New College Grads Face Competitive, Lengthy Job Searches

Ryan Fitzpatrick (left) graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in Finance in May. | Photo Courtesy of Ryan Fitzpatrick
Ryan Fitzpatrick (left) graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in Finance in May. | Photo Courtesy of Ryan Fitzpatrick

Ryan Fitzpatrick didn’t take the easiest path in planning his post-graduate life. As a senior majoring in finance at the University of Missouri-Columbia, he started his job search in January by going to career fairs on campus but didn’t find any of the companies recruiting at MU to be a match. “A lot of companies recruiting at Mizzou are huge corporations, so it’s hard to get a big role in one of those,” Fitzpatrick said. “Plus, most of those companies were looking for graduates to come to St. Louis, and I was looking to go more to the Kansas City side.”

Not having any luck with MU resources, Fitzpatrick turned to a neighbor who works for a staffing company just a week before graduation. There, he found spark of hope. He says he now has a promising prospect in Overland Park, Kan.-based Shaner Appraisals. Fitzpatrick is especially attracted to Shaner because it’s a smaller company with less than 50 employees, the sort of small firm he’s wanted all along.

But Fitzpatrick isn’t oblivious to what he could have done differently. “I really should’ve started looking earlier,” he said. “There were plenty of opportunities if you went after them.”

The search takes time

Jack Hunter, director of Missouri State University’s career center, agrees on the importance of starting a job search early. “A lot has changed in the jobs market from a few years ago,” he said. “We used to say that it takes 90 days to find a job, but now it can be 180; it takes more of a commitment from a student.”

Jack Hunter | Photo from
Jack Hunter | Photo from

He said students that start their search early and communicate effectively with employers through their resumés and in interviews are getting jobs much easier than their procrastinating counterparts.

At graduation, 52 percent of MSU’s class of 2013 reported having firm post-graduation plans, with 32 percent accepting full-time jobs and 20 percent going on to graduate school. Hunter said that by 180 days after graduation, the number of MSU students with full-time jobs should climb from 32 percent to 70 percent.

Laura Peiter, career services assistant at MU, echoes Hunter’s sentiments about getting a head start. “Someone who is proactive in their job search has a better expectation of success,” she said. Peiter also said that with more students starting earlier, the mood of students towards graduation has improved in her office.”There’s a lot more feelings of ‘I think I’m going to find something,’ ” she said. “It doesn’t have that feeling of dread as much anymore with employers again becoming interested in filling their entry-level jobs with eager college students.”

Companies come back to campus

For Clayton-based Enterprise Holdings, the parent company of the eponymous car rental giant and one of the nation’s top hirer’s of college graduates for entry-level jobs, hiring of graduates is on the rise.

The company, which hires on 800 campuses across the country, saw the number of new participants in its entry-level management training program level off from 2008-2010. But Enterprise has since seen an increase of more than 1,000 hires in the last year, which company spokeswoman Lisa Martini attributed to increased interest from graduates. “Where in the last couple of years we’ve seen lower turnout at career fairs and people deciding to stay in school, now we’re seeing a lot more positivity and interest,” she said. “Not only are we seeing more turnout, but they’re more competitive and really stepping up their game in the job search.”

Karl Aldrich, assistant director of career services at Saint Louis University, said companies lacking the resources of giants like Enterprise that avoided college campuses for a few years are surging back as well. “This past year we’ve had a significant increase in involvement rate and campus presence from employers,” he said. In the past few years career fairs were less populated than before the recession, Aldrich said, but SLU’s two career fairs this year had 125 employers attending, which is the capacity for the events.

STEM students find success

Students graduate from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in December 2012. At S&T, 82 percent of 2012 graduates had firm plans at graduation. | Photo Courtesy of the Missouri University of Science and Technology
Students graduate from the Missouri University of Science and Technology in December 2012. At S&T, 82 percent of 2012 graduates had firm plans at graduation. | Photo Courtesy of the Missouri University of Science and Technology

Like starting early and attending career fairs, having a degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field gives grads a big leg up. Tiancheng Zhuang, who graduated from MU in December 2011 with a degree in computer science, did only one interview before landing a job at Kansas City-based Cerner, a company he’d learned about at an on-campus career fair.

Other STEM students at Missouri universities have also had success finding jobs out of school. Of the 192 MU engineering students that responded to a survey of students graduating in fall 2011 or spring and summer 2012, 77 percent were employed and another 20 percent were pursuing further education within six months. Only nursing had a higher percentage of graduates employed, at 81 percent. Engineering graduates had the highest average full-time annual salary, at $57,100.

At the Missouri University of Science and Technology, 82 percent of the class of 2012 had firm plans at graduation, including 57 percent being hired into full-time positions in their major, according to Dr. Edna Grover-Bisker, director of S&T’s career center. Aside from a recession-induced dip in 2009, she said, S&T’s graduates have seen a welcoming environment for their skill sets. Grover-Bisker said that last year S&T’s students were recruited by 872 employers who conducted 4,043 interviews on campus — up from 2,710 in the spring of 2009 — and posted 1,730 job opportunities, many of which had multiple openings.

“The growth in those numbers over the past years is a good barometer for Rolla grads’ job market because it shows that companies not only had jobs available but that they came to campus to recruit the students as well,” Grover-Bisker said.

But having a STEM degree doesn’t render the right approach to the job search unnecessary. Zhuang said many of his friends who were also software engineers applied for the same position he did at Cerner but didn’t get the job. “I think I did really well in the interview and maybe they didn’t do as well,” Zhuang said.

The intern advantage

There is only so much that a graduate can articulate in an interview. Companies want new hires to perform at the highest level possible, and the best way for a student to show skills to an employer is to work for them.

SLU’s Aldrich said that he has seen internship opportunities increase since the recession as companies try to gauge whether a student will be a productive employee after graduation. “They already know what you can do,” he said, “and can tell other employers what you can do as well.”

Plus, if interns are hired full-time by the same company, they’ve presumably already finished some of their training and are able to get to work sooner. At Enterprise, 1,600 interns work through a summer program that mirrors management training, and 50 percent of them come back as full-time employees after graduation.

Employment favors the bold

Fitzpatrick may land his ideal job without following the career center guidelines, but that would make him an exception in today’s job market. Companies are hiring, but competition among graduates is fierce for desired jobs.

“The good students who are aggressive in their job search and communicate effectively in the interview and on paper are getting the jobs they want,” MSU’s Hunter said. “But the students who are not as on top of things as others are going to take longer to find employment and may have to settle on something they don’t necessarily want.”

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