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New College Grads More Prepared for Tight Job Market

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Aired 3/3/11

Unemployment is still at record-high levels for all workers. But young workers have experienced the highest unemployment rates. The outlook for college students graduating this spring may not be great, but it is improving.

— It’s hard to imagine anyone being eager to step into the jobs market these days. But the suited students with resumes in hand at the San Diego State Spring Career Fair don’t look timid. Students like computer science major Anand Bikkabilli seem poised for success. They have firm handshakes, look the recruiters at each table in the eye and have something positive to say in response to every question.

“These career fairs actually help me a lot," said Bikkabilli. "I get to meet a lot of people from various companies and they provide me with a lot of exposure, to just know how the market is, what they want.”

A few years ago Bikkabilli may have been almost guaranteed a job by graduation. But he’s aware that today, there is plenty of competition for the positions he’s interested in.

“I’ve been looking for about three months now. It’s okay, I’ve been getting a couple of calls a week," he said. "I’m making it to the interviews, but then – I don’t know. I have to recheck it or something, some things go wrong in the interview.”

Many of the students graduating this year are prepared for long job searches according to Dr. James Tarbox, director of Career Services for San Diego State.

“I don’t know if they’re more relaxed of if they’re just used to the fact that the economy is really, really tough," he said. "Spring ’09 to Spring ‘10, I saw a lot of real concern among the students and also discouragement. Spring ’10 to Spring ’11, I’m seeing more [resilience] among the students, it isn’t a new thing for them. They understand how much they have to prepare and a lot of them are really working with our office.”

Job prospects for graduating students are looking better this year. The National Association of Colleges and Employers reported that companies responding to their quarterly salary survey plan to hire 13.5 percent more new college graduates this spring.

Those same employers are offering higher starting salaries for the first time since 2008. The average salary offer for a new grad is about $50,000 this year, 3.5 percent higher than in 2010.

To land one of those jobs though, it’s more important than ever that students have application materials ready to go.

“If you’re not prepared when the offers come or when the employers show up, and they show up in a very just-in-time manner, you miss the boat,” Tarbox said.

At SDSU and other local campuses lots of graduating students are ready when employers show up.

“Some have the theory that during down times in the economy, rather than taking full advantage of the career services activities on campus, students will put their heads in the sand and think, ‘I’ll deal with this job market once I’ve graduated because it’s so hard out there,’" said Andrew Ceperley, director of Career Services for University of California, San Diego. "What we’re finding this year is students are actively engaged in career development activities. We have had incredible attendance at fairs, at employer mixers, at panel discussions, at lectures, at workshops.

The recognition that jobs aren’t easy to come by extends to younger students, too.

“We are seeing freshman now," said Linda Scales, director of the University of San Diego's career services office. "And that would have been unheard of five years ago. They didn’t expect to get internships. Now there are so many unpaid internships, they apply for them and get them. So, across the board, in all specialties – I talked to a nursing student, a teaching credential student, an undergraduate student today – and all of them are preparing months in advance of what we would have see a couple of years ago.”

But, the extra preparation doesn’t mean students are expecting to land the first job they apply for.

“They certainly realize that this is a serious situation ever since the crash and have been more actively attending employer presentations, presentations that we do for them... It’s scary out there. We started that workshop a couple of years ago and the attendance at that has increased four to five fold over the past two years, which tells us they are scared,” Scales said.

Back at the career fair, scared isn’t exactly the right word for Bikkabilli.

“I’m confident," he said. "I was never nervous about getting a job. It’s basically time – you never know when you'll get a call. At that moment, at that point you have to make the best of it and do what you can – that’s it.

With jobs coming back he sees landing the right one as a matter of being ready to go when opportunity knocks.

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