Bruce Atkinson, a third-year graduate student at Kansas University, isn't worried that he won't be able to find a job when it's time to leave campus.
He's a scientist.
Atkinson, who works at KU as a teaching assistant and in an AIDS research lab, is studying molecular biology, a field in which he believes the job market is recession-proof. Although Atkinson, who studied microbiology as an undergraduate, is concerned about federal funding of science, he said people like himself are in demand.
Placement officials at KU also are optimistic about job opportunities for people like Atkinson, but they're worried about other students.
Take Denise Reek, a New Canaan, Conn., senior, for example.
Upon graduation, she would like to be a lobbyist in Washington, D.C.
But Reek, a political science major, is realistic and said she probably would have to start out doing something else.
"There's no way I can come out and just be a lobbyist," Reek said during an interview in the Kansas Union. "I'm going to have to be `low man on the totem pole' at first."
ALTHOUGH she hasn't started her formal job search, Reek said that because of the recession, she probably will send out more resumes than she might have in the past.
And Reek said what placement directors across the university are saying to students: Be flexible when it comes time to find a job.
Reek would like to work on the East Coast or in Dallas, but noted, "That's probably the hardest place to find a job right now. There's jobs but not where you want. You've got to be flexible."
That's the No. 1 message that Terry Glenn, director of the University Placement Center, would like to get across to students.
Glenn said officials at the placement center always have emphasized the need for flexibility, but it's more important these days. In good times, it may take four to six months to secure employment; now it's taking closer to six to eight months, he said.
"And if students are really choosy about where they want to go, that can slow down the process," he said. "It may take them longer to find a job. . . .
GLENN SAID that although recruiting is steady and the recession hasn't hit the Midwest as hard as other areas of the nation, competition is fiercer this year.
"It's not a bad time to be coming out of school. . . . but there probably is more competition," he said.
The placement center Glenn supervises helps students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the schools of education and fine arts prepare to enter the workforce. Confirming both Atkinson's positive outlook and Reek's realism, Glenn said students with technical backgrounds still are faring well but that students in less career-specific fields may find a tighter job market.
On a positive note, recruiting for education majors is holding up well, Glenn said. The placement center held its annual "Teacher Day" on Thursday, and Glenn said more school districts came to campus to recruit than in the past.
HOWEVER, Glenn said students who are majoring in such fields as communications, philosophy and a foreign language, may have to consider jobs not directly related to their fields.
"That can be an adjustment for them," he said.
Audrey Gertz, a KU graduate student studying Spanish, remains confident about job opportunities. She plans to teach at the college level, and she's heard good things from friends in the field.
"The '90s in general look pretty good for us," Gertz said. "The one thing I do know from my friends is that the job market is more competitive."
Dana Leibengood, associate dean of journalism at KU, has seen a lot of nervous students in that school.
LEIBENGOOD, who assists journalism students with job placement, said journalism students across the board in the news-editorial, advertising, magazine, radio and television sequences are facing hard times. Leibengood said students who may have been able to start their careers at large newspapers now may have to consider taking a job at a small paper.
He also emphasized the need to be flexibile.
"People will find jobs if they'll go over to where the jobs are, but it's still going to take a search," Leibengood said.
Fred Madaus, director of the School of Business' placement center, said that school's fall career fair was the biggest ever but that spring recruiting is down significantly.
"This semester we are down 25 to 30 companies," said Madaus, adding that February, March and the first half of April are the heaviest recruiting months for business majors.
TO COMPENSATE for corporate belt-tightening, students are applying to more companies, Madaus said. For example, the interview schedules with with such businesses as Hallmark and IBM always fill up, but now the interview schedules with smaller, lesser-known companies also are drawing students, he said.
"This year they're getting pretty good attention," Madaus said. "The insurance companies are getting a lot of attention. Students are almost willing to talk to everybody and anybody, turning over all the rocks so to speak."
Echoing other placement officials, Madaus said he encourages students to be flexible about location. He said many students would like to work in the Kansas City area but they must be willing to look at other possibilities.
"I don't want to knock it at all, but Kansas City is not a great corporate headquarters town," Madaus said.
IN THE PAST business students may have spent 60 to 90 days to find a job or make a job change. In good times, it's about 60 days; now it's closer to 90 days, Madaus said.
Last July 1, about a month after graduation, a School of Business questionnaire found that of the students responding, 68 percent of the undergraduates were employed and 14 percent had gone to graduate school. Among graduate students, 81 percent had found jobs.
Although it now may take students longer to find jobs, Madaus said he expected employment figures for this year's School of Business graduating class to be about the same as last year's tallies.
Pharmacy is one field in which jobs for graduates are still in good supply.
"None of them are having trouble finding a job. It's just a matter of them choosing where they want to go," said Gene Hotchkiss, assistant to the dean of pharmacy.
HOTCHKISS said many of the school's students stay in the Midwest. Other popular spots are the Dallas-Fort Worth and Sunbelt areas, he said.
Although Hotchkiss said the job news for pharmacy students is still good, he noted that there aren't as many job opportunities in Kansas as there have been in the past.
Julie Cunningham, director of the Career Services Center for the School of Engineering, said some engineering specialties have been hit hard by the recession. Students in aerospace engineering, for example, will be affected by cutbacks in defense spending, which means fewer job opportunities.
But Cunningham said the job market for electrical and mechanical engineering is stable. Civil engineering, she said, reflects levels of government spending, and she said job opportunities for petroleum and chemical engineering students depend on the price of oil in the world economy.
CUNNINGHAM said students in chemical engineering have seen a solid job market the past two years.
"They're coming out with up to 17 job offers," she said.
Max Lucas, dean of the school of architecture and urban design, said it was hard to tell at this point if the recession had significantly impacted job opportunities for architecture students.
"My impression is that it's going to be more difficult for our students to get jobs out on the street," he said.
Linda Perrier, a social worker recruiter for the state Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services in Topeka, said the prospects this year look better for social workers, mainly because the state is hiring again.
"Last year was particularly difficult within Social and Rehabilitation Services because we were in a hiring freeze," Perrier said. "Now we're hiring again."
LILIAN SIX, director of career services for the School of Law, said it may take longer for law students to find jobs this year but she is confident that students will find employment.
"It doesn't look too bad at all," Six said. "Law firms may not be as actively seeking as many new associates or law clerks, but as far as the Kansas City area is concerned, the economy seems to be stabilizing.
"I think the law students are likely to find that they will be employed in the same manner as past years. So I think it sounds like things aren't as bad as they may have been some short time ago."
But, she added, "only time will tell."