The coming spring could be uncharacteristically chilly--if you're a new college graduate.
Employment prospects are not encouraging. Modest improvements in the job market during the last two years won't nearly offset a decline of more than 30% between 1988 and 1993, says Patrick Scheetz, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University.
What's more, the efforts of college seniors seem "very laid back," says Scheetz, who talks to students in his other capacity as assistant director of placement services at Michigan State.
Seniors seem to think that they need to earn grades now and look for work later, or that, "The dear Lord will take care of me when graduation rolls around."
But Scheetz warns that seniors should be pursuing jobs now through networking, resumes, cover letters and interviews.
So what does it take to get that first post-graduation paycheck? Starting today, The Times will follow three Southern California students through their job searches to find out. We'll catch up with them in a couple of months and conclude when they graduate in the spring.
Name: Lance Ralls
Major: Mechanical Engineering
Leaving the large Placement and Career Planning Center at UCLA, Lance Ralls is upbeat.
"I'll be here all day tomorrow," he tells a receptionist. "I've got three interviews."
Ralls, who grew up in Chowchilla and is the son of a tire shop manager and a city clerk, says he is optimistic about getting a job: "It seems I could get at least a few offers in different fields."
He started his search early.
As a junior, he talked to seniors about their plans, attended career days and learned how to use the placement center.
"They installed a computer that does everything," he says. "If someone doesn't understand the procedure, it could cost them an interview."
The summer after his junior year, Ralls landed an engineering internship with a Pasadena firm.
This fall, he arranged for campus placement counselors to critique his resume and film him in a mock job interview. The first four weeks of the quarter, he spent more time at the placement center than on any class.
"You need to research the companies," he says. "They all have pamphlets and annual reports. The interviewer asks what do you know about us or like about us? You should ask questions. They want to see if you've spent time on them."
His 3.6 grade-point average in his major (3.3 overall) helped get Ralls about 15 interviews, which he attends in a new pin-striped dark suit and white shirt.
"When you go through interviews, you see that it's engineers and econ majors with lots of math and accounting (that) a lot of the jobs are targeted for," he says.
"My friends who are history, political science or sociology majors, unless they've had some accounting, are going to grad school or law school."
Interviews have also taught him about the quirkiness of the process.
"The interesting thing is that some time you could have an off day or you are not compatible with the interviewer. That can decide your future with the company.
"I've had some where it clicked and I had a great time. Another time I didn't click and you could tell it was over. You know your fate in about 10 minutes."
Because some interviews clicked, Ralls recently bought another suit because companies have invited him back for 10 second or third meetings.
"The fact that he's invited back on two-thirds of the first interviews suggests that he has what companies are looking for," says Bill Locklear, acting director of the placement center.
"I'd like to find a job that has a lot of diversity," Ralls says. "And a job where I can lead and still be a team player. And I'm looking for work with a client--people who are having a problem I can help solve."
He's applying for positions including engineering management, technical sales and training as a consultant.
"That's just to make sure I'm not flipping burgers next fall," he says, "even though I could probably figure the aerodynamics of the burgers as they flip."
Name: Matthew Glasser
School: Occidental College
Major: Public Policy
News reports told Matthew Glasser that the economy would not welcome new graduates.
His concerns about his future are magnified by Democratic losses in the Nov. 8 election. Glasser is seeking a job as a political or community organizer with "the progressive left."
"Not only are a lot of people I might have worked for no longer in office, but a lot of their staffs are looking for work," he says.
"It's disillusioning to recognize that it's going to be an uphill battle. We've been studying hard and honing our skills. Getting a job should be the easy part."
Nevertheless, his 3.65 grade-point average, work experience and contacts make the slender, soft-spoken former Calabasas High student optimistic.