When it comes to the current job market, "cautious" seems to be the buzz word.
Employers are expected to be frugal with new hires, and college seniors graduating in December are reticent to start the job hunt.
"The outlook is definitely worse," said David Byrd-Stadler, employer relations coordinator for Kansas University's School of Business, of the current job market.
"It's not doom and gloom, but you're also not going to fall into a job," he said.
Competition will be fierce as a majority of employers have lowered their hiring projections because of the economy. Some students have decided to put off their job search in favor of attending graduate school or to pursue jobs outside their major. Personal finances are also factoring into whether students will relocate for a job.
"I'm really scared," said Megan Hirt, 22, a KU senior from Topeka. "It seems like the worst possible time to be getting a job."
The jobs are out there, but students must be aggressive in selling themselves and their skills, said Susan Wade, director of the Career Development Center at Baker University in Baldwin City.
"Because the market is going to be more competitive, they have to be more intentional and assertive in their job search process and expect it to take longer than their counterparts did a year ago," Wade said. "What I expect is companies in general are being cautious. We're all being cautious right now, and really thoughtful about hiring people because they certainly don't want to lay off people and certainly not their new hires."
Mimi Collins, communications director for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, said she expects employer trepidation will likely continue when it comes to hiring college graduates. NACE is re-doing a national poll of employers who are members of the association since the bailout package was passed by Congress.
"Right now, what we're seeing is (companies) expect their college hiring to be flat," she said of preliminary results. "In other words, they're hiring, but they're not going to hire more than they did last year."
This is the first time in six years the association hasn't seen a double-digit increase projected for college hires, she said.
The difference can be seen in the career centers on the KU campus and Baker University.
With the exception of KU's Engineering School, the career centers have seen fewer employers conducting interviews or attending career fairs, mainly scouting students who will graduate in May.
"I'm sure there are some companies that aren't hiring at all," said Byrd-Stadler, of the Business School. "Last year in the fall of 2007, we had 55 companies using our interview rooms. This year it's 51. That's not a lot (of a difference), but again, you know, even a drop of a little is something we take notice of."
That's why some students like David Hammer, 22, Leawood, plan to hold off on the job search until the market improves. After finishing college in three-and-a-half years, Hammer will graduate in December with a degree in business management. Bypassing a job search, he's focused on getting into graduate school to complete at least one year in a master's program for business management.
"Hopefully, by that time it's a little more stable and I can land a job somewhere, I'm not sure," he said.
Byrd-Stadler said finance students are having the toughest time right now.
"When you have banks being bought or consolidated, just the turmoil there, you are not going to see a lot of companies hiring a lot of grads," he said.
Accounting majors are still higher in demand, Byrd-Stadler said.
In even higher demand are engineers.
Jill Hummels, public relations director for the KU School of Engineering, said their interview rooms have been maxed out and they had a record number of employers at their career fair.
"I think students in the School of Engineering are experiencing a boom cycle," she said. "There's a really high demand for engineers in the industry."
Students with nontechnical degrees must work harder to market their skills, said David Gaston, director of the University Career Center.
"What's going to have to happen is those students who are in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, will continue to need to be able to show they add value to an employer," he said. "That's an extra step sometimes for them."
Graduate school may be an attractive option for those students, he said.
However, the economic crisis has also affected loan options for graduate school.
Jill Jess, KU associate director for University Relations, said, "students looking for new loans may have fewer options for private loans, as some companies have simply stopped making them.
"Funding for Federal Direct Loans is not in jeopardy and this remains an option for all eligible students," Jess said.
With weeks before graduation, anxiety about personal finances weighs heavy on Hirt, the KU senior from Topeka. She'll graduate with degrees in journalism and French and said if she finds a job out of state she'd be worried about accepting it.
"In this economy I don't necessarily want to go too far from home," she said. "The apprehension comes from, 'Can I move? Is it risky to move and to rent something or buy something?' That's the scariest part."