A bleak picture for new college graduates


March 13, 2009|By HANAH CHO | HANAH CHO,hanah.cho@baltsun.com

Just three years ago, the job market for college graduates was hot.

Companies were filling more entry-level jobs and offering higher salaries than in previous years. The National Association of Colleges and Employers called 2006's job market the best it had seen in four years.

Today, the environment is markedly different.

Employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer graduates from the Class of 2009 compared with hiring from the previous class, according to a NACE survey released last week. The new projections are even grimmer than earlier estimates that indicated hiring would be flat.

Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the entry-level job market for graduates is the worst since the dot-com bust. It reports that campus recruiting has fallen as much as 35 percent at some colleges as employers cut back hiring.

With unemployment rising and competition increasing, Challenger says college graduates may opt to pursue more education, seek opportunities in the nonprofit sector or move back to their parents' homes.

Nationally, the jobless rate was 8.1 percent last month. Maryland is faring a little better, with an unemployment rate at 6.2 percent in January, the most recent figure available.

At University of Maryland, Baltimore County, career-services counselors had expected the economy to worsen this year. So the campus developed a fall workshop for seniors called "Job hunting as a fall sport: you got to play to win," said Anne Scholl-Fiedler, director of UMBC Career Services Center.

The workshop brought employers and students together for mock interviews and resume critiques. It also included networking training.

"We tried not to focus on the grim," she said.

"What we're doing is we're encouraging the students ... to get their brand together. They clearly have to know what their motivated strengths are, how to articulate them very clearly and know how to network."

The school's fall job fair in October included 150 employers, and so far, on-campus recruiting has held steady, Scholl-Fiedler said.

The spring career fair, which is traditionally smaller because a majority of recruiting takes place in the fall, brought almost 50 companies. Scholl-Fiedler noted that students are getting interviews and job offers, and on-campus interviews continue until April.

But the slumping economy is having an impact.

Scholl-Fiedler says recruiters are re-evaluating on-campus trips and hiring plans based on the companies' economic conditions, which can change day by day.

UMBC's career services also launched a weekly support-type group where students meet to share job leads and techniques such as how to use social networking tools for job searching. The group helps students stay motivated, Scholl-Fiedler said.

"We're encouraging them to be persistent and optimistic," she said.

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