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Archive for Sunday, May 23, 2004

KU grads face tight job market

Experts advise unemployed to network, be aggressive in search

May 23, 2004

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The hard work of getting a university degree may be over, but Kansas University students graduating today could have a tougher task ahead -- finding a job.

"It is still a tight job market," said Mary Andrade, assistant director at the University Career Center.

Though the job market for new KU graduates is a bit better than a year ago, she said, the situation was far from rosy.

"I wouldn't say that companies have started getting more aggressive in their hiring yet. We do have new employers coming to campus, but generally the companies don't have a great number of jobs available," Andrade said. "What I tell people is that you have to be willing to put in your time to find a good job in this market."

Stephanie Wilkinson, graduating from KU today with an English degree, found a job with The Hartford at the insurance company's Overland Park office. But she said the process was time consuming.

"It required a lot of persistence," Wilkinson said. "It got frustrating. There was a time that I thought I would never get a job. I have heard some people say that when you are looking for a job, you have to treat that as your full-time job. That's really the truth."

National numbers

There are reasons for graduates to be optimistic, if they believe national surveys.

According to the 2004 Job Outlook by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, companies are more interested in hiring new college graduates than they have been in years.

The survey found that employers planned to increase hiring of new graduates by 11.2 percent compared with a year ago. That marks the first time since 2001 the survey found companies planning to increase the number of college graduates they hire.

"It is important to recognize that the job market isn't booming, but we are seeing improvement," said Marilyn Mackes, the association's executive director.

Jerry Magnuson, owner of Lawrence's Express Personnel Services, said he had seen an improvement in the area job market, as well.

"I think we definitely have a better job market than we did a year ago," Magnuson said. "The earnings picture for a lot of companies seem to be positive, so they're opening up their hiring practices."

Whether that bodes well for this year's crop of college graduates remains to be seen. That's because plenty of people besides new graduates are looking for work.

"There are a lot of openings, but it's hard coming out of college because most people want someone who has experience," said Shaun Craft, a KU senior graduating with an education degree. "There's a lot of competition."

Service stigma

Like Craft, Elizabeth Cooper is a KU senior still looking for work. Cooper is graduating today with degrees in anthropology and psychology. She's been looking for work since April.

"It is easy to find a job, but it is not easy to find a job that you want," Cooper said.

She's found plenty of opportunities for positions that involved sales, but most paid a low base salary and required applicants to make the bulk of their earnings through sales commissions.

Andrade said sales and entry level management positions were the two areas in which businesses were most actively hiring. The association's survey also found the service sector, which often involves sales or customer service positions, was the most likely sector to employ new graduates.

But Andrade said convincing college students to apply for service-oriented positions was difficult.

"Unfortunately the service sector has an unpleasant stigma for a lot of students," she said. "They graduate with a four-year degree and they think their degree is worth more than a customer service position. They don't see it for what it is, which usually is a segue into a good career opportunity."

Getting started

But there are success stories. Andrade said she worked with many students who landed jobs months ago and would start work soon after graduation.

"We have some students who are faring very well, but what they all seem to have in common is that they have prepared well," Andrade said.

Ideally students would have started their job search in September or October, she said. Many though, waited until February and March.

"I still have a lot of students who haven't even begun the process," Andrade said.

There's no university survey that indicates how many of KU's approximately 5,400 graduates have found a job, but Andrade said she thought a majority were still seeking work.

One of the most common mistakes graduates made in seeking work was being too passive.

"They'll send out their resume and cover letter and just wait," she said. "This isn't an economy where top employers are having to seek out employees. They have a lot of good employees coming to their door."

Students also often fail to take advantage of the connections they have in the working world. She said students sometimes were reluctant to call on friends of their parents or other adults they know who are well-established in the business world.

"Networking is still very powerful," Andrade said. "It is not that those people are going to give you a job, but they can definitely keep their ears open for you."

Some students also fall victim to procrastination or just become overwhelmed with finishing their education.

"It is pretty easy for them to get caught up in finishing their degree and not look to the future," Andrade said.

One of the first things career counselors preach is the value of perseverance. But Andrade said that had been a tough idea for some students to buy in to as the economy had continued to worsen.

"We have seen the last couple of years that some students just give up," she said. "That's what you can't afford to do."

Career opportunities

Here's a look at the top 10 professions that new college graduates are most likely to land a job in, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Also listed is the average starting salary for each position.

Management Trainee -- $35,852.

Accounting (private sector) -- $42,392.

Sales -- $33,779.

Accounting (public sector) -- $41,399.

Teaching -- $29,551.

Construction engineering --$43,668.

Project engineer -- $46,668.

Consulting -- $48,247.

Financial analysis -- $43,385.

Software design -- $53,630.

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