Opportunity On The Rebound

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WorkplaceBack in 2006, Megan Evans Seeds needed just seven days to land a full-time job with benefits when she graduated from college. But when she graduated last year with a master’s degree in public policy from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School, it took 18 months and four stints as an intern, temp and volunteer before she finally got a full-time job with Hennepin County Corrections and Rehabilitation.

“I knew it was not going to be an ideal job-search environment,” said Evans Seeds, who now makes more than $40,000 a year as a policy analyst. “But … it was a never-ending process.”

What are the job prospects for the class of 2011? Better than those of 2010 and 2009, most agree. It’s still tough out there, but there are some encouraging signs.

An April job outlook survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that companies plan to hire 19.3 percent more graduates in 2011 than they did a year earlier. That’s the biggest increase since 2007. In Minnesota, one in four 2011 college graduates surveyed by St. Cloud State University researchers in April reported receiving a job offer.

Some Minnesota college counselors say more recruiters visited campuses this year, interviewed students or attended job fairs. Those with degrees in IT, health, business and nursing are seemingly in demand again. But such public-sector jobs as teaching or administration are much harder to come by.

And everyone agrees that graduates from the recession years of 2009 and 2010, many of whom are still looking for their first career jobs, represent a formidable pool of competitors for every new opening.

This year’s graduates are entering the job market at a time when 194,000 unemployed Minnesotans are still seeking work. The state’s jobless rate has slowly dropped from a high of 8.5 percent in mid-2009 to 6.5 percent in April. The national jobless rate stands at a dismal 9.0

Still, “it feels to us like the market is getting better this year,” said Paul Timmins, career services director for Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts.

Ellie Fink, 21, can attest to that.

Fink, who just graduated from Minnesota with majors in human resources and sociology, worked in her school’s career services center for three years so she could meet employers coming to interview students on campus. Last fall, Fink met the recruiter for Ameriprise, which led to a tour and interviews. Its Human Resources Department pounced, hiring Fink in November. Her new job starts in July.

“It was the only place I interviewed, and I got the job,” Fink said. “I feel that (seniors) have a lot of trouble getting jobs. But the fact that I started applying so early was an advantage. I don’t think students understand they can do the same thing.”

Mark Phillips, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, acknowledges it’s been tough for many recent grads.

“They just hit the job market right at the crux of the recession. … But we are getting a sense that the economy is improving and that 1/8new3/8 graduates have a better chance than the crops from the last few years.”

Jennifer Rogers, who runs the University of St. Thomas on-campus employer interviewing program, said this school year, 43 employers conducted 850 job interviews on campus. That’s a 21 percent increase from last year.

Recruiters from Honeywell, General Mills, Cargill, Ameriprise, UnitedHealth Group, Toro Co., not only stormed St. Thomas’s campus, they came with more slots to fill than in past years.

“Things are definitely looking up,” Rogers said.

A St. Cloud State survey of graduates from eight Minnesota schools found internships are a key entry point to today’s job market. Andy Ditlevson, the St. Cloud State researcher who conducted the April survey, found one in four of the 893 graduates he surveyed had job offers before they left campus. Of those, 57 percent got their jobs through internships.

Cheryl Koopmeiners, 32, just graduated from Metro State University with a degree in marketing. Now she’s working a 12-week internship with RSP Marketing and juggling multiple job offers. She turned down two. One didn’t pay well. The other was “beneath” her skill level. But last week, American Income Life called back offering a different job, more pay and responsibility.

“It’s funny,” Koopmeiners said. “Sometimes they think of you later for something that fits you better.”

While Fink and Koopmeiners see bright futures, it doesn’t feel that way to all college graduates on the job prowl.

Gunning for your first real job “is a nail-bitter,” said public relations major Alexandra West, who graduated earlier this month from Minnesota.

After searching for jobs since November, she just landed a six-month internship at Carmichael Lynch Spong. It pays enough to cover her bills. “I’m really excited,” she said. Now she hopes the PR firm will keep her full time after the fall.

Like West, Courtney Keefe, 22, took the early search and internship route.

Keefe, who graduated with a communications degree from St. Thomas in December, spent three months interviewing at four firms before landing a six-month internship, also at Carmichael Lynch Spong. She started the same day as West.

“Here I really get to be an integral part of a team and do work that matters,” Keefe said.

Though it’s only an internship, the job puts her ahead of peers who graduated before her in May 2010.

Those friends “did not find a position for six to nine months. So they took whatever came along or went back to waiting tables or back to school so that when they come out it may be easier to find a position,” Keefe said. “Job hunting might be a little easier now than last year, but not that different. You really need to get yourself out there.”

But not all graduates share the optimism.

“Our students are very nervous about the job market,” said Lynne Schuman, the Humphrey School’s career services director. Few who graduated earlier this month have job offers. Many haven’t started looking.

“We train people for public service and a lot of our students want to do government work. … But right now, government is a lagging indicator in the economy,” Schuman said. “Government agencies are wary. Their budgets are being cut and their staff numbers may be cut.”

Bill Baldus, who directs the career counseling center for Metropolitan State University, had some parting advice for the school’s 965 May graduates: “Do not pay too much attention to the bad news and turn off CNN because it’s so depressing.”

Stay upbeat, be prepared and separate yourself from the pack, he advises. “Everyone is applying for jobs online. Networking is a much better use of their time,” he said.

Source: McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.