Seniors job search in hiring decline

| 12/3/08 4:02am
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Student seek information on employment opportunities at a career fair at the College earlier in the term, despite recent reports that anticipate a significant decrease in hiring.
by Sophie Novack / The Dartmouth

Larger companies will see the sharpest declines, reducing their employment forecasts by 9 percent. Some government employers reported hiring declines as drastic as 15 percent, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. Small businesses, as well as firms in science, technology and computing industries, are expected to weather the downturn and modestly increase hiring.

The hiring market will be kept afloat by global competition among large companies and the widespread retirement of baby boomers, the report found, as companies continue to compete for the best talent from colleges and universities and fill positions left vacant by departing employees.

Because of these conditions, Dartmouth students are finding themselves in a "wait-and-see mode," according to Monica Wilson, associate director of employer relations at Career Services. Students have become more conservative in seeking job opportunities and are concerned with the details of the offers that companies ultimately make, she said.

"The types of questions we're getting are more geared toward internships than entry-level," Wilson said. "Some are asking, 'Is it okay to take the time [to compare offers] in this kind of environment?'"

The report noted that companies are growing more hesitant, often offering students internships rather than full-time positions, according to the Chronicle. In many cases, companies are using internships as a recruiting tool in order to position promising interns for full-time employment.

Wilson said that although she has not noticed a major shift towards internships, she believes it is a "smart strategy for employers" that allows them to test out potential employees.

College students at some institutions are also more reluctant to approach career services offices while seeking jobs, most likely out of concern that no jobs will be available, the Chronicle reported. Wilson said she has found the same trend in her conversations with career services officials at other schools, adding that Dartmouth Career Services has noticed a decline in students seeking one-on-one consultations about their job searches.

"It's clear that now is really the time to develop a customized strategy for those who are still looking," she said. "We're still serving students to a great degree. I think students can get more assistance if they come in for one-on-one appointments."

Students are, however, becoming more flexible in the job options they consider, Wilson said. In addition to considering various offers, students are also less concerned about geographical placement.

"My sense is that students are more flexible in considering various locations," she said. "I think it's just natural that, when the job market tightens, people are willing to look at other locations."

The MSU report comes on the heels of another survey of student employment by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which found that most employers described the job market as "good" or "very good" for college graduates and only predicted a mild contraction in hiring, according to Workforce Management magazine.

While the NACE survey only covered employer expectations through August, the group's more recent inquiries were conducted amid the worst months of economic unrest, Workforce Management reported. The update found that, despite next year's hiring reversal, there remain reasons to expect that the job market will bounce back in 2010.

The NACE report also painted a different picture of the market for job offerings in the federal government, which are expected to increase by 19 percent, according to the Washington Post, and not decrease as the MSU study predicts.

"All I've heard is that [government employment] is on the increase, actually," Kathryn Doughty, associate director of Career Services, said. "I think there are going to be more students looking at the government as having more opportunities and having more security."

Doughty said that, while some branches of the government could decrease hiring, many have actively sought graduating seniors to fill their needs, particularly the State Department, the Government Accountability Office and the Department of Justice.

"We had a number of government departments participating in the employer fair," she said. "I know the demand is there. I think [students] just haven't necessarily thought outside of what they hear, what the buzz is on campus."

Wilson said that Career Services sometimes has difficulty tracking jobs in federal offices because the government tends to accept applications and hire students directly, rather than going through college offices.

"I think interest in government and public policy at Dartmouth has always been relatively high, and remains so," Wilson said. "Many of the government agencies were estimating hires based on natural attrition. Given what is happening with the baby boomers' retirement accounts, they may have decided to put off retirement."