This year's graduating college seniors are finding a changed landscape from a year ago, when their predecessors were able to pick from multiple job offers, command bonuses and perks, and generally enter the work world at their leisure.
But with the recent downturn in the U.S. economy, some 2001 graduates are learning that employers are no longer fighting for their services, are less willing to wait for them to accept an offer, and are not inclined to sweeten offers with perks and bonuses.
``I talked to some companies at a job fair, but a lot of places won't actually know what their needs are until about a month or so,'' said Doug Mallette, a University of Toledo senior from Cincinnati who is nearing a degree in information systems.
``I've got friends in the same boat. I've had a couple of interviews, but I expected more than that by now.''
Said UT senior Chad Shawler, who is from the Dayton area: ``It seems to be pretty slow. I don't know if it's just this area or what. I think with all the cutbacks you see going on with companies that there are just more people flooding the market looking for jobs.''
Mr. Shawler said he began his job search intending to stay in the Ohio-Michigan area, but, he said, ``but I'm pretty much going national now with my search.''
Both students said their friends who graduated last year got several job offers and some received bonuses. The two men said recruiters this year say only that they are hiring but won't talk about specifics like perks or bonuses.
Students ``were in the driver's seat last year,'' said Elizabeth Polak, a college recruiter for Toledo's Owens Corning. But this year, she added, ``They're having to hustle a little bit more instead of taking a backseat and letting the employers come to them.''
Terribeth Gordon-Moore, assistant dean at UT's college of business, said it is not like college seniors won't get job offers, but they will get fewer than their predecessors had the last three years.
``Last year, the students could say, `Oh, I'm not going to go to this interview because another one will come along,'” she said. “I don't think that's quite the market now, but the opportunities are there.''
Many in this year's graduating class seem to realize the situation has changed, she added.
``In the fall there was a little bit of a laid-back attitude on the part of the students. But I'm not seeing that now.”
But Bobbi Johnson, a recruiter for Eaton Corp.'s Aeroquip Group in Maumee, said many college seniors do not realize the extent of the change. Some still have high expectations and demands, she added.
``They ask for a lot more than what kids did five years ago,” she said. “They ask about bonuses and perks, like `What color laptop can I choose from?' and `Am I am going to get a bonus?'''
This year's graduates nationally can expect a moderate to strong labor market, with employers hiring 6 to 10 percent more than last year. However, this is a smaller increase than last year's growth over 1999, according to Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.
The reduction in hiring plans for graduates was swift, occurring in the fall, when one survey found about half of employers surveyed trimmed their college hiring plans, said Mimi Collins, a spokesman with the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Some employers, though, said they planned to stick by early plans of solid hiring, she added.
The job picture for this year's college graduates, said Philip Gardner, the Michigan State institute researcher, ``is not desperate or bad, but it has slowed down.'' Many companies that were hiring in the fall have scaled back, he added.
Students who haven't looked for a job yet are likely to have difficulty finding one, he said. The drop in the stock market has seriously altered the plans of many workers nearing retirement and prevented some from leaving the work force and creating more openings, he said.
Mike Kretz, of Perrysburg, a senior at Centre College in Kentucky, is among those who will wait until graduation in June to start job hunting. He knows that waiting is a gamble, but he hopes to land an entry-level management job in the Portland, Ore., area.
But, he said, “I have interned with two different companies in Toledo. I feel pretty confident I could get in there full time if need be.”
The biggest amount of hiring will be in retail, financial services, and the food and lodging sectors, said Dr. Gardner. Skills replacement is still going on,” he explained, particularly of people with good computer skills. Some firms laying off workers also are hiring.
Demand is high for teachers, in technical fields like engineering and in computer information systems - the field in which both Mr. Shawler and Mr. Mallette hope to land jobs.
The hot fields of the last three years - graphic design and web page design - will offer only limited hiring because of the demise of many dot-com firms, Dr. Gardner added.
Still, job fairs have thrived for college students. A February event at UT attracted 500 students and 38 companies. A recent job fair at BGSU attracted 1,100 students.
Undergraduate chemical engineers and computer programmers can expect top salaries of $48,600 and $49,600, respectively. In general, undergraduates with science degrees are faring best with a 12 percent jump in salaries from last year, with a range up to $39,500. Undergrads with business degrees should find a 9 percent jump in salaries that range up to $32,900.
Overall, salaries are expected to increase from last year by 4 percent and range from $28,500 to $32,300 for undergraduates, the Michigan State report said. However, those with liberal arts degrees and computer engineering degrees are faring the worst, with offers up just 1 percent.
``It's still better than four or five years ago. There are still good jobs for graduates and we still have quality Fortune 500 companies come in,'' said Dennis Hefner, assistant director of career services at Bowling Green State University.
The reaction by students is they have had to become more proactive and sell themselves a little more, he said. ``It's not enough to stand on credentials alone. Performance does matter now.''