As college students prepare to return to classes this fall, those who just graduated are adjusting to life in the real world. Many of them began preparing for that adjustment years before graduation. Colleges offer resources to help students navigate their way through an increasingly competitive and challenging job market.
The good news for the class of 2005 is that 75% of them will be hired within 6 months of graduation.
"This year the market looks better than the last 4 or 5 years," says Andrea Koncz who works with the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a non-profit group that serves as a bridge between campus and workplace. She says their employer members are looking for new hires who have majored in specific fields and that a number of fields are in demand.
"Accounting tops the list," she says. "The engineering degrees are also in demand, electrical and mechanical. Also, computer and chemical engineering, then economics, finance, business administration, and marketing graduates. They are also demanding computer science and information science graduates."
Colleges play a key role not only in preparing students academically, but also in helping them meet the practical criteria for employment. College students often start job-hunting as soon as they arrive on campus, according to Marva Gumbs Jenning, who runs the Career Center at George Washington University.
"When the students enter college," she says, "they would come through my office to work on what we call job search preparation materials: resume, cover letters, interviewing. They'd also meet individually with a career consultant to talk about what they like to gain as experience or what skills they'd like to build."
Networking is another important career tool. Ms. Jenning says George Washington University offers networking workshops and receptions to help students connect with someone -- a friend, a relative, a friend of a friend, an alumnus -- anyone who can help them get an internship or a job.
"The students can meet and talk with alumni in respective fields," she says. "We have quite a number of alumni who come back to meet with students. We have quite a few of them that said to us, 'That's such a good program. I wish that was in place when I was in school.' So, in a reception space, we may have signs that indicate that alumni are in a particular field, in the finance area, in media, public relation, in writing, in public service. The alumni in those fields congregate [around] those signs and that way, students can easily find them."
Other schools offer other networking opportunities. Kansas State University has an on-line mentoring network, as Kerri Day Keller, of the school's Career and Employment Services, explains. "It is a listing of alumni who have said that they are willing to provide career advice or job networking assistance to our students," she says. "They cover a wide range of career fields and are alumni in many different locations throughout the U.S. Students can access that information through an on-line website that we have. They can contact those alumni by e-mail or by phone or written correspondence, and network with them for job leads or just to gain career advice about what their experience has been as a graduate in a similar kind of field with similar kinds of interest."
One piece of advice students hear often from their career advisors is to explore job opportunities while still in college… through part time jobs, volunteer work, or summer internships. Smita Ruzicka, a career counselor at the University of Texas, says summer internships, in particular, have moved from resume enhancer to resume necessity. She notes that employers increasingly expect graduates to have more than just a degree. "That's an important part," she says, "but I think they're also looking for people who have some professional experience. They're looking for a lot of general skills."
And, says George Washington University's Marva Gumbs Jenning, they're looking for graduates who have been leaders, who have worked in the community, who have done any type of job that demonstrates their ability to work hard and succeed. "What we've discovered from employers is that if they're looking at a number of skills," she says, "it's the ability to communicate well, it's the ability to work well with and be part of a team, also the ability to handle projects individually, so you have to be adaptable enough to go back and forth. If you have a foreign language, it's also helpful. If you have a comfort level with different kinds of technology, that is also helpful. Those are what we call the softer skills because employers discovered that if they have candidates that come with these types of skills, they can actually train in terms of hard-core organization focus skills."
The job market has become more accessible with on-line postings of job announcements and opportunities. However, as more qualified candidates apply for the same jobs, the market has become even more competitive. College career counselors agree the job hunt can be shorter and more successful if students explore the real world early on, and develop the skills that make employers want to hire them.