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Starting the Job Hunt: Primer for Class of '87 : Students Must Start Planning Search Now

October 26, 1986|EILEEN HEYES | Eileen Heyes, a former Times copy editor, is a graduate student in economics.

College seniors have a job waiting for them--but it's not the kind where they'll have to punch a time clock.

The first task that looms for the Class of '87 is less structured and far more important: finding work.

"It always amazes me that some people who are looking for a job in which they will have to (be) very thoughtful and analytical and engage in a lot of planning strategy don't apply those same notions to the job search," said Charles W. Sundberg, director of UCLA's Placement and Career Planning Center.

Strategy is a recurring theme in advice from career counselors and college placement experts.

And the very first step, they agree, is self-assessment. This means figuring out what's important to you in a job--what you like doing, what you are good at and what skills you want to develop further.

In their 1984 book "Job Search Strategy for College Grads," Gretchen Thompson and Susan Bernard explain the process, stressing: "For those of you who don't know what occupation you're interested in pursuing, this step is essential." Sources of help in the search for self-knowledge include college career planning centers, career counselors, vocational testing (such as the Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory), career planning workshops and continuing education.

Next, the soon-to-be graduate needs to research jobs, firms and industries. The good news is that there are many, many sources of information on these; the bad news is that there are no shortcuts to digging it out.

The place to start, career counselors say, is the public or college library. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' "Occupational Outlook Handbook" and "Occupational Outlook for College Graduates" provide insights on job titles, education requirements, earnings and professional associations. Libraries carry directories with information on specific firms. Once a student has narrowed his scope, he can get annual reports directly from companies; these describe a firm's goals, financial condition and outlook.

Thompson, Bernard and others recommend following up with "informational interviews"--going to someone in a job that interests you and learning all you can about it from that person.

For resume writing, interviewing and other vital job-hunting skills, there exist myriad references, many of which are on hand in college placement offices and some of which are listed in Thompson and Bernard's book.

And the time to start thinking about it, counselors say, is immediately. Jack Zeran, associate director of the Career Development Center at Cal State Long Beach, has found that "some students don't understand the job search process."

"They expect magic to happen," Zeran said, "thinking that since they have a degree, they'll automatically get a job. That's not the way it works." In fact, said UCLA's Sundberg, it is even not one's major that determines how easy the job search will be.

"If I am a history major who is able to exhibit excellent communications skills, skills at analysis, and also exhibit a strong drive to succeed, I'll get a job just as soon as an engineer. . . . (Firms) don't hire just degrees. They hire talents."

A survey of 710 companies throughout the nation, conducted by Michigan State University Placement Services, expanded on this theme, identifying the things employers consider the most important predictors of job success.

According to the 15th annual Recruiting Trends study, released last December, employers look for "an ability to accept responsibility, communications abilities, maturity, motivational abilities, perseverance, speaking abilities, staying power and stability, organizational abilities when speaking, self-pride and neatness."

Another clue they look for, counselors say, is achievement--be it good grades, promotion to supervisory positions in summer or part-time jobs, or leadership in volunteer work or extracurricular pursuits.

As for the job market that will greet next spring's graduates, surveys find mixed signals.

The College Placement Council, a national organization of recruiters and placement officers, reports in its 1985-86 Salary Survey "a substantial drop in the number of job offers to bachelor's degree candidates" over the previous year. The council sees the dip as an omen of slower hiring. Starting salaries offered, however, were higher.

Michigan State's poll, on the other hand, found employers planning to hire slightly more graduates with bachelor's degrees than the year before.

(The College Placement Council survey is based primarily on information from large companies, while the Michigan State study includes data provided by firms of widely varying sizes.)

Some average monthly salary offers, by curriculum, in 1985-86, collected by the placement council:

Accounting $1,768

Marketing $1,606

Humanities $1,608

Social sciences $1,665

Electrical engineering $2,364

Mechanical engineering $2,322

Computer science $2,216

Except in the health fields and some engineering disciplines, women were generally offered lower salaries than men.

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