Graduates' Job Hunt Tougher as Economy Falters

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This year, the job market for graduating college students is tougher than it's been since the 2001 recession — especially in finance and manufacturing. Career counselors say the days when students got to juggle job offers are over.


And on Wednesdays, we talk about the workplace. Today, we head to the campus and graduating seniors heading into the workplace. Even when economic times are good, searching for a full-time job can be an ego-bruising experience. This year, the hunt promises to be tougher than usual, as NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.

JIM ZARROLI: Like any university, Rutgers in New Jersey tries to teach graduates the skills they need to navigate the job market. Today, Associate Director of Career Services Crystal McArthur is explaining to some public health students what not to wear on job interviews.

Ms. CRYSTAL MCARTHUR (Associate director, Career Services, Rutgers University): Tank tops, midriffs, and so forth. And also, some people like to have, you know, these unusual t-shirts with different sayings on them. Be very careful about what you wear.

ZARROLI: Most of the students grouped around a big table here are already well into their job searches.

Ms. CATALINA LAZATTO(ph) (Graduating student, Rutgers University): I'm just putting my resume out there and talking to other professors, whoever's looking, whoever has an opening position.

ZARROLI: Catalina Lazatto is about to graduate and has been offered a job, but it's a clerical position and she worries that with the economy slowing down, she won't find anything better.

Ms. LAZATTO: I am a little nervous, just because it's very competitive out there. I mean, I've done a lot of things - a lot of research projects I've done - I've had a couple of employers throughout my four years, and I think I have a pretty good resume. But regardless, it's very competitive.

ZARROLI: This year, her fears are warranted. A survey by Careerbuilder.com shows a big drop in the number of employers planning to hire recent college graduates.

Economist Ken Goldstein of the Conference Board says new graduates are likely to face a tougher time finding work this year.

Mr. KEN GOLDSTEIN (Economist, Conference Board): If they don't already have a job, and if they're a C average student as opposed to an A or B student, this is just a terribly, terribly difficult time to find a new job.

ZARROLI: The problem, Goldstein says, is that graduates aren't just competing with each other for jobs. They're also competing with more experienced people who get laid off as the job market weakens.

Companies are still coming to campuses like Rutgers to interview graduates. Betty Smith heads the campus recruiting effort at Hewlett Packard.

Ms. BETTY SMITH (Hewlett Packard): We're reviewing our openings very carefully, especially in light of this economy. But even with a down economy, a company, to be able to continue to grow, must continue to bring in new expertise and new people and new skill sets.

ZARROLI: But many other companies say they've scaled back their recruiting plans, especially in manufacturing and financial services.

Rutgers senior Paula Hernandez has an internship at a Fortune 500 company and expects to be hired there, but she's heard rumors that worry her.

Ms. PAULA HERNANDEZ (Senior, Rutgers University): I heard that there will be a global freeze within my own company in terms of hiring people, and I'm really scared because I'm graduating in May. And if this global freeze takes place now, like, it's done.

ZARROLI: For college seniors, the slow down in hiring has been unusually sudden. Andrea Koncz of the National Association of Colleges and Employers says just last year, a lot of graduates were juggling job offers and they could be choosy about what they took.

Ms. ANDREA KONCZ (National Association of Colleges and Employers): But at this point now, what we would say is pretty much take anything that you can get.

ZARROLI: Some economists say the suddenness of the downturn could be a reason for optimism. Employers are hiring less because they're worried about the turmoil in the credit markets. Once conditions begin to improve, the job market for college graduates could turn around just as quickly.

Jim Zarroli, NPR News.

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