Let's us graduating college students know we're not the only ones having trouble finding a job.
Graduates Face Difficult Job Market
By DAVID LEONHARDT
CHAPEL HILL, N.C., May 12 In years past, most seniors at the University of North Carolina ignored the recruiters from Newell Rubbermaid, the maker of dishwashing gloves and Calphalon cookware, dismissing the company as another unfashionable manufacturer. This year, the handful of students Newell hired as management trainees became minor campus celebrities, simply because they had secured jobs months before graduation.
When North Carolina seniors receive their diplomas here on Sunday, only about 15 percent of them will have jobs awaiting them, half the percentage that did a few springs ago, according to a university estimate. Another 25 percent will enroll in graduate school, leaving about 6 in 10 seniors without a long-term plan come Monday morning.
The nation's class of 2003 was the last one to enter college while the stock market was still rising, but it is graduating into the worst hiring slump in 20 years, one that is now into its second year on campuses and has afflicted young and well-educated workers to an unusual degree.
Corporations, after cutting their hiring of new graduates by 36 percent between 2001 and 2002, are hiring about the same number of graduates as they did last year, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
"We definitely picked the wrong time to be graduating from college," said Morgan Bushey, 21, who will make about $200 a week teaching English in France, after having been rejected by seven law schools. "We just have to hold on with our fingertips for a few years until we can do what we really want to do."
The lack of jobs is the main reason that applications to medical school increased this year for the first time in seven years, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Applications to law schools jumped 10 percent, after having risen almost 18 percent last year. The number of people taking the Graduate Record Exam, the standardized test required for most doctoral and master's programs, rose to its highest level ever, after declining through much of the late 1990's.
Meanwhile, applications to Teach for America, which recruits college graduates to teach for two years in public schools in poor neighborhoods, have more than tripled in the last two years; Wendy Kopp, the program's founder, said the economy appeared to be one reason. Americorps, the national service program that pays $9,300 a year, and the Peace Corps have also become more popular and more selective.
College seniors have reacted to their poor timing with a mixture of anxiety and level-headedness. Many recall the signing bonuses and stock options offered to graduates a few years ahead of them and wonder how their own careers will get started.
"There is a haunting sense of insecurity," said Michael Barlow, a senior here who hopes eventually to work in the Foreign Service and is still looking for a job. "It is terrifying to be out of school with no job lined up and ready to go."
But few of them express the frustration that is common among older unemployed workers who know that their long-term prospects have dimmed and who have dropped out of the labor force in large numbers during the last two years.
Asha Rangaraj, a North Carolina senior from Monroe, La., recalls that her brother, two years older than she is, was hired out of college to work for Bill Gates's money manager "really without any experience." She, on the other hand, endured a few unpromising interviews before deciding to enroll in North Carolina's master's program in accounting in large part because 99 percent of its graduates get jobs, she said.
Still, Ms. Rangaraj said: "I think it's definitely temporary. Everybody has that feeling two or three years, and everything will be back to normal."
The change has been particularly unpleasant in Chapel Hill, home to one of the country's most selective public universities, whose lush campus sits just a few miles from Research Triangle Park, the once-booming technology cluster.
But seniors on every campus big and small, Ivy League and community college are struggling to find entry-level jobs that they want, college officials say.
"It's pretty grim," said Jack R. Rayman, the director of career services at Pennsylvania State University. Its graduate-school fair drew thousands of students this year, filling large ballrooms in the student union.
Over all, the unemployment rate for people ages 20 through 24 rose to 10.1 percent last month, up from 9.9 percent a year earlier and less than 7 percent in 2000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The jobless rate for the entire work force was 6 percent last month.
Courtney Flaks, 21, a senior at the University of North Carolina from North Brunswick, N.J., said her plan was "just to go home and annoy people for jobs. I don't have any idea how long it's going to take."
Ms. Flaks, who is seeking a job as a graphic designer at a magazine, had a summer internship at Seventeen magazine and recently won a competition to redesign the nameplate of a campus literary magazine. Even so, she has had little success just finding openings to apply for.
"I finally have an interview, kind of," Ms. Flaks said, of an upcoming visit to Condι Nast, the publishing company in New York. "It's an exploratory interview. I don't know what that means."
Many of this year's success stories have come at companies like Newell that were the antithesis of excitement during the dot-com craze of the late 1990's. This year, however, excitement requires little more than an offer of a good-paying job.
According to Marcia B. Harris, the director of career services here, North Carolina's biggest recruiters and thus hottest companies include Newell; Enterprise Rent-a-Car; Ferguson Enterprises, a distributor of plumbing supplies, and Modern Woodmen of America, an insurer.
Newell has a management trainee program that is hiring 400 college graduates this year across the country.
By contrast, Accenture and Ernst & Young, consulting firms that specialize in technology and that each hired 25 seniors at the peak of the boom, hired a combined total of three or four this year, Ms. Harris said.
Jon Narveson, another senior, from Asheville, N.C., came to Chapel Hill expecting that he would end up at a computer company, he said. He will instead move to Charlotte this summer and oversee Newell products at some Lowe's home-improvement stores in the area.
"Whether it's fashionable or unfashionable doesn't matter to me," Mr. Narveson said. What matters, he said, is that he likes the Newell executives he met and that they seem eager to help him learn the business.
The students who have been accepted by Teach for America or the Peace Corps, in spite of this year's odds, express similar gratitude.
After watching many of last year's seniors return home after graduation without jobs, Stephanie L. Scott adopted an attitude of "whatever it takes," she said. As a backup, she and a friend met in a library for two hours, three times a week over the course of two months, to study for the G.R.E. But her first priority was Teach for America, and she will begin teaching in Louisiana this summer.
"Right now, it almost doesn't matter what you're doing," said Ms. Scott, who is from Goldsboro, N.C., and was the first person in her family to attend college. "If you have a job, people look at you like, `You're so lucky.' "
In fact, many seniors said that the last few months had given them a sense of rejection on a scale they had never before felt. Ms. Bushey said she could not help but compare applying to college, when she was accepted at North Carolina before Thanksgiving, to the string of law-school rejections she received, including some from places she had thought of as safety schools.
Some juniors here said they were already preparing themselves for similar experiences next year.
"When we were going into school, there was a lot of energy and enthusiasm to go get your four years of education and then get a job," said Matt Tepper, North Carolina's student body president, who will remain on campus for both sessions of summer school after struggling to find a paid internship. "Now it seems like everybody is going to law school."