Monday, March 10, 2003

Grads face dim job prospects

Employers hiring fewer beginners

By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer

This year's class of college graduates is facing a chilly spring for job prospects.

Be it war jitters, a weak economy, or both, Tristate colleges report that fewer recruiters are visiting campus and those that do have fewer jobs to fill. That means graduates face tougher competition to land a job.

"It's really a continuation of what we saw last year," said National Association of Colleges and Employers spokeswoman Camille Luckenbaugh. "Without a doubt, it's going to be tough."

Of schools recently surveyed, 64 percent expect to see fewer recruiters visiting college campuses this spring compared to last year, according to NACE.

Meanwhile, 60 percent of employers are sticking to a projection made in August of a 3.6 percent reduction in hiring of new college grads. About one-third said they plan even deeper cuts in hiring.

An economic slump and geo-political uncertainty have caused some companies to put off hiring. The U.S. unemployment rate for January was 5.7 percent, compared to 5.6 percent this time last year, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Worries about war, last month's heightened terror alert and harsh winter weather all contributed to February's job losses of 308,000, economists said. It was the biggest monthly decline since November 2001, when companies dumped 327,000 from their payrolls following the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Apart from the terrorist attacks, the cuts were the largest since January 1982.

Jeremy Hiers, a computer information systems major at Thomas More College, will graduate May 10.

The 22-year-old Hebron man has sent out nearly 40 resumes since Christmas break. Only two companies called him to interview; neither worked out. Both wanted to fill their openings now, not in May.

Hiers hopes employers will be impressed that he has received certification in computer programs that go beyond his bachelor's degree and developed leadership skills through his extra-curricular activities.

He works full time in the school's computer lab and is president of Thomas More Information Society, a computer club he founded that does community service projects. His group most recently teamed up with a Kenton County 4-H club to teach participants how to create Web pages.

"When I was a freshman, seniors were walking out with all kinds of money," Hiers said. "I was told some were writing their own salaries. I was told that if the economy kept going the way it was, I'd have a job long before it was time to graduate with a signing bonus. That is definitely not the case now."

Keen interest in grad school

At the University of Cincinnati, recruiters are still paying visits but the number of available jobs is down.

"We have had a fair number of employers (60 in the fall quarter, 25 in the winter quarter) come to campus but with fewer opportunities than in the past," said Tony Dardy, associate director of the Career Development Center at UC.

"The job market seems to be similar to the economy,'' Dardy said. "There are some bright spots, some good signs, but overall the job market has not demonstrated any real recovery. With fewer opportunities and high competition for jobs, students are working harder to meet requirements and more seem to be thinking about grad school as an option."

Even if May graduates land a job offer, many can expect lower salaries. According to NACE, offers to many spring graduates, especially those in technical disciplines, will take a nosedive.

The average offer to computer science majors, for example, plunged 13.1 percent from $51,429 in January 2002 to $44,678 in January 2003.

On the plus side, some fields are wide open, including customer service, and special and middle-school education, said Betsy John-Jennings, director of the Career Development Center at Northern Kentucky University.

Though opportunities for liberal arts majors show little improvement, salaries in areas such as English and political science show an increase.

Overall, starting salaries for liberal arts graduates are expected to average $29,105, a 1 percent jump from last year, according to NACE.

There are ways for students to market themselves that will impress prospective employers, John-Jennings said. Experience tops the list, whether it be through internships, co-op jobs or previous employment.

That was true for Amy Enda, a 22-year-old accounting student from Florence who has landed a job with Bramel & Ackley PSC in Fort Wright. Through the career development center at NKU, she landed a co-op position with the company in December 2001. When a full-time position opened, she applied and got the job in November.

"They know how I work," she said.

Rick Hearin, director of career services at Miami University, advises graduating seniors to consider a post-graduation internship. For seniors who can't get career-track positions, internships provide the opportunity to gain important experience and demonstrate commitment to a chosen field, he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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