist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. I help manage all of the school’s flagship social media accounts (@JohnsHopkinsSPH) and I also work on the accounts for our school’s daily global health newsletter, Global Health NOW. My world is pretty much a constant stream of digital & social media, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You landed this job before graduation. Walk me through the process that brought you from college to career.
To be honest, that’s still a total shock to me. Going into my last semester of college, fall 2016, I knew that my biggest goal was to walk the stage knowing I had a job waiting for me on the other side. Being a journalism major many people tried to talk me out of the high standards I’d set for myself, afraid that I would be devastated if I didn’t achieve them. One of my mentors had always told me that if you didn’t ask, the answer was automatically no, so everything in life deserves a shot, so I persisted.
The process of landing a job before graduation didn’t start in that last semester, it started on the very first day of my freshman year. When I started applying to jobs I had 11 internships under my belt and I had even more extracurricular activities to add to it. College wasn’t a time where I just sat around, slept all day and sometimes did my homework, I worked every second of every day to get to where I am now. I’m not saying this to brag, I’m saying this so you know what’s realistic and how much work it does take to make it in the “real world.”
Logistically, I started sending out applications about two months before graduation. I kept a detailed spreadsheet of everywhere I applied, I wrote custom cover letters for every single application and I spent hours preparing for interviews, when I had them. I had job alerts set for multiple job titles in various cities and if I saw something that peaked my interest, I jumped on it immediately. Waiting is not your friend when you’re applying to a job, the longer you wait, the less likely you are to be called for an interview.
What was the biggest challenge throughout the entire search?
Keeping my head up was probably the hardest part. Job searching isn’t easy and it’s exhausting, and there were times where I felt like I was never going to get a job or I was never going to be fully prepared for that interview. It was hard to remember that I could only do as good as my absolute best, and after that, I had to let things fall into place the way they were meant to.
What key elements are essential for success? How can a potential candidate stand out?
I think it’s important to make your cover letter specific to every job you apply for. I know many people who say sending something generic is okay if you change the company name, etc., but I’ve always tried to make it personal to each company. I’m a firm believer in telling a story with your cover letter, and making yourself stand out in a good way.
It’s also crucial to stay organized. Knowing who you’ve sent applications to and when will help you avoid sending an application to the same place twice, and it will remind you when you should follow up to places you haven’t heard back from.
What college activities/involvement prepared you for your future?
For three years I worked on my school’s newspaper The Hofstra Chronicle, and that helped teach me how to write and edit in a setting where I could make mistakes and learn from them. I’ll always be grateful for my time as an editor on the paper. I was also a member of and then president of Zeta Phi Eta, a professional co-ed communications fraternity, and joining that was by far the best decision I’d ever made in college. Working alongside and leading some of the school’s most dedicated, passionate and amazing people in the field of communications helped me become a better professional.
What advice can you give to those who will soon be graduating and hoping to enter a competitive job market?
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do something, or that you’re not qualified enough for a certain job. It’s also crucial to proofread everything multiple times before you send it off to a potential employer. Spelling their name wrong, addressing the wrong person or even making small typos could mean the difference between job interview and no job interview. Last, stay organized and take some time to yourself as well. Your last semester of college is supposed to be fun, don’t overwork yourself and spend your last few months miserable, go out with your friends, watch a movie and have some desserts, it will all be okay.
What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
My biggest goal right now is to get my Masters. After that, I really hope to use the knowledge I’ve gained in my professional life to teach, that’s always been one of my passions.
Career-wise I’d say what’s next for me is really up in the air. I hope to stay in social media, but eventually I’d like to work in social media for a non-profit. It’s always been my dream to start my own business as well, so maybe in five years I’ll be running a social media/branding consulting firm and landing some big clients. For now I’m just going where life takes me, and working my butt off to make sure I’m successful.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Don’t settle for just anything. Make sure the job you take, or what you apply for, is something you’re passionate about. If you don’t have at least some passion for someplace you have to go to work everyday, you won’t be happy.
How can people connect with you?
You can visit my website at www.marisanrussell.com, or you can connect with me on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/marisanrussell/) – I’d love to chat! And, if you want to follow what I do every day, follow @JohnsHopkinsSPH on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.
Thanks so much, Marisa!