Despite Oklahoma's seemingly recession-proof exoskeleton, there's no doubting the effects of the plummeting job market. The average Oklahoman can open a window and feel the winds of change, but for this year's graduating college seniors, this wind might not shift in the next five minutes.
A recent study from the Collegiate Employment Research Institute suggests that job opportunities for outbound seniors went south by 8 percent compared to last year's numbers. The Michigan State University report recommends several goals every career-minded student should take to heart " stay focused, establish networks, send resumes everywhere " but the report's bottom line is essential to landing that first job.
Fewer job prospects mean a more competitive market than ever, so internships might be a safe avenue to travel, even if they aren't full-fledged jobs. To help keep costs low, employers might seek talented first-timers instead of experienced workers. A low-paying internship could evolve into a full-time position, so the job market is virtually equalized between experienced workers and freshly minted graduates. Are we taking notes?
BLEAK AND BARREN
Still, the future isn't a bleak and barren landscape for grads. In fact, according to Forbes.com, Oklahoma City is one of 62 college towns with business increases from 2008. OKC was listed as growing 1.51 percent. It's not as big as, say, Athens, Ga., (up 2.47 percent) or Seattle (up 2.19 percent), but still substantial. See? That exoskeleton is tough as nails.
And most colleges offer career counseling and networking opportunities for students " students are paying for the service anyway, so why not use it? The good news is, most are. Dropping by the career services department is probably the easiest and most beneficial first step in a job hunt. From designing a resume to arranging interviews, most career services will help students find their way.
At Oklahoma City University, Career Services Director Joshua Waddell said students visit his office more often and more frequently.
"There's been a huge increase this year compared to last year because of the increasingly competitive job market," Waddell said. He estimated that increase to be as much as 40 percent compared to last year. "We've also seen an increase in traditional undergrad students who are deciding to go to graduate school " they're looking for a competitive edge in the job market."
And, perhaps, continuing education works to delay the 2009 job search.
Waddell also pointed out that it's not only future graduates stopping by nowadays. University alumni who have been laid off are turning to career services.
Jeff Riles, a 2009 OCU graduate, will apply his political science degree toward the University of Oklahoma's law school next year. Riles cited a lack of interest from several companies after an initial interview " "What I call the 'go-around,'" he said " as the impetus for considering grad school. He said he will rely on a temporary job this summer until law school begins.
Asked about sharing a tip for other 2009 grads, Riles said internships are the way to go.
"In this job market, having an internship with someone you might want to one day work for is a major foot in the door. If you have proven yourself before, people relate with people and will likely call on you because they have seen you perform."
In a more stable economy, hiring companies were able to spend more on advertising aimed at college seniors for open positions, said Clint McKnight, a career counselor at the University of Central Oklahoma. But more graduates are depending on networking and word-of-mouth to get a foot in the door.
"Social networking sites are playing a bigger and bigger role in job searching because Facebook and professional sites like LinkedIn are a great way to search for job seekers without spending any money," McKnight said. "Students should not have to delay the job search or take a temp job if they prepare a little in advance."
LAND AN INTERVIEW
Wait, Facebook can be productive? What kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in? Who knows, maybe that one guy you friended a few years ago for no immediately apparent reason can help you land an interview.
Waddell and McKnight stressed the importance of networking for every college student searching for a job. The adage "it's not what you know, it's who you know" should become a graduate's mantra.
Waddell said networking doesn't necessarily mean getting friends in the highest places. Starting out with friends and families will yield quick results. But they advise students not to rush the hunt " the average graduate can expect to wait around five months for a suitable job opportunity.
Although most grads likely won't have a job offer as soon as the mortarboard hits the ground, persistence and a snazzy resume will yield results sooner or later. "Jake Dalton