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Have diploma, will work: Seniors hunt for jobs


Lower your standards. Keep a stiff upper lip. These slogans ring familiar to Amy Butler, who will graduate this month from Towson State University. The 21-year-old math major has been looking for a job since September.

"I have decent grades, a good background," she says. "I wanted a good job. Now I can't even find an OK job."

Many college seniors in the Class of '92 sound like disgruntled 9-to-5-ers at a neighborhood pub, each bemoaning his tough luck. One complains of on-campus recruiters who interview, only to say they're just window-shopping. Another is fed up with letters and resumes that don't receive a response -- not even a rejection.

More than 19,000 students are expected to earn bachelor's degrees from a Maryland college or university this year, according to the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

But the news for these students -- and soon-to-be college grads around the nation -- isn't good. Northwestern University's annual survey of 259 corporate recruiters released in March reported that major corporations are expected to hire more than 30 percent fewer new college graduates in 1992 compared to 1989.

"Many have become quite discouraged, and rightly so," says Francis LeMire, director of Towson State's Career Placement Center.

Lester Thomson, 32, is one of those discouraged students waiting for a job offer. "I expected a much better response," says the chemistry major from Coppin State College. "I'm really very nervous about it. . . . I'm just waiting. That's the hard part."

"With all the doom and gloom about the economy that seniors have been subjected to . . . the frustration level is so high that a lot are putting off a concentrated job search," Mr. LeMire says.

Linda Peacock-Landrum, the director of career services at Frostburg State University, agrees. "In some cases they've actually postponed looking," she says. "[They're] delaying reality."

Yet, Jennifer Jones, a 21-year-old senior business administration major at Towson State, thinks some people are using the sour economy as an excuse for postponing a job search. Still, even she is discouraged with the response she has received so far. "I feel I've put a lot into [my job search] and I'm kind of disappointed," she says.

"I always thought that if I worked and got good grades I would get 10 job offers . . . and it's not that way," Ms. Jones says. "I always just wanted to walk across the stage [at graduation] and know I could go to a job in a couple of weeks."

Ms. Jones' story is typical of other graduates who expected a welcoming job market. And many now say those expectations were unrealistic.

"Jobs would have certainly been easier to get 10 years ago," says public relations director Virginia Tanner of Villa Julie College.

"We're not getting the kind of response from employers we did before," says James Thornton, director of Coppin State College's Career Development Center. "The offers aren't there the way they once were."

"You can send out 100 resumes and not get a bite," says Betty Glascoe, the career development director at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. With many companies downsizing, employers are now able to raise the standards for the few openings they have, she says.

In seeking that elusive job, some graduates have blanketed the region-- or world -- with resumes.

At 748 resumes, Geoffrey Fellows may be the leader. The Johns Hopkins University senior, with a major in international studies, is looking for a job that will let him travel or live in Asia. Last May, the 22-year-old began his search -- a project which has cost him about $1,300.

"The bill was completely footed by the parents," he says.

Mr. Fellows' case is unusual, though. He admits he has been very picky and has turned down a few offers. The director of the career center at Johns Hopkins, Sharon Baughan, agrees that Mr. Fellows' narrow career goals necessitated so many resumes.

Nonetheless, Ms. Baughan tells students to expect to mail out at least 150 resumes. If not, "people don't know you're out there," she says.

Some career counselors, however, urge students to stick to a smaller scale. "We discourage sending out 75 to 100 resumes," says Ms. Peacock-Landrum at Frostburg State. "Students can't follow up on them. . . . We're encouraging them to look at alternate ways to find a job. In some cases, it's a lack of thinking creatively."

This thinking should include researching companies, so graduates can set themselves apart from other applicants, she says.

"It definitely gives you an advantage," says Brian Gallagher, a 21-year-old senior business major at Towson. "In three of the interviews I've gone to, they've asked me what I know about the company." Mr. Gallagher says he spends about one or two hours researching each employer before an interview.

But even with new tactics, some graduates aren't getting results. Instead they're getting rejections. At least that's what they surmise when they don't get responses to their application.

"Most don't even respond," Ms. Jones says. "I realize they get a ton of letters . . . but how hard is it to push a button and send out a form letter?"

The growing heap of rejection letters has forced graduates in other directions. Mr. Gallagher says some of his friends are staying in school an extra semester or going on to graduate school.

Mr. Fellows won't be sending out resume No. 749. "I've resigned myself to graduate school," he says.

But, for some, applying to graduate school can be just as disheartening as trying to find a job. More graduate school applicants mean a lot of students who would have been accepted in the past are now rejected, says Ms. Baughan of Hopkins.

Career counselors agree job-seeking students shouldn't get discouraged. Mr. LeMire tells them it's normal if they have not found full-time work nine months after graduation.

Ms. Tanner offers her own slogan: "A quality education lasts longer than business cycles."

What to do

A lot of the graduate's success in finding a job depends on the field and the availability of openings. Still, here are some suggestions to ease the search:

* Broaden your scope. Don't restrict your search to jobs specifically related to your field. For example, a student who majored in psychology might look for employment in research centers, hospitals or personnel departments, according to Betty Glascoe of UMBC.

* Look toward the unexpected. That means very small companies, unusual fields.

* Network, network, network. Contact friends, family, past employers, your school's career counselors -- almost anyone -- to find job leads.

* Keep resumes short and simple. Graduates should stick to the one-page rule and drop the phrase: "References available upon request." Tom Davies, co-owner of Career Pro resume service in Towson, calls the phrase "a waste of space." Instead, he suggests adding a separate page for references with names, addresses and phone numbers. "It wins an air of authenticity," he says.

* Research the company before you interview. That way you can talk about the employer's wants, not your wants, says Virginia Tanner of Villa Julie College. "Don't be egotistical," she says.

* Finally, be flexible. Be willing to move and accept a less-than-perfect job. And when you get an offer, take it. Your first job is not your last job.

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