Graduates in Northeast Facing Tough Job Search

FOR Harvard senior Andria Derstine, landing a job as a financial analyst about a month before her June graduation has been a big relief. Ms. Derstine, who began looking for a position last fall, says the region's economic downturn has made job-searching tough. "The economy has been so bad this year. The job market here has just tightened up," Derstine says. "I would say people are very anxious."

For graduating seniors all over the Northeast, including students at prestigious schools like Harvard University, the job outlook is far from rosy. According to a recent report by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the outlook in New England is the worst it has been since the early 1980s.

Job offers to graduating seniors at New England campuses decreased by about one-third and positions were offered late in the year, according to the report.

In some cases, recruiters visited campuses to maintain a presence rather than actually to hire new student graduates.

The recession is hitting the Northeast harder than any other area of the country, with unemployment reaching record levels. In Massachusetts, the unemployment rate climbed to 9.7 percent in March, the highest level in 15 years.

Although the rate has since dropped to 8.3 percent, job prospects for young college graduates don't look great, say economists.

Leda Haehnel of Norfolk, Mass., who just graduated from the University of Massachusetts (UMass), has been looking for a job since January. She majored in microbiology and would like to get a job in the biotechnology industry.

Although she has had a series of interviews and has sent out about 15 resumes, nothing serious has opened up. She is nevertheless optimistic about her prospects.

"There's a lot of pressure to find a job before graduation," she says. "But I'm confident that I'll find a job. I don't want to settle for just anything."

Officials at New England colleges are reporting a 20 percent decline in recruiting activity and fewer job offers than were available last year, according to the BLS report.

HE University of New Hampshire's career service office, for example, reports a 30 percent drop in the number of campus recruiters this year compared with two years ago.

Colby College of Waterville, Maine, reports a 40 percent drop in the number of visiting recruiters over last year.

"We dropped a little last year, but this year was a drastic drop," says James McIntyre, director of career services at Colby.

Some potential employers have been hurt more by the recession than others. New England high-tech firms, large retail establishments, and Northeastern banks are not recruiting as actively this year as in pre-recession years, say college placement officials.

"The so-called hot jobs with the investment banks on Wall Street ... these have been drastically cut," says Victor Lindquist, career placement director at Northwestern University in Evanston Illinois. "There are probably 50,000 fewer jobs in investment and commercial banking this year than a couple of years ago," says Mr. Lindquist, who publishes an annual report on national employment trends.

Other fields hold more promise. Students pursuing careers in health care, biotechnology, chemical engineering, and environmental engineering will have an easier time finding work, according to the BLS report. Some students just realize they need to look a little harder this year, say career planning officials.

"There are jobs out there. It just takes a little more work, a little more patience," says Mr. Leger of Boston University.

Kevin O'Connor of Medfield, Mass., a marketing major who just graduated from the UMass, is glad he found a job as a sales representative in the Boston area.

He says the recession has had a dramatic impact on his family: "My brother has been laid off. My mother might be laid off. And my father's business was lost."

In his own search for work, he figured he needed to put in a little more effort. "It was kind of like, 'Look, you know the odds are against you, so definitely try harder.' So you do," he says.

Some students are heading in new directions. Graduate school is becoming a popular option, say placement officials. Students are also turning to nonprofit agencies and doing volunteer work.

Joan Stoia, career placement director at UMass, says the recession has, in some ways, happened at a good time for students. Many young people were already getting turned off by the high-powered, highly competitive jobs popular during the 1980s, she says. "We had already begun to see students backing away from careers that were hard-driven, that didn't contribute anything to society. The young people had begun to question that in the late 1980s."

Ms. Stoia says she is seeing an increasing number of students showing interest in nonprofit work such as the Peace Corps and Teach For America, a teaching program for college graduates.

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