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Currents: future after college

College Seniors Prepare for Employment in a Grim Economy

by Kimberly Walleston '09

The U.S. economy is still looking grim. When the stock market closed for the week of Nov. 17 the Dow Jones industrials were down more than 400 points, reaching the lowest levels in five years, according to the Associated Press. Some hoped that things wouldn't, or couldn't, get worse. But things have not improved, and stocks continue to decline as the nation reluctantly accepts its official status of being in a recession.

This economic crisis has serious implications for big investors, mortgage holders and retirees, but the younger generations will also be hit hard. As college seniors prepare to enter the workforce, they are confronted with a battery of financial and economic obstacles blocking entry into lucrative futures.

The job market is rapidly weakening. Claims for unemployment benefits have exceeded half a million. Companies, on a whole, are not hiring at their previous rates.

“The days of sign-on bonuses and weighing multiple offers are gone,” says Kathy Taylor of the Harrington Center for Experiential Learning for Career Development at Colby-Sawyer College. “Students need to be open to considering other options.”

Start Now: Your First Job is to Find a Job

President-elect Barack Obama is working on an economic stimulus plan that will introduce 2.5 million jobs by 2011, but graduates will have to find ways to cope in the interim. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), only 40 of the 70 percent of 2008 graduates who said they wanted a full-time job after college actually applied for a job before April. In a tight race, it's important not to fall behind.

“Over the winter break is not too early to start making initial contacts with employers,” says Taylor. “It is also important to start networking with anyone and everyone to get referrals to potential job prospects. Relying on job posting sites such as Monster will not be sufficient. These sites only advertise 20 percent of the actual job openings – the other 80 percent are discovered through networking and direct contacts with companies and company web sites.”

Prior preparation will be a key factor in securing a job. “Your résumé, cover letters, business cards, and elevator pitch should be ready to go by the time you leave campus for semester break. Spring semester is key recruiting time for employers so [students should] be prepared to attend job fairs [and] meet employers at information sessions. Use professional associations to develop networking contacts and get referrals,” Taylor specifies. “In this economy, employers will not be seeking you out – you need to work twice as hard to get your credentials noticed by employers.”

Taylor also advises that seniors should have a clear plan about what type of occupation they want to pursue. This will help the student focus their job search, from the field to the location.

Get a Foot in the Door, Go From There

During their job search, students are cautioned to be realistic about their career goals. The concept of a dream job is weakening along with the economic environment. Graduates may consider using temporary placement agencies to find work on a short-term basis. This will give them the opportunity to build up their résumés and pay off some loans while the economy recovers.

“The other option is looking for a position in a company that you want, but settling for a position that under-employs. These positions are often clerical but give you a chance to get a foot in the door. When the economy improves, you can then be considered for promotion and move into other roles within the company.”

According to a Job Outlook survey conducted by the NACE, 26 percent of employers will reassess their college graduate hiring needs on a monthly basis, giving students ample chances to be considered for employment.

Graduates should approach their early stages of independence with caution. Once they secure a job, a smart financial decision would be to develop a budget that realistically aligns with their income. Debt can be devastating to an economic amateur so graduates should avoid this pitfall at all costs.

Whatever the future has in store, economically or otherwise, preparation – not avoidance - is the best way to control it.

Alumni who would like to partner with Colby-Sawyer by offering internships or career opportunities to students and fellow alumni, please contact Kathy Taylor or Luann Ryall in Career Development.

Students who would like to discuss work options after graduating, or get help with résumés, contact Kathy Taylor or Luann Ryall in Career Development.