Tough Job Hunting For Graduates

December 9, 2002
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EAST LANSING — Though the nation’s economic hemorrhaging has stopped, the Michigan State University Collegiate Employment Research Institute says job hunting is going to remain difficult for a time, especially in larger firms.

And having one’s MBA will help in some connections but may be a possible handicap in others.

But Phil Gardner, the institute’s director, says new graduates can land the perfect job if, first, they can succeed in locating it and, second, can show prospective employees they have the training —plus what he termed a genuine passion for the position.

Those conclusions, he said, are based on contacts with 375 firms.

The contacts constitute the backbone of the institute’s annual recruiting trends survey. This is the 32nd consecutive year in which the institute has conducted the survey.

“The jobs are out there,” Gardner said, “but they will be hard to find.”

While landing jobs will be a challenge, he said doing so will be more difficult in larger firms, which the institute defines as having a payroll of 301 to 1,600 people.

“While they (larger firms) will increase overall hiring by 3 percent, they will actually reduce hiring of bachelor’s degree recipients by 4 percent and those with master’s degrees by 17 percent.

“The largest firms,” he added, “will continue to contract, decreasing 9 percent.”

Gardner said the survey disclosed that thanks to hiring by small employers — companies with 300 or fewer workers — “the dramatic decline in employment opportunities in the last 18 months has been stemmed.”

He said 36 percent of the survey’s responding firms have set firm hiring targets for 2002-2003 as opposed to 10 percent who don’t plan to hire.

Gardner reported that the survey also disclosed that employers with definite plans to hire will improve the market by 6 percent.

He said it also indicated that employers with only preliminary hiring plans or who are uncertain about hiring will reduce their hiring by 14 to 21 percent.

“Graduates are going to have to research companies well,” he said, “and show employers how they can contribute to the firm and how they are the perfect fit.”

He said such research by job candidates means learning the target firm inside and out before sending in a resume.

He indicated it is important for the graduate to determine exactly what job he or she wants and, further, to identify who actually would make the decision regarding filling the slot.

He said it is paramount, however, to learn what role the target job plays in the company’s operation.

“To find the perfect job,” he added, “college graduates are going to have to show they have an understanding of the mission and purpose of the company.”

He said employers are still looking for graduates who have what he termed “the total package.” By that he said he means verbal and written communication skills, leadership and teamwork, and computer skills.

“But also key to the package this year,” he added, “is an emphasis on ethics and integrity in job candidates.

“As the labor market opens up,” he added, “new graduates are going to be finding themselves in competition with their peers of the last two or three years.”

Turning to types of jobs, Gardner said, “Engineering and computer science majors will see job opportunities contract, but graduates in other majors — including business and the liberal arts — will see a brighter year.

“Economic sectors expecting to increase their hiring include construction, retail, transportation — except airlines — food and lodging, and health services,” Gardner said.

He said salaries are “bouncing around, but for the most part are up slightly.”

“Many companies and employers are still playing a waiting game before hiring, trying to see how the economy will play out, and aren’t going to set figures until they have dealt with their internal restructuring.

“We can probably expect a range of 2 to 4 percent in terms of salary growth, which is consistent with inflation.

He said the sluggishness in the economy can be attributed to a number of factors: global instability, health care issues, the lack of consumer confidence and very few incentives to stimulate the economy.

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