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finding a job after college
Meredith Ballard, a 22-year-old economics major at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado, started to feel she was spending more time traveling to job interviews then going to class last fall as she started her senior year. (Tom Kimmell/MCT)

Meredith Ballard is an economics major at Colorado College. But when she began her senior year last fall, she started feeling she was spending more time traveling to job interviews than going to class.

“It got stressful,” said Ballard, 22, of Green Oaks, Ill. “I had to work on my thesis on top of having a very difficult class while trying to land a job.”

The employment market may be picking up, but graduating seniors like Ballard—who ultimately landed a job with a Chicago advertising agency, which will start in May—have in many cases known nothing during their college careers but economic turbulence and high unemployment. And they’re facing their futures with more anxiety than ever.

“Nowhere has the economic impact been as traumatic [as] for college seniors graduating in the last four years,” said Richard Berman, director of career services at Oberlin College.

To forestall entering the job market, this year’s soon-to-be-graduates are taking unpaid internships or social-service work, going to graduate school, or even trying to start their own businesses.

Those who are searching for jobs are making it a higher priority than schoolwork. Gone is the luxury of taking it easy senior year.

There are some glimmers of hope. The unemployment rate for recent graduates is 6.2 percent, lower than the overall rate and the lowest since the start of the recession. And employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said they planned to hire 10.2 percent more newly minted graduates this year than last year.

Still, the odds for job seekers in many fields remain long.

“This year’s seniors are landing more interviews, but I think it’s more a function of their tenacity” than an increase in the number of jobs available, said Lisa Kastor, director of career services at the College of Wooster in Ohio.

Jacob Meyers of Elyria, Ohio, for example, has applied for 35 different positions and gotten three interviews, but no offers.

“I just don’t want to be floating around after college,” said Meyers, 22, who is job-hunting while finishing requirements for his triple major in English, theater, and gender, sexuality and feminist studies at Oberlin. “There just seems to be this pressure from everywhere. Everyone is looking for a job. Even my mom is dead-set on me finding one. She’s scared, too.”

At Washington and Lee University in Virginia, 15 students applied to meet on campus with a recruiter for an investment bank. Six got interviews. The bank has one position available.

“The employers are doing a lot more screening,” including remotely by Skype before even entertaining the idea of an in-person interview, said Beverly Lorig, director of career services at Washington and Lee. “There’s less willingness to consider a ‘maybe’ candidate.”

Meanwhile, students and their families have been subjected to an unrelenting chorus of bad news from the job front.

“It bruises the psyche of your graduating class,” said Lorig. “There’s stress with seniors, and there’s stress with parents. It’s really important that we teach students to be resilient in these times. I fear that a lot of seniors withdraw after they get roughed up a bit with the rejections.”

Many students have reason to be worried. Those who took out loans for college are now graduating with an average debt of more than $25,000—twice the 1996 figure—according to the U.S. Department of Education.

finding a job after college
Students get counseling at the College of Wooster’s career center in Wooster, Ohio. (Photo by Matt Dilyard) Credit: Matt Dilyard

Some students say they are beginning their job-search process a year before graduation, and they are networking more often with college alumni.

“Just because the front door to an organization is tighter, and therefore harder to open, doesn’t mean that there aren’t side doors into it,” said Berman. “One has to build networking opportunities through recent grads and alumni.”

For Lauren Martinez of Redmond, Wash., the time she took to job-hunt last semester paid off: The senior economics major at Macalester College found a job at a financial consulting firm in California.

But Martinez said the offer came at the expense of time and energy she could have applied toward schoolwork.

“My grades suffered at the beginning of the semester when I was spending so much time traveling to interviews, practicing interviewing, and filling out applications,” Martinez  said.  “It was all so overwhelming.”

Still, she’s glad she has a job. “It’s definitely a relief to know that I’ll have a paycheck. With that in mind, the rest of my senior year will be a lot easier.”

Emily Fukunaga, a senior economics major at Colorado College, started job-hunting last semester while also trying to complete her senior thesis. She landed a merchandising job at a company that sells luxury consumer goods in Hong Kong, where she will move after graduation.

“I had a handle on [the job process], but it was time consuming,” Fukunaga said.

Students don’t really have much choice, said Philip Gardner, director of research for the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.

“It takes time and preparation to delve into the current job market,” Gardner said. “The pressure is higher, and the outcome is more ambiguous if students begin their job searching as late as spring semester” of senior year.

More students are also trying to get jobs with programs such as the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Catholic Charities and City Year. Teach For America, which has seen applications increase from 18,000 in 2007 to 47,000 last year, says it’s already broken that record this year.

“Most of my friends who are really unsure of what they are doing career-wise are going into Teach For America,” said Fukunaga.

Her college also held a weekend-long workshop for seniors interested in entrepreneurship.

“The job market is so poor,” said Darlene Garcia, a career counselor at Colorado College who organized the workshop, that “they’d rather start their own businesses.”

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  1. Congratulations on earning your degree! Now it’s time to get a job.

    The traditional way of getting hired doesn’t work. So don’t send your resume to any and everyone. Everything you do has to be customized to the company and the hiring manager. If not, you won’t stand out or get that all-important interview.

    Companies hire people to solve problems (both positive and negative). Your ability to uncover your target employers problems and position yourself as the solution is what will get you hired.

    Here are a few potential problem areas. Completing projects on time and on budget, improve product quality, improve service, increase sales, reduce costs, increase customer retention, enhance online marketing, etc.

    Now here’s the good news. There are jobs for grads if you know how to find them!

    I’m working with three Ohio State University seniors to help them get the job they want upon graduation. On this week’s conference call I showed them how to zero in on the job they want and to locate companies with those positions. They were amazed to see all of the opportunities.

    Next week we’ll complete our analysis of the target companies to learn as much about them as possible.

    These soon to be grads are making exceptional progress.

    Bob Prosen
    The Prosen Center

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