Economic Downturn Shrinks Job Market for Seniors

Government and philosophy major Simon Shogry CM ’09 is unsure what he will do after he graduates next year.

“I had one job interview last week and am waiting to hear back from a few other options,” said Shogry. “But if none of those pan out I plan on studying Ancient Greek (yes, the dead language) at Berkeley over the summer, and then applying for jobs and internships in the fall, after the summer interns have returned to school.”

This year, it is a bit more common for seniors to not have job plans directly after graduation. Even though Shogry’s desired job, as a legislative staffer, has not been directly impacted by the economic crisis, the surge of unemployment in the U.S. is making all internships and jobs harder to get this year.

Seniors from across the 5Cs are seeing the effects of the recession on the job market, although the loss of jobs has not been as severe as expected. The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently reported that hiring is down at least 22 percent for graduating seniors.

“This year, with the implosion of the financial markets and trickle-down issues, hiring has slowed down 20 to 40 percent in any given industry, including internships,” said Diana Seder, the interim Director of Career Services at Claremont McKenna College. “We’ve seen a decrease in employer trafficking in our office.”

Students have also noticed the decrease in jobs.

“I’ve been told by some of my friends that most companies (both finance-related and non-finance) are not hiring or do not know when they will be hiring again, so it’s pretty difficult for them to get offers,” said Ian Kwok PO ’09.

This difficulty is leading to some apprehension within the senior class.

“A lot of people are just really anxious about it,” said Lara Colvin SC ’09. “I think people are looking to broaden opportunities.”

While all industries are affected by the recession, the financial industry was particularly affected because of the collapse of many hedge funds and banks. Kwok, an economics major, was able to get a job with a boutique investment bank in New York that he asked not be named.

“Luckily, I was able to land the job back in October, when things were still unfolding in Wall St.,” said Kwok. “Another good thing is that I’m not working for large banks, which feels more of the pain. I know some of my friends who had offers from large banks that are now being rescinded or deferred.”

Non-profit organizations have also been heavily affected by the financial crisis. Many have lost significant sources of funding, grants, and donations due to a decline in philanthropy and a troubled stock market.

“The majority of our students are interested in not-for-profits, and it is hard to gauge how much the current economic situation is affecting them,” said Scripps Professor of Economics Patricia Dillon.

Colvin has been offered a job at the Pomona, Calif. non-profit Bright Prospects, which supports low-income high school students, but she recognizes the difficulty this year in finding a job in the industry. Initially, she was unable to get a job with Bright Prospects because they had instituted a hiring freeze. When another employee left Bright Prospects, however, the organization hired Colvin.

Despite these challenges, the economic downturn has not affected Claremont college students as much as many of the faculty, staff, and students thought it would.

“I expected it to be in some ways worse,” said Carl Martellino, Pomona College’s Director of Career Development. “But students are getting job offers and juniors are getting internships. Everything has just gotten harder. It takes more effort to get a job.”

“There are jobs out there, students just have to work harder to find them,” said Karen Suarez, the Director of Career Services at Pitzer College.

“We’ve seen a downturn in the number of companies coming to campus, but it’s not a dramatic downturn,” added Martellino. “We almost had too many employers for the students of the colleges anyways.”

The career services departments at all 5Cs are encouraging students to be more flexible in their outlook.

“The word I’m using is broaden,” said Seder. “Typically, CMC students are really focused in finance, banking, and consulting. They want to go to big-name firms and I’m telling them to broaden the scope that they’re looking at.”

“I’m telling students to be more flexible with geographic location or taking something that pays less,” said Pitzer’s Suarez. “The whole process really is the same, but people have to be really open to as many things as possible. Students may want to consider doing internships as a way to get a foot in the door if that’s financially possible.”

Career counselors are encouraging students to think outside the box. For example, students interested in economic professions hurt by the financial crisis are encouraged to explore finance departments in other companies. All companies or organizations deal with finance in some way, and students can find new opportunities if they look at these less visible options, counselors said. Instead of working for an investment bank, a student could work in the finance department of a retail company.

Many students still remain optimistic about their chances.

“I think most of my peers see it as a challenge, but not one that’s impossible to overcome. However much they gripe about it, there is a general belief that most career paths remain open to them,” Shogry said.

Other options, such as graduate school and fellowships, are also affected by the financial crisis. On the whole, students have not been encouraged to go to graduate school because of the recession.

“I will only encourage graduate school if it was in their life plan,” said Seder. “And then, if yes, they should go for it.”

Colvin, however, noted that some students are looking at graduate school instead of entering the job market.

“I have heard some people say they’ll go to graduate school to wait it out. In my opinion, it is going to be a long downfall,” she said.

Students are now weighing the financial incentives for post-graduate education.

“I think that I would have just chosen a school before based on quality of life and quality of program and academics without money weighing in so heavily,” said Michelle Pham PO ’09, who will be attending the Columbia University Law School in the fall. “Now, I feel that being given money by schools gets more weight in the process of considering schools.”

Students who are attending graduate school next year feel lucky to not have to enter the job market. For example, Scott Zimmerman PO ’09 is attending a UC Berkeley public health graduate school next year.

“I had made up my mind to apply before the economic crisis got too bad, but after the crisis hit I have been very glad that I went through the application process,” he said.

While there do seem to be considerable changes in the job market, it is still too soon to tell what the real impact will be.

“It’s a little early to talk about the full impact of economic and financial events on our seniors,” said Dillon. “We may be in for more and worse economic news. Moreover, a significant portion of our students wait until after graduation to begin their job searches—some years it is as much as 50 percent.”

In the future, career services counselors will take steps to be more accessible to students. Martellino said the Career Development Office at Pomona plans to create a Facebook page, increase connection with alumni, and provide more Internet resources. CMC’s Seder said that the college has a “reputation for focusing on finance,” but is looking to increase relationships with companies in other industries, such as entertainment and health care.

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