College seniors struggle with slumping job market, college get creative to help students

Monday, February 4th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SPRINGFIELD, Ohio (AP) _ Jodee Zalar has a 3.6 grade average at Wittenberg University, studied in England and has completed several internships.

She also is among thousands of concerned college seniors feeling the effects of a job market that has slumped with the economy. Zalar, 21, of the Cleveland suburb of Broadview Heights, said some prospective employers have accepted her resume and given her interviews _ but no job offers.

``It's turning out to be a lot more difficult than I anticipated,'' said Zalar, who expects to graduate with a degree in psychology. ``The biggest struggle right now is to stay positive and realize that I've done the best I could to become who I think I need to be as a marketable person.''

Companies expect to hire about 20 percent fewer new college graduates this year than last, according to a survey of 237 employers nationwide by the Bethlehem-Pa.-based National Association of Colleges and Employers. They are also cutting back on campus recruiting, which has left colleges looking for new ways to help graduates land jobs.

According to the survey, the fewest opportunities for graduates appear to be with communications companies, automotive and mechanical equipment manufacturers and financial-services firms.

The national unemployment rate for those between the ages of 20 and 24 was 9.6 percent in December, up from 6.9 percent the previous December.

``A lot of students are looking at the job market and thinking there's just no point,'' association spokesman Jerry Bohovich said. ``But there are still opportunities out there.''

Robert Candage, who graduated from Wittenberg last semester with a degree in management, is waiting tables while he job hunts. He said companies appear to be waiting out the recession.

``I'm going to have to do the same, just wait it out,'' said Candage, 22, of North Canton. ``Obviously, I'm disappointed that the job market isn't booming. But you have to play the hand you've been dealt.''

College officials nationwide are adjusting to cope with the tight job market:

_Wittenberg has persuaded employers who have canceled college visits to conduct mock interviews with students.

_Santa Clara University in northern California has begun ``resume audits'' in which student resumes are reviewed and improved by college officials to catch prospective employers' attention.

_Ohio State University's business college took students to New York to meet with investment banks and more trips are being considered.

_The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has begun holding ``Networking Nights,'' in which about 30 professionals in a specified field are invited to meet students.

_George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., uses newspapers to find companies that have been awarded contracts and calls them to ask about possible job openings.

_Walsh University in North Canton is luring recruiters to campus for ``TGI Friday'' job fairs with the promise of free food. The school waives its usual job-fair fee of up to $250 and holds a reception for recruiters.

_Cornell University in New York plans to have early 1990s graduates share with students how to find jobs during tough times.

Alex Ruiz, a 1990 Cornell graduate who now works for an Internet marketing company in New York City, is to be among them. After graduation, Ruiz took several temporary jobs before landing an investment banking position eight months later.

``That was more valuable than sitting on the sidelines and waiting for the perfect job to come up,'' Ruiz said.

Alice Tenney, director of placement services at Wittenberg, said although many recruiters have canceled campus visits, she has persuaded some to come for mock interviews to give seniors practice.

``This is not a year you can blow real interviews when you get them because there are not going to be as many of them,'' she said.

Andy Ceperley, director of the career center at Santa Clara, said today's job market is especially tough in nearby Silicon Valley.

``We have had to try to get a little more creative,'' he said. ``We're trying to ensure that our students' resumes are better than they have ever been.''