Indianapolis - "Raise your hand if you have a job."
The question, posed at 32 Butler University female graduates in the class of 2009, was easy. These were some of the most involved women on campus. Most had held leadership positions in various organizations throughout their four years, all the while maintaining exceptional GPAs.
Only three of them raised their hands, two of them having found jobs after successful senior year internships. While at least ten of them plan to attend some form of post-graduate school, the remaining women plan to continue job searching in a market that is bleak for college graduates, many of whom are ending their four years of hard work with student loans to pay back.
The scenario is not surprising in light of a recent survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers stating that only 20 percent of 2009 graduates that had applied for jobs actually had one. Compare that with 26 percent in 2008, and over 50 percent in 2007.
As incoming college senior classes embark in the coming weeks on their journey to graduation in 2010, the job market is a much more frightening place than it has been in recent years. Butler University Internship and Career Services Director Gary Beaulieu said that in the past, it has taken students an average of six to nine months after graduation to find employment. Now, that time frame is a bit longer.
"We're telling them now to plan on 9-12 months of making contacts and getting resumes out," he said. "Students really have to start early. There is a lot of competition out there and a lot of college students coming out at the same time."
But while the economy will be tough, economics professor Bill Rieber said that, with hopes that the recession is over by spring 2010, unemployment will begin to fall.
"Normally, unemployment only falls months after the recession ends because most businesses want to be sure the economy has turned around," he said. "Once they're confident, they'll begin to hire more."
Don't plan on not having plans
While the NACE survey found that fewer 2009 graduates had actually succumbed to the job hunt than previous graduating classes, Rieber said students should plan on doing just the opposite in a tough economy and job market.
"They should be planning that much harder," he said. "They can find jobs if they give it some time, but it takes more effort and more perseverance. Whatever they can do, they need to do more of it."
Beaulieu agrees. "It may not be the job that they had expected or the job that they had hoped for making $50,000, but it might be the job that starts them on that path," he said, adding that the most common fields students are finding jobs in are still pharmacy, health care and accounting, but that anthropology and psychology majors are doing quite well also.
NACE reports that of those 2009 graduates who have landed jobs, many of them have seen minimal or no decreases in average pay for majors all across the board.
'The real world' vs. continuing studies
But while many students have difficulty finding a job, others simply put it on hold. Beaulieu said an increasing number of students are looking at post-graduate internship opportunities to tide them over or help get their foot in the door of a company they would like to work for.
Students are also beginning to see continuing studies as a way to guarantee better job placement after graduation in a job market full of competition, but Beaulieu said this is not the case for every major.
"There has to be a goal behind going to law school or grad school," he said. "If more education is going to help you in the long run, then go for more education. But make sure it's for a good reason."
For many advanced education institutions, students fresh out of undergraduate school are not necessarily what they're looking for. Experts are saying that the time to continue studies is when the economy and job market is bad, but many law schools are admitting higher percentages of students who have had at least two years of work experience, such as Northwestern, Indiana and Vanderbilt.
"It's about getting yourself out there"
No matter where students are headed, Beaulieu said there is one practice all students should become familiar with.
"The number one thing that students need to do is network their brains out," he said. "In a tough job market, networking is truly how people are finding jobs. It's about getting yourself out there and meeting people."
But Beaulieu also suggests that all students in every major get involved in LinkedIn, a social networking site as easy as Facebook. Increasingly, employers are posting jobs on the networking site to avoid paying the fees required by similar sites like Monster.com or CareerBuilder.com. Employers are even tweeting job offers on Twitter, the global online phenomenon that is essentially a constant status update.
While NACE reports that social networking sites as recruiting tools have had a relatively slow acceptance with employers and are not yet considered extremely effective, getting connected is still one of those small ways seniors can prepare for the 2010 job market.
"Keep options open," Rieber said. "There's no need to rush."