JETTA FRASER Enlarge
If hard times build character, the graduating class of 2009 is going to develop a mental makeup stronger than steel.
Experts say this year's college seniors are facing the worst entry-level job market since the dot-com bust of the late 1990s.
Employment opportunities are down 8 percent from last year for new college graduates, according to the 2008-09 recruiting trends survey by Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute.
On-campus recruiting is still occurring, but employers have shifted their focus away from job fairs and are expanding co-op programs and internships, the survey said.
"We had an education job fair on Friday, and we had 10 fewer employers than last year," said Beth Nicholson, director of career services for the University of Toledo.
Qualin Harris of Oberlin, Ohio, a communications major at UT who will graduate next week, may take an unpaid internship and move to Los Angeles to get started in the TV industry.
"I'm applying for internships first, and hopefully, if I get one, I'll work my butt off and get offered a job," he said.
"I've found that internships are easy to come by out there, but there's only one that is paying. All the rest are unpaid, or they set you up with room and board or something like that," he said.
Mr. Harris knows his plan is a gamble, but friends who graduated in December tried the traditional route: job fairs, resumes, and interviews - and found nothing. "I guess you try anything for a job right now," he said. "I've seen that their strategy isn't working."
Many colleges and universities have reported declines in on-campus recruiting of up to 50 percent, according to the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc.
Spring graduates are competing for jobs not only with their classmates nationally but also with young workers with two or three years of experience who have been recently laid off, retirees who have been forced to rejoin the work force, and stay-at-home moms who are going back to the work force out of economic necessity, said John Challenger, the firm's chief executive.
Worse, many companies that are hiring have put off start dates until later in the year - a problem for new graduates who will be required to start paying off student loans immediately.
Ms. Nicholson, of UT, said more employers are offering internships, but the work opportunities are unpaid jobs.
Seth Phillips, a UT sales and marketing major from St. Louisville, Ohio, went to job fairs, got interviews, and has landed some job offers.
But none is exactly what he wants, and employers with more promising opportunities have told him they won't do new hiring until October or November.
"I feel very confident that within the next month or two, something is going to come up," he said. "I'm really targeting sales. Sales people can do so many things, even if it's just paperwork or grunt work."
Mr. Phillips thinks he has developed his job offers because he's done a lot to make himself stand out - through campus organizations, clubs, and awards - and because he is targeting jobs that match his specific skills.
"I think you have to be the best of the best. Companies won't spend money on people who aren't qualified for the job they're seeking," he said. "Companies don't have the time or the opportunities to waste on someone who isn't going to work out."
According to PayScale, a compensation research data firm, this year's best career is audiologist, with a national median pay of $64,500 and a promising employment outlook.
The Michigan State survey indicates that business students are still the most sought graduates.
About 40 percent of 900 firms surveyed will hire graduates with business degrees. After that are engineering graduates, 36 percent; computer science 18, marketing, advertising, and communications 15, sciences 15, health and social sciences 9, liberal arts and humanities 6, and social science 5.
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