Colleges, students use new tactics to find jobs for graduates

It used to be college seniors would attend job fairs held on campus and walk away with multiple offers.

That’s no longer the case, as the nation struggles to come out of the recession. To attract employers and win jobs, colleges and soon-to-be graduates have taken a more aggressive approach this year.

Students learned how to network through workshops held on campus. They’ve settled for freelance work or internships instead of full-time jobs. They started their post-graduation job search during their junior – and sometimes sophomore – years.

“We all know there is a recession, but you still have to put yourself out there and go to every lunch or any other corporate event because you never know when that one connection can lead you to a job,” said Herman Riley, a graduating senior from Morehouse College.

Reaching out

College career centers placed recruiters in other parts of the country to connect with companies unfamiliar with their programs and students. They held recruiting activities to target certain industries. They used Web conferencing and other technology to reach companies that cut their travel budgets.

“In today’s economy we have to do more than just organize career fairs,” said Lynn Barrett, career services director at the Atlanta campus of the Savannah College of Art and Design. “It’s about keeping up good business relationships and making it easy for these companies to reach our students.”

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports companies expect to hire about 5 percent more college graduates this year. That's positive news considering last year's decline of about 22 percent.

Georgia's colleges report an increased demand for jobs in finance, engineering, technology and human resources.

"My general sense is we've bottomed out and we are beginning a slow upswing," said Scott Williams, executive director of the University of Georgia Career Center.

Williams noticed an uptick with this year's spring job fair. Typically about 30 fewer companies attend the spring job fair but 139 attended, compared with the 136 at the fall event. Those numbers are down from last year, when 211 companies attend the fall 2008 job fair and 146 attended last spring.

Changing times

Emory University officials said the number of companies attending job fairs remained nearly unchanged. What's changed are the positions they wanted to fill, said Britney Fields, associate director of Emory's Career Center. Companies recruiting full-time employees dropped by about 10 percent, while internship recruiting increased by about 25 percent, officials said.

Other colleges reported similar trends noting interns are cheaper than full-time employees. A strong pool of interns also provides recruiters with full-time candidates for when the economy recovers.

Craig Belinfanti graduated from Morehouse in December with a degree in sociology. He’s interned with a local executive search firm since October and enrolled in an MBA program after struggling to find full-time work.

“I was getting a lot of dead-ends,” he said. “I’m hoping a master’s will open doors for me and hopefully the job market will be better when I’m done with that degree.”

Companies in the areas of math, science, technology and engineering continue to hire, which gives students at Georgia Tech an advantage.

Still, the career center at Tech held virtual career fairs in November and February to reach employers who couldn't afford to travel to campus, and planned another for July. About 50 employers and 1,800 students participated in the February event, said Ralph Mobley, director of career services at Tech.

The center also organized a few virtual interviews for students and recently had 10 Web cams donated for future interview use.

"A lot of companies don't have the budgets to travel at this time," Mobley said. "This is a way for them to continue campus recruiting without having to leave the office. They save time, money and resources. It allows our students to still compete for their jobs."

Different approach

Tech isn't the only one taking new steps.

Emory offered workshops on how to network and held special sessions geared toward specific fields, such as green industries. The career center also tapped into its alumni to learn about opportunities, and held Emory Network Nights in Atlanta, New York and Washington, D.C., Fields said.

Over the past year, SCAD's career center placed a staff member in New York, Los Angeles and Colorado to reach out to businesses. Now more companies from those areas are posting job openings on the college’s career site and traveling to Georgia, Barrett said.

Morehouse saw more interest in its job fairs partly because of increased networking and an increased interest in diversity recruitment, said Kellye Blackburn Eccles, director of career planning and placement for non-business majors. When Morehouse held its first spring career fair in 2009, 55 employers attended. During the 2010 event in February, 93 employers showed up and some were turned away, she said.

Ahead of the game

Students said they are working harder -- and sooner -- to find jobs.

Jim Robinson, a senior at SCAD, began his job search last year. The fashion design major sent his resume and work to about 15 companies. He interned last summer and during the winter, and made the connections that helped him win a job with The Row.

“When you’re in college it’s always on your mind that you need to find a job, especially when you have friends who graduated who can’t find work,” Robinson said. “Finding a job while in college is like applying for college when you’re in high school. It’s something you have to start early on.”

Riley applied for a job with American Express only after a professor at Morehouse invited him to a luncheon with officials from the company. He was previously rejected for an internship there and wasn't planning to try them again. But he'll be working for them after graduation.

“Had she not invited me, I never would have applied for that job,” Riley said. “You have to be open to all possibilities because you never know what will lead to an opportunity.”

On the Job Hunt

While the job market for graduating seniors has improved, it's extremely competitive. Officials from college career centers across Georgia and other experts offer these tips:

  • Visit the career center on your campus. Get help with resumes, cover letters and review lists of job fairs and openings for full-time jobs and internships.
  • Take advantage of all networking opportunities. Attend conferences, luncheons and evening events designed for special companies or industries.
  • Set up a LinkedIn account to search job postings and find connections at companies. Be sure to use a professional e-mail address.
  • Reach out to alumni. Ask the college for a list of alumni at companies or fields you're interested in.
  • Follow-up with recruiters. Remember, just because a company rejected you once doesn't mean they'll turn you down again.

Who found work

The number of students finding full-time jobs after graduating college has decreased, according to national and local statistics. The number enrolling in graduate school has increased. Here are the percentage of graduates who are employed:

Year graduated ... University of Georgia ... Georgia Tech

2009 ... 57 percent ... 57 percent

2008 ... 64 percent ... 66 percent

2007 ... 67 percent ... 70 percent

2006 ... 66 percent ... 64 percent

2005 ... 68 percent ... 62 percent

Source: UGA, Georgia Tech career service officers

NOTE: Percentages are rounded. Tech's figures are for undergraduate students employed by graduation.