New graduates can succeed in tough job market

AUBURN – With no previous experience, no savings account to dip into and college loans to pay off, a recession could not come at a worse time for students about to graduate from college. Auburn University’s Career Development Services office is using all its resources to help prepare Auburn students for the challenging task of finding a job.

“With the unemployment rate at 7.2 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates face the daunting task of entering a work force that is dwindling day by day,” said Nancy Bernard, director of Career Development Services at Auburn.

Job prospects for the class of 2009 are considerably below those for the previous five graduating classes, according to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Overall unemployment is at its highest level since 1992, and is likely to reach 8.5 percent in 2009, the study indicates.

To help Auburn students and alumni, the Career Development Services office provides extensive job-search assistance and, each semester, holds a two-day career fair that is divided between technical and non-technical career paths.

“The Engineering and Technical Career Expo has remained strong with several companies on a waiting list to participate this semester,” said Bernard. “However, the Business and Non-Technical Career Expo has felt the sting of a down economy.”

Last semester, 104 companies attended the career fair for business and non-technical majors. At this point, 58 companies are signed up to participate in this semester’s fair on Feb. 10.

“I have worked in this field for a long time and have experienced this type of decline in hiring several times over the past 28 years,” said Bernard. “We are coming off a very prosperous decade of more job opportunities than students available. During the past year this has shifted and employers are cutting back in the number of students they are hiring.”

Companies are still coming to campus to recruit Auburn graduates, according to Bernard, however, they don’t anticipate hiring as many, if any, new employees in the near future.

“We are seeing a kind of ‘wait-and-see attitude’ from the employers who traditionally hire a number of Auburn graduates,” said Bernard.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers study shows that students with majors in accounting, engineering and computer sciences will command the most attention in today’s job market. Also, elementary and secondary education and information technology are the best prospects for new graduates in the next few years. Healthcare positions, particularly in nursing, are also attractive options.

Job-search tips

Katie Mantooth, career counselor at Auburn, said graduates need to start their job search early, at least six to nine months prior to graduation, and take additional steps to stand out to potential employers. She gives the following job-search tips:

* Learn how to network;
* Learn about yourself, i.e., skills, abilities, knowledge, strengths, challenges and experiences;
* Learn to talk about yourself;
* Write a high quality résumé and cover letter tailored to the position;
* Research the company and position;
* Learn how to interview and then practice interviewing; and
* Have direction and be able to communicate it.

“While the dwindling job market might make some people feel a little nervous about their job security, it can cause soon-to-be graduates to feel hopeless,” said Holly Holman, student employment and internship manager with Career Development Services. “But there are lots of things students can do to make their job search more prosperous, even in a troubled economy.”

According to Holman, a primary step is to prepare a great résumé. Because it is often the first impression of a potential employee, a résumé should be well formatted and printed on quality paper made of at least 50 percent cotton. Career counselors at many colleges and universities, like those at Auburn, offer free résumé critiques.

If a cover letter is accompanying the résumé, Holman suggests taking the time to find to whom the letter should be specifically addressed, rather than starting with “to whom it may concern.”

While in college a student needs to start networking. According to Holman, most employers do not use job boards to mass market their available positions, so networking is the most likely way to get a job. She suggests keeping a list of contacts that could be helpful. This should include family, friends, advisors, professors, coworkers, supervisors and anyone else who could be beneficial in the future. Alumni clubs throughout the country can also be a great source for networking.

“Keeping in contact with your network is very important, and, with all the technology today, it’s never been easier to get in touch with someone,” said Holman.

While it can help to broaden your options during a downturn in the job market, the career counselors at Auburn suggest that students determine exactly the kind of job they want and what they need to get it.

“The résumé, cover letter and networking get you in the door. Being able to articulate who you are and what you want during an interview gets you the job,” said Mantooth.

A mock interview with a friend, or, even better, with a career counselor like those at Auburn, can help calm a student’s nerves when preparing for a job interview. Researching the company, the position and evaluating yourself prior to the interview can also help, Holman said.

The career counselors at Auburn suggest identifying and being able to articulate your personal strengths, weaknesses, skills and goals. Students often find it difficult to talk about their experiences and personality in an interview.

In order to alleviate this problem, Mantooth suggests taking a personality assessment and reviewing the results with a career counselor. Career Development Services offers assessments such as “TypeFocus,” which determines personality type and relates that to career choices, as well as “StrengthsQuest,” which identifies the student’s top five strengths out of a list of 34 qualities.

“Normally we recommend these tools to students trying to determine a major, but I have also found them to be very helpful for those in the job search process,” said Mantooth. “Because a personality assessment identifies something as a strength, it seems to make it easier for a student to discuss that quality during a job interview.”

Following an interview, it is also important to follow-up with those involved. Holman suggests sending a thank-you note to anyone who spent five minutes or more with you.

From classroom to boardroom

Career Development Services offers an annual series of seminars known as “The Next Big Game,” which helps Auburn students in the transition “from the classroom to the boardroom.” Guest speakers from various companies cover topics such as interviewing, networking, negotiating job offers and personal finances. This year’s series began on Jan. 29 and will culminate with an etiquette dinner on March 12.

In order to address students’ growing concerns about the economy, the counselors will also offer seminars called “Job Search 2009: Slice and Advice” that are tailored to each college. At these lunchtime workshops, students can enjoy a slice of pizza as career counselors discuss current employment trends in the industries related to each college, expanding options after graduation and even how students can avoid moving back in with their parents.

“We want to give students a real outlook of what’s going on in their prospective field,” Holman said. “Our goal is to calm some of the fear they have about entering the workforce during a recession.”

Career Development Services is located on Auburn’s campus at 303 Mary Martin Hall. The counselors are available for walk-in advising from noon-4 p.m. Monday-Friday or by appointment. For more information, call (334) 844-4744 or visit www.auburn.edu/career.

(Contributed by Lisa Marshall)

Contact: Nancy Bernard, (334) 844-4744 (bernanm@auburn.edu), or
Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)