Recent College Grads Face Tough Job Market

ByHeidi B. Perlman

March 9, 2001 -- Decked out in her new interview suit and clutching a leather portfolio filled with resumes, Sara Walters is all confidence as she begins her job search.

After all, she's had internships and good grades, and has beenactive all through college. She makes it clear that her sights areset only on top firms offering top dollar.

"People talk about the recession, but I'm not worried," saidWalters, 22, a marketing major at Northeastern University inBoston. "I know there's still a market for college graduates, andI know there's a job out there for me."

Don't be so sure, career counselors say. With the shutdown ofInternet startups and a slowdown in the economy, a glut of peoplewith experience in high-tech industries are competing for availablejobs, leaving fewer opportunities for recent graduates.

As a result, recruiters are coming to campus job fairs withfewer jobs, and some colleges are cracking down on students whoaren't taking the situation seriously.

"Last year you could have had a degree in low demand, a lousygrade-point average and bad interpersonal skills, and still get ajob," said Mimi Collins, a spokeswoman for the NationalAssociation of Colleges and Employers. "But that's not the way itis anymore."

'They Should Be Worried'

Few students seem to see any dark clouds on their job-seekinghorizon. In fact, career counselors say some are so confident aboutthe prospects of easily landing a job, they aren't even botheringto meet with recruiters.

"They should be worried, but I don't think it's caught up tothem yet," said Carol Lyons, dean of career services atNortheastern.

Several of her regular recruiters canceled this year because ofhiring freezes and cutbacks, she said, while others pulled out atthe last minute because of low student interest.

The same holds true at other schools around the country. Infact, so few students showed up for their interviews at LehighUniversity that officials set a new rule this year: skip oneinterview and you're locked out of the recruiting process for good.

"Until now they knew if they missed an interview, there wouldbe another one coming along," said Donna Goldfeder, director ofcareer services at the Bethlehem, Pa., school. "But they can'trely on us that way anymore."

Career counselors say much of the confidence students arefeeling stems from watching their older classmates have no troublelanding jobs last year. In addition, many agree that 21- and22-year-olds have no idea of what it means to seek work during sloweconomic times.

"It's easy for these kids to have their heads in the sandbecause they haven't seen this on campus yet," said Goldfeder."They're going to have to network themselves now, and do more thanjust rely on us, but they don't seem to understand that yet."

A Vastly Different Economic Picture

Clarice Wilsey, associate director of University of Oregoncareer center, agreed students don't seem stressed, but disagreedthe poor economy is affecting hiring.

"Companies want people who are bright and upcoming," Wilseysaid. "Even if the economy doesn't get any better, those studentswill still get jobs eventually … What we try to do is keep themhopeful, get them prepared and not let them procrastinate."

A year ago the economy was booming, jobs were plentiful, andgraduates were swept up by campus recruiters armed with enoughhigh-paying, entry-level positions for almost everyone. But now theeconomic picture is vastly different.

Joe MacDonald, a recruiter with the Morgan Co. in Narragansett,R.I., which makes high technology products, students can no longerexpect to come into an interview uninformed about the company andstill get a job.

"The ones we want are at the top of their class," he said."If they don't have a 3.9 or 4.0 grade point average, we don'teven see them anymore."

Karen Hansen, staffing director at Mentor Graphics, a globalelectronic design company with offices in Wilsonville, Ore., saidher company is growing, but she expects the number of on-campusoffers to diminish.

"We've always been picky, and further decline in the economywill probably make us more so." said Hansen, whose companyrecently recruited at Portland State University.

Michael Brock, assistant director of corporate recruitment atEmory University in Atlanta, said his students have fared betterthan many at other schools, even though the dot-com shakeout hasreduced the number of employers coming to campus.

"Before it blew up, they were hiring warm bodies," he said."It's still very active, but I don't think it'll ever be like itwas. Not being as good as the last five years doesn't mean it'sbad."

Not The End Of The World, Some Say

Others agree that anxiety spurred by the current economicuncertainty shouldn't be looked at as the end of the world.

"I was here during the last true recession, in 1991, and thisis nothing like that," said Don Brezinski, director of careerservices at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass. "In comparison towhat I've seen, this isn't so bad. But compared to the gold rush oflast year, there's just no comparison."

Still, students who have been watching the economy turn arefeeling the pinch.

Abir Shome, for instance, is frustrated. He's 24, a native ofBombay, India, and a top student at Northeastern. In May he'll gethis master's degree in engineering, but he's preparing himself forunemployment.

"I'm starting to wonder why I'm bothering to interview atall," he said. "People are getting laid off up, down, left, rightand center."

But career counselors say that for every Shome there are atleast two students on campus like Sara Walters, who remainconvinced that everything will be fine.

And for some, things have already worked out just fine. Sucharita Kuchibhotla, 21, a Tufts University senior fromBethel, Conn., accepted a job with the investment bank J.P. MorganChase in December. Her starting salary: $55,000.

The only problem is most of her friends don't want to talk toher about it, she said.

"The vibe around campus right now is you just don't ask seniorswhat they're doing next year," she said. "I sort of feel badsometimes."