The Class of 2009 is preparing to graduate into the worst job market in years. According to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer graduates this year than they hired in 2008. Outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas describes it as “the worst entry-level job market since the dot.com bust.” William C. Currin (’60), director of Career Services at Wake Forest since 1989, explains what it’s like for Wake Forest’s Class of 2009.
How would you compare what you’re seeing with those national trends?
Our numbers pretty much mirror the national statistics. The fall semester for us could have been much worse. We saw about a 10 percent decline in the number of organizations recruiting on campus and a 16 percent decline in the number of interviews that were conducted. A couple of hundred interviews that were scheduled were canceled. We saw fewer organizations visiting campus and those that came sought fewer students.
This semester, the job market has “fallen off the cliff” for undergraduates. We had significantly fewer companies attend our spring job fair, and interviewing on-campus for internship opportunities has drastically declined. Historically we’ve enjoyed high placement rates for graduates, but this year may prove to be an exception.
Are there any bright spots?
There are opportunities in the federal government; the problem is breaking the “code” to get in. We’ve had some success with such organizations as the GSA (General Services Administration) and the Department of State. In addition, opportunities continue to exist in the fields of healthcare and education; however in the area of education we are beginning to see an erosion of opportunities. Our accounting students also continue to enjoy a positive market.
Are any parts of the country better than others?
Throw geography out the window. The more specific one becomes in terms of location, the tougher it’s going to be. In this market, all options should be considered.
What’s your advice to students graduating this spring?
Don’t lose heart. Be focused, work hard, cast a broad net, be flexible, think outside the box, and launch a strong networking effort. Some students feel guilt-ridden: “I’ve done everything right and this is happening to me.” Don’t take it personally. We’re all caught up in a wave of history, which we are going to ride through.
In the past, Wake Forest students have often been able to take a little time to decide which job to take, to perhaps hold out for a better offer; what’s your advice this year?
Generally speaking, if a student has an offer related to what he/she is interested in, then one should not hassle over the dollars; take it! There have been very few multiple offers this year, and some offers have even been rescinded, the first time that’s happened in the 20 years I’ve been here.
Are you encouraging students to consider graduate school?
Yes, but only if that is part of their overall plan, not just to weather the storm. In recent years, up to 37 percent of our students have gone to graduate or professional school. It will be interesting to see whether this percentage increases or decreases this year.
We have encouraged students to consider “bridge jobs,” i.e. something that’s relevant to what they want to do — such as a short-term internship or service opportunity. Every year a number of Wake Forest students participate in the Peace Corps and other overseas volunteer programs. Teach for America is another good option; the organization hired 15 of our students last year and anticipates doubling that number this year. These opportunities give students a chance to make a contribution to society, learn something about themselves, and prepare for the future.
How should underclassmen prepare for what’s likely to still be a tough job environment when they graduate; should they be looking at those ‘hot jobs’?
It’s unwise to make decisions based on the career that one thinks will be hot in the future. If students are properly prepared from an educational standpoint, they will ultimately be okay. We are counseling more underclassmen than in the past, which is a good sign. Just going through the process of looking for an internship provides students the opportunity to define their goals and become better prepared for entry into the job market.
What’s your advice for parents?
Parents for the most part understand the situation. They don’t like what they’re seeing, but they understand it. Too much pressure from parents can overwhelm students. One has to be positive to get through this process. Wake Forest students are attending a great school, they have strong resumes and many have impressive work experience. Over time they will reach their career goals and make significant contributions to society.
What is your office doing to try to help students?
We have spent more time with students on developing networking skills to make up for the absence of on-campus recruitment. Networking is vital in this market. Many students rely too heavily on Internet job posting Web sites. They need to spend about 97 percent of their time networking and no more than 3 percent pursuing Internet postings. Our alumni volunteer database — alumni and parents who have agreed to help our students network and give advice — has been very helpful. (Learn more about the Alumni Career Assistance Program)
How quickly — or slowly — do you expect the job market to improve for new graduates?
That’s a very difficult question to answer. Usually employment is the last segment of the economy to stabilize after a recession. When the job market does turn, I assure you that Wake Forest students will be extremely competitive as they have been in the past.