Some New Grads Still Struggle To Land Jobs

Originally published on May 13, 2011 7:01 pm
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While some big money is getting into higher education, more than a million students will be getting out this spring with bachelor's degrees. And the job outlook is better than it's been for some time.

But as NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports, how well many of these new grads do will depend largely on what they studied.

WENDY KAUFMAN: Students at cafes and study halls on the University of Washington campus often tell two very different stories about their quest for a job after graduation. Many liberal arts and social science majors are pounding the pavement. But students in computer science, engineering and other technical fields are in high demand.

Brittany Kohler(ph), for example, could practically write her own ticket. Her major is industrial and systems engineering.

Ms. BRITTANY KOHLER: (Industrial and Systems Engineering Major): The job market for graduating seniors in industrial engineering right now is, actually, very promising. The field itself is really growing, and moving outside of just manufacturing, which is what it used to be, into health-care systems, into businesses.

KAUFMAN: Kohler plans to do systems integration work for a global consulting firm. She'll be making nearly $70,000 a year. She turned down a job paying even more.

Ms. KOHLER: I think every - I mean, not to sound boastful but every single job I applied for, I got an interview for and got an offer. So it was exciting for me.

KAUFMAN: Another engineering student, Nick Douglas, had more than one offer, too. He's taken a job at Cisco Systems.

Mr. NICK DOUGLAS (Engineering Major): They're looking for electrical engineers, computer scientists who wanted to do something like, on the people side a little bit more, and that's exactly what I wanted to do.

KAUFMAN: You happy with the salary you're getting?

Mr. DOUGLAS: Very happy. Feel very comfortable that I will be able to support myself without my parents' help from here on out.

KAUFMAN: Nationwide, employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said they expected hiring of college grads to be up nearly 20 percent over last year. It's a huge increase though remember, 2010 was hardly a banner year.

One employer who's hiring lots of new grads is Verizon. At the giant wireless communications company, new graduates might work in a customer service office -like this one in suburban Seattle - or at a retail store.

Chad Keehner is a company recruiter.

Mr. CHAD KEEHNER (West Area Talent Acquisition, Verizon Wireless): And the qualities that we're really looking for is somebody who is ambitious; somebody who's really looking for a career. You know, we want somebody that's interested in growing themselves - and then tech savvy.

KAUFMAN: He says the company aggressively promotes from within, so entry-level jobs can pretty quickly turn into something more.

But back on the University of Washington campus, international relations student Charmila Ajmera remains discouraged. She sees her friends struggling to find work. So the survey data showing the job market is improving doesn't mean much to her.

Ms. CHARMILA AJMERA (International Relations Major): It used to be that you go to college, and you're sort of promised a job. You get that B.A. or B.S., and you're good to go. And anymore, it doesn't feel like that. It feels like you need to work a lot harder, get more experience - get more education, possibly. So yeah, the numbers really - they don't speak to me.

KAUFMAN: One new challenge facing social science grads is that while private employers have been adding jobs, positions in government and social services that they might have applied for are being cut.

Senior Kelsey Barrett says some of her recently graduated friends have ended up working as baristas or in retail sales.

Ms. KELSEY BARRETT (International Relations Major): Trying to make money so that they'd have time on the side maybe to volunteer and get experience, so that in the next year or two they might be more competitive for this difficult job market.

KAUFMAN: Indeed, Barrett, another international relations major, is putting off her search for full-time job. For the next few months, she intends to work part time, improve her foreign-language skills, perhaps take an internship and come January, work with a nonprofit in Africa. She wouldn't be getting a salary, but she would get room and board - plus resume-boosting experience.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.