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A Lesson in Hire Education

For Class of 2001, looking for a job is hard work.

April 08, 2001|SARAH HALE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When UCLA senior Mark Leverette's job search began last October, he had dreams of using his business economics degree to land a job complete with a signing bonus and a padded benefits package.

Seven months later and still jobless, the 22-year-old Berkeley native says he'll settle for anything, including part-time work through a temporary employment agency.

"I don't have a 4.0 GPA next to my name, but I'm smart and not afraid to try new things," Leverette said. "I have a passion for business consulting, but at this point, that's not an option. I just want a job. I don't care where."

Leverette isn't the only college senior having trouble finding a job.

Thousands of students who expected multiple job offers have had to broaden their searches just to find one interested company. Recruitment on college campuses has dwindled, and employers are canceling interview sessions. Despite several years of economic growth and a low unemployment rate, seniors are facing a tougher job market than friends who graduated just a year ago.

"Last year, seniors could post their resumes on the Internet and then sit back and wait for the offers to roll in," said Jens Nilsson, a recruiting specialist at Management Recruiters International Inc. in Portland, Ore. "This year, they have to work harder. They can't be picky. Potential and talent aren't always enough."

But the situation is not nearly as bleak as it was during the recession of the early 1990s. After an increase in 1989, overall hiring fell nearly 30% until 1994, when a small gain was reported. Experts estimated last fall that overall hiring this year would increase by nearly 25%, similar to the steady growth companies have embraced over the last few years.

More recent projections say overall hiring will increase by only 18%, according to the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers. Economic woes have forced some companies to reconsider.

Although a hiring increase still is good news, experts are worried competition will be fierce. With company cutbacks putting thousands of experienced workers back in the job pool and older people postponing retirement until the stock market improves, graduates with little experience may be overlooked.

"The layoffs, cutbacks and stock market problems we've seen will hurt the seniors vying for top positions," said Camille Luckenbaugh, employment information manager with the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers.

"But times were worse 10 years ago. Graduates today can still find good jobs."

Luckenbaugh added that the slowing economy had caused some companies to change their hiring strategies. Some have implemented hiring freezes, others are hoping to hire experienced workers who can see the company through a rough period. College seniors should be concerned about where they'll fall, she said.

"Many companies can't afford to hire just anybody," Luckenbaugh said. "It's a misconception to assume that any warm body with a degree will get three or four job offers. That's not the case."

Rogelio Casas, a 21-year-old USC senior, is experiencing this firsthand.

A fine arts major and experienced graphic designer, Casas, of Los Angeles, said he's tired of handing out resumes, searching Internet job boards and calling companies to ask if they're hiring.

"I just want a job," he said. "I want the paperwork in hand."

Casas had an interview last week for a job designing toys at Mattel Inc. He's also pursued offers to assist artists on large projects. "I just don't want to end up selling art from the back of a van," he said.

The Importance

of Showing Up

Being aggressive in his search may be Casas' best bet. Although big-city universities aren't having trouble attracting corporate recruiters, some smaller and out-of-the-way campuses are.

More seniors are attending job fairs hosted by the UCLA Career Center, reports Kathy Sims, the center's director.

But even UCLA knows the importance of cracking down. There's a strict no-show policy for students who sign up for interviews with visiting companies. One no-show can result in the loss of career center privileges. Being late to an interview more than twice can have the same effect. "We have a lot of aggressive students," she said. "We can't afford to let wasted time go by."

Sims, who also works for the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers, said colleges that are miles from big cities are losing recruiters because of budget cutbacks. Seniors are forced to do all the work themselves, she said.

"It's healthy for seniors to ask themselves, 'Should I be nervous?' " Sims said. "They should be."

Students Confident

Despite Economic Woes

One of the reasons employers are approaching this year's graduating class with added caution is the threat of layoffs and future company problems.

"The early '90s taught us that you can't pick up and dispose of people just like that," said Christine O'Rourke, executive director of human resources for Indiana-based Koetter Woodworking Inc.

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