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Economic crisis impacts student job search

Robert Singer | Thursday, April 16, 2009

About 24 percent of Notre Dame graduates will still be seeking employment following the ceremony in May – doubling the 12 percent of the class of 2008 who were in limbo after graduation – according to an estimate made by Career Center Director Lee Svete.

When the economy is growing, a typical Notre Dame senior could expect a job offer after interviewing with six to eight companies, but in the current downturn, that number might be 15 to 20, Svete said. However, this number will probably become more favorable as graduation approaches, as other job candidates give up and companies can more easily identify their needs with a closer start date.

Svete mentioned two reasons for why companies are cutting back.

“They’ve lost revenue and as a result their budget has been decreased,” Svete said. “There’s been very little attrition at companies. Senior employees are deciding to stick around at their jobs, causing a chain reaction.”

After the financial crisis devastated retirement accounts, many older employees decided to postpone retirement, taking away positions from college graduates – sometimes multiple positions, as their salaries can triple those for entry level positions.

This trend did not keep senior Zach Mady from securing an engineering position with Lockheed Martin in November 2008.

“The engineering market is dominated by older generations of people,” Mady said “There are a larger number of people retiring in the field than ever before.”

But even as the banking, consulting, architecture, accounting, real estate and retail sectors are shrinking, other industries are expanding, according to Svete. He attributed some of this expansion to the effects of the stimulus package.

Svete said the stimulus is already having an impact, especially in “infrastructure.”

“The federal government is hiring – civil engineers, social services, and health care,” Svete said.

Other fields that have shown promise for graduating seniors despite the recession are green energy, computer technology, software development, biotechnology and engineering firms with defense contracts, Svete said.

“I interviewed with Lockheed Martin for a summer internship two years ago,” Mady said. “They liked my work that summer so they retained me for another summer and again I did a serviceable job. So, I actually applied before the summer was over. I had an offer in November and was secure in my job.”

Green energy will be a booming field due to the stimulus, but students must be “geographically diverse” when it comes to considering their career options, Svete said, referencing a large solar panel manufacturing plant in Arizona.

The alternative energy industry isn’t the only “alternative” career path that has grown this year for seniors. According to Svete, the number of students who complete volunteer service after graduation could grow from an average of 200 for past years to 290 for this year, but postponing a conventional career by doing service isn’t a career interruption – it’s an enhancement.

“As a result, our graduates are much more versatile than graduates from other schools,” Svete said. “Ethics and integrity are among the top-ranked traits that employers look for.”

Other students, such as senior Jimmy Champlin, decided to attend graduate or professional school and look for permanent employment when the economy is hopefully more stable.

After considering the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) program, Champlin opted for law school, since he thought a political science major would mostly limit him to government jobs.

“That way I can push back needing a job three years,” Champlin said.

With an abundance of service opportunities and options for graduate school as well as an expected recovery of the economy, students should not reconsider their desired academic majors to make themselves more attractive job candidates, according to Svete.

“Economies are cyclical and to make a short-term decision based on vocation rather than passion is the wrong decision,” he said.

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Economic crisis impacts student job search

Sarah Mervosh | Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sophomore Caroyln Conley will be spending her summer participating in a paid internship at PNC Bank in Pittsburgh, but said she was “lucky” to receive this position.

“A lot of really talented people really don’t have internships for the summer because a lot of companies have scaled back,” Conley said. “I definitely think that I was very lucky to get an internship at all let alone a paid one.”

Many underclassmen students have had to adjust expectations and alter plans for the upcoming summer because of the current economy troubles.

Companies have drastically reduced the number of intern positions they offer due to cost cuts within the company, Lee Svete, director of Notre Dame’s Career Center, said. Companies that usually take five or six interns can only take one this year, he said.

“They’ve lost revenue. And as a result, their full time and internship budgets have been decreased,” Svete said. “Internships have dropped not because of the opportunity, but because of the pay.”

Sophomore Brittany Johnson has an internship this summer shadowing a pharmacist in a hospital, but has noticed the economy’s effect on the internship market.

“Last summer, my internship was paid and this summer it’s not paid, but I have to take what I can get because I need pharmacy experience,” Johnson said.

Johnson said she had to adjust her expectations to accommodate the state of the economy.

“I have to take the financial hit now and not make any money this summer and hopefully get into pharmacy school,” she said.

The summer job market for students is also suffering because people who got laid off have taken jobs that are typically filled by college students, Svete said.

“It’s a domino effect. When people are getting laid off from companies … they’re going out and filling some of these jobs that are hourly rate,” Svete said. “Those jobs at the mall aren’t there anymore.”

Svete’s advice to students who can’t find an internship or job for this summer is to consider volunteering, which shows work ethic and versatility. A volunteer position will also provide a reference for future jobs, Svete said.

As long as students can articulate what they gained from their summer experience, “employers don’t care if you’ve made $2,000 in a summer or $10.”

Troubles finding internships and jobs may have led students to consider other summer options and utilize more of the University’s resources.

The Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP), which provides financial support to students wishing to do independent research, according to their Web site, has noticed an increase in applications.

“We had almost twice the number of UROP applications that we had last year,” Director of the Institute for Scholarships in the Liberal Arts Agustin Fuentes said.

UROP has not been able to meet the demand because while applications are increasing, endowments are down due to the economy, Fuentes said.

“Everyone’s endowment is down. But ours isn’t that bad,” he said.

Fuentes said he does not foresee having to cut down on the number of grants given and hopes that next year, UROP will be able to give at least what it gave this year.

“We’re going to do everything that we can to make sure that doesn’t impact our support for students,” he said.

According to Sarah Baer from the Office of International Studies, applications for study abroad programs this summer were strong, but acceptance rates were low.

“We received a greater percentage of declines from admitted students than we typically do,” Baer said. “I think the reality of paying for the program caused many students to decline.”

Svete said the Career Center can help students find summer opportunities. The Career Center has access to more than a million companies on their database and to the entire Notre Dame alumni network, which is “incredible” and “amazingly supportive,” he said.

“Our underclass students can come in and meet with a counselor,” he said. “We can find out what alumni are in your field and help you contact them.”

Svete urged students to be creative, and not to let the difficult economic times bring them down.

“You’ve got to deal with some rejection, you just can’t get discouraged,” he said. “Realize it’s not you, it’s the economy.”

“I’m not trying to sugar coat this. It’s tough out there,” Svete said. “But [Notre Dame students] are still the most flexible candidates that I’ve worked with in 23 years. And I’ve been in the Ivy League. I’ve been across the East coast.”

“We’re going to be okay,” he said.