Syracuse Graduation: Dreams and Disappointments

By Virginia Breen

May 11, 2009 12:13pm

ABC News On Campus reporter Torie Wells blogs:

Syracuse University senior Barbra Ficocelli has big dreams.  She wants to become a music supervisor for major motion pictures. 

“I interned with Sony BMG in the film department as an assistant music supervisor for a while and was pretty much guaranteed a job after graduation,” she said. “But now that Sony is frozen at the moment, I have no job.”

That’s the story of hundreds of graduating seniors, looking for a job in a rocky economy.  For years, Ficocelli has looked forward to graduating and pursuing a career in her major.

“I’m looking to maybe get a masters in education to be able to teach, or even looking to get a real estate license to sell real estate, which is something I never thought about doing in the past,” she said. 

She’s broadening her scope, like many other graduates, hoping to just get that first job.  After graduation, she’s going back home to continue the job search.

Mike Juhas is a sports management major.  He’d love to go into marketing for a company like Nike.  He said he chose Syracuse University because of its reputation.  But now, even that isn’t helping him with the search.

“Companies are cutting a lot of their employees and these people who are losing their jobs need to find opportunities with entry level jobs,” he said.  “College graduates are competing with people with three or four years of experience.”

Juhas is going back home after graduation, too.  He hopes to find a job quickly, but added that out of all his friends, he’s only heard of about five who already have jobs.

And then there’s Erin Parks.  She’s a biology major whose dream job is to be a forensic scientist, or a stem cell researcher. The search continues for her too.  So, like many others, she’s going home to a summer job.  But she said she’s lucky that hers still uses her major.

“I’m working at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute doing analytical chemistry research,” she said.  “While I am there this summer I will be continuing my job search for a job in my hometown.”

Last year, the story was different for graduating seniors.  The Syracuse University Center for Career Services reports that last year, 40% of graduates responded to its job survey. The office said that’s a fairly standard response size.

Of those 40 percent, more than 45 percent had a job before they graduated. Six months after graduation, 94 percent were employed full time, or attending graduate school full time. That breaks down to 76 percent working full time, and 18 percent in graduate school.

The numbers in 2007 were almost identical.

Kaleigh Simmons graduated from SU last year.  She was a broadcast journalism major, but knew that wasn’t where her heart was anymore.  She did not have a job before graduating, but said it wasn’t that hard to find one shortly after.

Now, she works in marketing, and is working toward her ultimate goal of television production.

“It’s been a year in the making, but I’ve made solid connections, I have a website, my own blog, a LinkedIn page, a Twitter account. My name is out there, people know who I am — and if they don’t, they can easily find out,” she said.

Reaching her dream job is still hard work, she said.  But she said she doesn’t envy those who are trying to find their first job.

SU’s placement rates for 2009 won’t be calculated until next fall.  But the prediction is that numbers will be down.

“The general sense, from working with employers out there, is that there are reductions in the number of graduates large corporations are hiring,” said Mike Cahill, director of the center.

And while graduating seniors can’t control some of that, there are some things they can.  Cahill said the newest trend he’s seeing this year is graduates who are just giving up on the job search.

“The tendency this year is to shut down.  Seniors are saying ‘The news is bad, I have a lot to worry about.  I’ll worry about that later,’” he said.

Michael Debach, a television, radio and film major, said the hardest part for him "has been overcoming all the hype about the current financial state and motivating myself to join the job hunt anyway. Come to find out, there are plenty of jobs out there. You just have to be creative and look in the right places."

Cahill said there are also jobs out there.  And if your dream job isn’t hiring right now, you want to be first in line when it does.  He said he’s giving graduates three basic tips for finding a job in a recession:

1. Expand: That doesn’t mean take any job that comes along, but explore what your options are.  Sometimes you may find something else you love even more.

2. Prepare to wait: It typically takes graduates about six months to find a job.  In this recession, prepare for about nine.  But that doesn’t mean give up.  Go home and work that summer job, intern and brush up on your skills.  And keep the job search going!

3. Be the best job seeker you can:  Make connections, do your research, follow up.

And he said there are success stories he still hears every day.  There are jobs.  People are hiring. 

It’s that hope that’s keeping some graduates, like Ficocelli, going.

“I’m excited just to be moving in a different direction, to be moving away from the ‘college’ lifestyle," she said. "And I am hopeful that I’ll find a job I love eventually.”

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