Spring Grads Gird for Tough Job Market

The class of '92 lowers its expectations as fewer recruiters come calling

FACING the bleakest job prospects since the dawn of the baby boom, college seniors are more likely to be pounding the pavement, resumes in hand, than partying at the beach this spring break.

And the sacrifice doesn't end there:

* Many students - even graduates from last year - are working for no pay in waiting games called "internships," hoping to get a foot in the door of their chosen field when the recession ends.

* As corporate recruiters cancel interviews on campuses, even the most prestigious universities are inviting for the first time temporary-job-agency recruiters to meet students, who are eager for even an hourly wage.

* Job-a-thons are peppering alumni with calls asking them to help students find jobs.

* Career-resource centers are offering confidence-building programs not just to demoralized students, but to parents who can't believe their child's expensive college degree is not a ticket to a job.

Layoffs, a preference for experienced employees, and fewer new jobs are contributing to the most serious decrease in hiring of college graduates since World War II, says Patrick Sheetz, who conducts an annual recruiting-trends survey for Michigan State University. The 1991-92 survey of 464 business, industry, and government employers found that they expect to reduce campus recruiting - traditionally the source of more than half of new hires - by 27 percent and reduce overall hiring by 10 percent.

This is the third successive year of double-digit reductions in hiring. The projected hirings this year represent a 30 percent drop from the number of actual hirings in 1989, says a similar industry survey by Northwestern University, the Lindquist-Endicott Report.

The statistics are borne out at jammed college career-resource centers, suddenly the place to be on campus.

The scene at The George Washington University's Career and Cooperative Education Center last week is a familiar one on campuses: Students in jeans and oversized sweaters fill one room, hunched over binders fluttering with well-thumbed job listings, while half a dozen more crowd into a job-hunting workshop next door. In the hall, others sit alert and suited up, nervously awaiting their moment with the job recruiters who are still coming to campus.

"March is the do-or-die month because students see that after midterms there's only one more month before graduation.... But they should have started [job searches] sooner," explains Marva Gumbs, the university's director of career services. Lower expectations

Senior English major Aline Jensen says she has nearly resigned herself to at least a year of working as a waitress by night and searching by day for a full-time public-relations job. Career indecision, she concedes, kept her from getting the early start on a resume that her "more together" friends got in preparation for spring-break job interviews.

Career planning and placement officials at campuses explain that students generally are lowering their expectations.

"Seven or eight years ago, we'd tell students to think about everything they could possibly want in a job and go for it," says Karen Knierim, associate director of career planning and placement at the University of Virginia. "But we're helping students recognize [that] because of the tightness of the market, their first job is not going to be their ultimate, dream job."

Indeed, Virginia was one school that invited temporary-agency recruiters to campus as corporate recruiters canceled visits. "That's something we never did before," Ms. Knierim says.

"Students are concerned, and parents are panicky, you might say," says Knierim, whose center began a newsletter this year for parents of fourth-year students. The publication explains how parents can help network back home for their children. Barbara Euresti, director of the University of Texas' liberal-arts placement center, tells of one May 1991 Texas graduate who, by last August, still hadn't found a job. She wanted Ms. Euresti to tell the student's disbelieving parents that she wasn't sloughing off i n her job search. A new toughness

The 1 million graduates coming off the college conveyor belt this summer will run smack into many of last year's graduates who are still searching for full-time professional work.

"Four years ago, I thought I'd have a job, a wife, and a white picket fence by now," says Clinton Pawlick, a 1991 honors graduate of the University of Texas, who began his job-hunting last spring. "Instead, I have 75 rejection letters on my desk," says the 22-year-old. He has a bachelor's degree in economics, a fiancee, and is working for no pay in a job he hopes will be his entree when the economy picks up.

Corporate job recruiters and college career counselors say that the recession is generally breeding a new toughness in young job hunters that they hope will stay.

"More kids are doing their homework, studying up on the company, asking excellent questions. They're more willing to take jobs in less desirable locations, and they're doing more internships," observes James Townsend, manager of university relations at Dow Chemical USA. The company usually gets 80 percent of its 400 to 500 new hires from campus recruiting. But new hires were slashed to 200 this year, and that quota was filled on the first round of interviews last fall, he says.

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