Grads seek an edge in job hunt

Experts tell job hunters to expect a six-month employment search in a tight economy.

Patricia Drey

Before she graduated, Melissa Armstrong had a job lined up in Oregon.

But after her AmeriCorps position fell through, the May 2003 graduate found herself back at her old job as a hotel receptionist.

Now, Armstrong is looking for a job that will pay her rent rather than something related to her American studies degree.

Most recent graduates Armstrong knows work outside their major fields.

“No one I know seems to be getting anywhere,” Armstrong said.

While competition in the job market has increased – companies added about 150,000 fewer jobs than economists expected – job hunters can improve their chances.

Job hunters should be specific about what they want to do and where they want to work, said

Jan Leach, president of Janus Recruiting in Winter Park, Fla.

If job hunters choose 10 places they want to work and do research to show potential employers they are interested in a company, the company is more likely to talk with them, she said.

To stand out from the rest of the applicants, Leach suggested working two weeks for free.

“If you work for two weeks for free, most would turn around and pay you,” Leach said. “The issue isn’t the money; the issue is the quality of the candidate.”

In a tight economy, being proactive becomes essential to job hunters, said Jan Cannon, author of “Finding a Job in a Slow Economy.”

“In the olden days, you could wait until the recruiters came on campus,” Cannon said. “I don’t think that’s really happening anymore.”

Posting a resume on a job-hunting Web site such as Yahoo! Inc.’s HotJobs or Monster.com and waiting for responses will not ensure a job, Cannon said. Rather, job hunters should talk with people who already have jobs in the field.

Talking with parents, friends, teachers and advisers and joining professional organizations can help people meet others in the field, said Gail Waller, assistant director of Institute of Technology career services.

Those looking for work should spend 65 percent of their job search time talking with people in the field, Waller said. Using the Internet for a job hunt is typically unsuccessful, she said.

Knowing someone in the field gave recent graduate Tricia Larson a place to start when she went job searching after graduating in May.

Larson called the company for which her cousin worked – a call that led to a job working with autistic children.

She attributes her job-hunting success to demand in child psychology, her major field of study, and to her work in related jobs throughout college.

From an employer’s perspective, gaining a broad range of experience in college improves job prospects, said Girish Ballolla, college relations specialist for St. Paul-based Ecolab.

“In comparing student resumes, when you see people who are involved on campus it clearly sets them apart,” he said.

Besides improving one’s resume, working or holding internships during college can help build relationships with people in the field.

Students can also build relationships with future employers during school through informational interviewing, said Sara Nagel Newberg, director of career services in the College of Agricultural, Food and Environmental Sciences.

Informational interviewing involves asking people in the field about their jobs to help students make decisions about jobs they will seek, Newberg said. It is also builds contacts for students to call for advice when they are ready to find a job.

Typically, students are told to plan for a six-month job search in a tight economy, Newberg said.

Rodney Kohout, who graduated with a computer science degree from the University’s Morris campus in December, said his job-searching experience has been difficult so far.

“It’s a really tight market; nobody’s hiring,” he said. “It’s really frustrating.”

Newberg warns students they are going to have to be persistent in the current market, but there are always jobs out there.

“There are people who quit, retire, get pregnant, go on leave, get sick,” she said. “I always tell students to hope for the best and plan for the worst. In this kind of economy that’s what you have to do.”

– Dan Haugen contributed to this report.