An Open-Minded, Values-Oriented Professional

Finding Your Place Through Confident Exploration

The economy is changing more rapidly now than ever before. No longer will most employees find a single company, or perhaps even a single profession, for the rest of their lives. But if you ask Michael Austerlitz, there are lessons to be learned from, and there are certainly places you will fit if you have the will to look for them.

Starting with Passions

There was no hesitation when Michael explained that the source of his current path was joining the Bonner Program in 2006 through the Democracy House Center for Civic Engagement at Middlesex County College. Serving his community and exploring issues, he cultivated a deep belief in the power and possibility of change.

After graduation, Michael worked as a Legal Assistant through AmeriCorps VISTA, a Sentencing Advocate for the Center for Community Alternatives, and a Fiscal Sponsorship Program Assistant for NEO Philanthropy, and in a few other jobs. Along the way he earned his Master’s in Public Administration from Cornell University. But nowhere he landed seemed to be a good fit. His story is one of learning through letdowns and perseverance.

Michael’s path eventually led him to the Claims Conference: The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. He works as a Senior Program Assistant housed in New York City to provide grants management and programmatic work for Claims Conference throughout the world. He has kept his values with him through a long search for the right career fit. His current position is important to him, but even more so is the path he took to get there and the lessons gathered along the way.

Earning Confidence

At one point, Michael was on the job search for eight months without success. Though the long process was not ideal, it resulted in the development of confidence and tenacity. Michael remembers the difference between his job interviews out of college and the interview for the Claims Conference. Instead of wearing his best suit, he wore a sweater like he would on any average work day. That sweater and button-down confidence is the reward for months of interviews and years spent searching for the right fit.

Michael earned valuable experience by transitioning through multiple jobs to find a suitable position. More than job placements, the right skill set and approach to going after what you want has guided Michael in the journey after Bonner. In an increasingly fluid job market, he maintains an adaptable attitude: “It’s not all about where you end up, it’s about retaining values.” This is the philosophy that enables him to compromise and progress while focusing on social change.

Embracing Uncertainty

If he was able to pick anything he wanted to make a career of, he would play guitar, “and maybe write really profound books,” he chuckled. As for a more tangible career goal, Michael is comfortable not knowing where he wants to be. Of course, he worries he might not have enough money to raise a family if his career is not focused on finances. Fortunately, his mother has some sage advice, “Just follow what is right, follow your values, and sometimes you have to worry about the other stuff later.”


Michael does not have a place in mind he wants to end up. Certainly there are places he wants to go, but no destination seems final. There is also no indication that his stance causes him discomfort now or will in the future. He articulated his view by saying, “I think it’s perfectly fine to not know where you want to be at 30—at 40.” Embracing uncertainty is part of being open to the experiences that will push you along. Michael quoted MacArthur Fellow Jacques d’Amboise by saying, “I hate the word education, I like the word learning. Education is finite, but you are never done learning.“ He added his own wisdom to the pot, “It may take 1 job interview or it may take 100, but you’ll develop the confidence you need.” There is no way to eliminate the unknown. Embracing that uncertain process of growth is what allows Michael to evolve.


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Written by Taylor Clarke, Bonner Leader at Stetson University ’19

Read Michael's job profile here

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