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Posted: February 01, 2012

Colleges handle job placement woes

Advisers help students and alumni prepare for careers – but they need to find jobs on their own

Nora Caley

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Here's some good news for college students: Hiring is expected to increase 4 percent, across all degree levels, for the current group of soon-to-graduate students, according to Michigan State University's annual Recruiting Trends study.

Still, near-grads are nervous about their job prospects. College career-services offices are responding with new programs, online assistance and even extra staff to help students learn how to write a resume, prepare for interviews and network.

One thing the offices don't do, however, is find a job for the student.

"We don't use the word ‘placement' anymore," says Bridgette Coble, director of the Office of Career Services for Metropolitan State College of Denver. "What we teach is career self-reliance. Students will do this process multiple times."

The office, which is funded by student fees, works with current students and recent graduates. Metro State's alumni relations office added a staff member to handle requests from people who graduated more than a year ago. The offices often collaborate on job fairs and other events.

Students might think counselors will hand over a list of job leads, but that's not the case. "The hardest part of our job is not getting people access to job opportunities," Coble says. "It's getting them ready to perform well when they have those opportunities presented to them."

Other experts agree. "We are not a placement office per se," says Michelle B. Gjerde, director of the Career Center at Colorado State University-Pueblo. "We are responding to our students and have been very busy coaching them on this market. Students need to take a much more active role in their own job hunt. It is very competitive in this job market."

CSU-Pueblo's two-person office serves more than 5,200 students and alumni. "We are seeing more alumni than ever before," Gjerde says. They return to their alma mater to have their resumes reviewed, find contacts and gain access to the online job-posting system.

Renée Welch, director of career services for the University of Northern Colorado, has also seen an increase in alumni requests for phone or in-person counseling. For the academic year 2009-2010, 30 percent of UNC's career services were to alumni. "That seems high, but it also makes sense considering the downturn to the economy," she says. Alumni who graduated within the previous year represented the largest segment.

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UNC's career-services office partners with student clubs and faculty members to host networking nights. The events are specific to certain areas of interest, as opposed to large career fairs where everyone lines up to talk to every recruiter. "The come-one-come-all career fair is not as popular," Welch says.

Other schools have also boosted their offerings. Jones International, an online school whose career services are also online, began offering Total Professional Advantage (TPA) 2.0 about three years ago. The career development portal includes job and internship listings, podcasts and career development videos.

Terence Brennan, director of student and alumni affairs for JIU, says students can also post their own videos. "Some of the employers do watch them, particularly if they want to see more than a resume," he says. "As students are going through TPA 2.0 workshops, they have deliverables they can put in their portfolio."

Karen Dowd, executive director of career services and corporate engagement for the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver, says her office has been very busy lately. "We have had to reinvent the way we provide career services to students and alumni, and spend more time individually guiding them," she says. "They really have to develop their personal brand and communicate their value proposition to employers." The department reorganized the staff and added a career consultant for alumni.

Dowd says 60 percent of Daniels students obtain employment through a Daniels-sponsored activity. One such program is the Daniels Consulting Firm, in which teams of master's-level students work with area companies and nonprofits. That program began two years ago and is free to companies.

The goal for any career services center is not only to help prepare students to find jobs, but to make sure employers find qualified, eager candidates, not someone who blasted 500 resumes and is awaiting a response.

"If you present yourself as a job beggar you are not going to be viewed as a candidate who is focused and interested in that job and that employer," says Richard DelliVeneri, director of career services for Regis University. He says employers do not want applicants who apply for every job they see. "One of the things we learned from speaking to employers is they are interested in candidates who are focused in terms of their career goals and their career interests."

Sometimes when the job market is difficult, students opt to stay in school, hoping that by the time they graduate the economy will have improved and it will be easier to land a job. Some career experts say that's not a good strategy anymore, as most students don't want to take on more debt.

"Our graduation rates haven't significantly changed over the past few years, so I don't see any evidence that people are staying longer," says Lisa Severy, director of career services and interim assistant vice chancellor of student affairs for the University of Colorado Boulder. "This year, 60 percent of our seniors surveyed indicated that they intended to get a job after graduation, which is a little bit higher than last year when more people intended to go on to graduate school."

Three years ago CU Boulder formed a partnership with its Alumni Association to launch an Alumni Career Services program. The program offers networking nights and other events.

Regis's DelliVeneri says some students are planning to go to graduate school but not right away. "Some of the professional schools are encouraging the graduates to get a little bit of practical world experience before they go to graduate school, especially in MBA programs," he says.

Some students have no post-graduation plans. According to the Bethlehem, Pa.-based National Association of Colleges and Employers, 5.4 percent of students of the class of 2011 reported that they intended to take the year after graduation off to travel or consider their options.

On the other hand, some students are getting ready early. Welch, from UNC, says she has seen an uptick in requests from sophomores. "They are thinking of internships as a way to gain experience," she says. "They are actually doing things rather than waiting."
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Nora Caley is a freelance writer specializing in business and food topics. She can be reached at noracaley@comcast.net.

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