College seniors needn’t worry about jobs if they know where to go

CHICAGO – The Class of 2009 may be cursing the economy, but they can’t let it distract them from their job search

After college seniors enjoy their last spring break this month, they’ll return to campus for the final weeks of academia before they enter a recession-weary real world with an 8.1 percent unemployment rate. The first job search is always daunting but particularly so for the estimated 1.5 million-strong Class of 2009.

In August, employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said they planned to increase hiring of college graduates by 6 percent over last year. By October, the revised projection was a 1.3 percent increase in hiring. Then the hiring expectations were flat. Last month’s updated survey showed a staggering change of heart, with employers reporting they planned to hire nearly 22 percent fewer college graduates than they did from the Class of 2008.

Some seniors do have jobs waiting for them; others accepted offers in the fall, only to have them rescinded. Some are hoping to wait out the recession by heading to graduate school – a questionable strategy if it’s not for the right reasons – or are looking at service programs that are inundated with applications. And others are career guidance office regulars looking for assistance.

However, there are worries on college campuses that many seniors either are throwing up their arms and giving up or are so focused on their last semester and confident in their abilities they wrongly figure they’ll easily land a job after graduation.

“The marketplace is going to continue to get worse,” said Phil Gardner, director of Michigan State University’s Collegiate Employment Research Institute. “You have to be resilient. It’s not all going to work out the way you want it to. You’re going to be underemployed and not valued as much as you think. But you want to position yourself and keep your sights on where you want to go.”

In other words, don’t let a bad economy distract you from a good job search that needs to start now. The workplace may not need as many college graduates as it once did, but the need for the qualities they bring remains, career counselors say.

And despite the headlines, there are jobs to be filled.

“There’s a mind-set that there aren’t jobs,” said Lois Meerdink, director of business career services at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “There are, but there are fewer positions, so (students) have to work much harder and outwork their competition.” Here’s how:

&bull Use the services of college career centers, which continue to hear from employers that want to visit campus to meet students regardless of whether they have immediate job openings.

&bull Broaden your search parameters. Look beyond the big firms to smaller employers.

&bull Take every opportunity to make a connection, whether it’s by meeting the parents of a friend or by doing an information interview with a company that you’re interested in but has no openings.

&bull Consider service organizations as a way to develop skills and expand your network of potential contacts.

&bull Be ready to move to Plan B: doing something else.

&bull Take responsibility for yourself and realize the skills you’re learning from the job search process itself.

“Our culture of excess created this generation,” said Lindsey Pollak, author of “Getting From College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World.” “You hear the terms ‘entitled’ and ‘coddled.’ The economy is going to slap that out of them pretty quick. If this economy teaches them to be humbled and hardworking, it’s teaching them what their parents and professors can’t.”