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Job-hunting strategies for recent college grads.

You've graduated. You attended a first-rate college, followed a rigorous course of study and maintained an impressive 3.6 cumulative grade-point average throughout your college tenure. Your resume is professionally typeset; and your designer suits, dry-cleaned and wrinkle-free. With a freshly minted degree in tow, you're all set to take the business world by storm. Getting a job should be a piece of cake, right? Wrong.

The current job market for aspiring professionals is one of the tightest and toughest in recent memory. Thanks to a seemingly endless recession, 2.25 million people have been unemployed at some time since July 1990. Budget-conscious employers have pared down the number of available entry-level positions by nearly one-third, leaving this year's 1.1 million graduates--the nation's largest graduating class ever--with fewer doors to knock on in their job search. At the same time, 933,000 downsized executives are vying for placement in this glutted market.

African-Americans bring their own special concerns to this plight, making a bad situation even worse. "Racism still rears its head in corporate America, partcularly in its hiring practices," says Mark Smith of Smith, Townsend & Associates Ltd., an investment and brokerage firm in Chicago, and president of the local chapter of the National Black MBA Association. "Some people in the decision-making process are still not as enlightened as they should be."

While it's a given that networking is an integral part of any successful job hunt, some of the best networking forums, such as private athletic and social club memberships, are not easily accessible to blacks. Moreover, since affirmative-action measures have steadily been under attack, young blacks seeking entry-level jobs can anticipate an uphill climb.

Despite the drought, good jobs are definitely there for the taking--employers are just more discerning and demanding in their shopping. Although smarts and proficiency are always in demand, the members of the class of '92 will have to add considerably more to the mix before hailing themselves as marketable and lucrative candidates. Talent, persistence, flexibility and ingenuity must be the buzzwords of corporate America's incoming crop of successful entrants.

It's Rough Out There?

When asked to forecast the entry-level job climate, experts offered one basic advisory: Batten down the hatches for a long, stormy search. While the experts are confident that most new grads will eventually secure employment, they are equally sure that the search will take longer and be more grueling than ever.

"It's no longer atypical for people to look [for employment] for a year or a year-and-a-half," says Chrystal R. McArthur, assistant director of career services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. "It's a tough job market and those involved in it are going to experience a lot of rejection."

Indeed, a shaky economy, rampant cost-cutting measures and management compression have made employers ultracautious in their hiring. Aside from being more discriminate, employers are exhibiting a quirkiness--sometimes defying logic or reason--in the choices they make. "This has been a very strange year," notes Benjamin P. McLaurim, career counseling and placement director for Morehouse College in Atlanta. "I've seen excellent students receive no job offers and marginal students wind up with three or four." Rutgers' McArthur suggests that the current job market's competitive nature has been enhanced by the fact that "some employers are unsure themselves about their own hiring needs."

Campus recruitment efforts were significantly curtailed this year. McLaurim detected a 40% drop in recruitment at Morehouse alone--a trend echoed nationwide by career placement officers at historically black colleges and universities and other public and private institutions. And, smaller and midsized firms are doing more of the recruiting as more traditional corporate giants become less visible on college campuses.

Because of downsizing, recruiters are looking to retain individuals who can take on broader roles that call for leading and developing work teams. "Students will have to demonstrate that they're forward-thinking and proactive," says Kenneth S. Brown, assistant human resources manager for FritoLay Northern California in Modesto, Calif. "They must be able to demonstrate through practical experience that they can lead, coach, counsel and produce results through the efforts of others. They'll have to show that they are leaders, not just task-oriented doers," he adds.

Who's Hot? Who's Not?

Although the job outlook is projected to pick up slightly over the next year, geography and course of study will continue to impact the success or failure of aspiring professionals for some time to come. Labor experts cite the Northeast, Michigan and California as the places most saturated with job seekers; elsewhere, applicants are faring better because the market has remained steady or has even experienced some growth.

Rhea A. NagIe, information specialist for the College Placement Council in Bethlehem, Pa., observes: "Many employers complain that students are reluctant to relocate and therefore pass up promising job offers." She strongly urges students not to sit back and wait for recruiters, but to do like Mohammed and proactively seek their own corporate mountains. This is particularly true, since many positions are less likely to be advertised.

Applicants with strong technical backgrounds will be better equipped for battle than those with nebulous or generalized degrees, suggests a recent survey by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University in East Lansing. The study found that approximately 45% of this year's graduates studied technical subjects, such as engineering or health-related professions, which have an open field of job openings. However, 42% of graduates majored in areas such as communications and social science, in which the supply of recruits surpasses demand.

Because the current job plight has been predicted and analyzed over the past several years, few job seekers should have been surprised by the outcome. Having been warned, many of them are innovatively and aggressively arming themselves for a long and rigorous struggle.

Success Despite The Odds

Gone are the days when a good resume and firm handshake could cinch a job. Today's savvy recruits are applying chess masters' skills and jockeying for position in their chosen careers. Securing employment in a tight economy dictates that focus, planning and assertive implementation be applied. Much like a marathon, winning the corporate job-hunting race depends less on speed or luck than on the pacing, strategy and endurance of its runners.

"Students need to start preparing for going into the job market as soon as they leave high school," advises Carla Spann, 22, who graduated from Duke University in Durham, N.C., in May, Having followed her own advice, Spann knows firsthand that preparation works. A product of the Rutherford, N.J., public school system, Spann positioned herself on an engineering career track while still in high school. As an incoming junior, she attended the Newark-based New Jersey Institute of Technology's summer urban engineering program for minorities. The six-week program introduced Spann to the curriculum, projects and industry professionals who piqued her interest in the discipline.

Before graduating from high school, Spann spent two summers as an intern with Newark-based INROADS/Northern N.J. Inc., a regional branch of the national career development organization headquartered in St. Louis, which seeks to mold minority youth for corporate and community leadership. She also sought out and attended two intensive and competitive programs, sponsored by the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, geared to aspiring engineers. By the time she entered Duke in the fall of 1988, the future fast-tracker was well-primed for pursuit of an engineering degree.

"I knew I wanted to be an engineer, although I wasn't sure of the concentration," remembers Spann. She eventually switched from biomedical to electrical engineering. Research and the advice of school counselors and older black engineering students convinced her that the latter degree would make her more marketable. Aside from a demanding course load, Spann completed several other career-related internships throughout college and played an active role in the school's National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) chapter, where she held several offices. She also made a point of updating and polishing her resume annually in preparation for her impending job search.

After sending out countless resumes and attending numerous career-oriented functions, Spann hit pay dirt in March when she attended NSBE's annual career fair in New York City. Her resume and a conversation with a Southwestern Bell Telephone Co. representative won her an interview at the company's St. Louis offices. Spann's successful completion of a series of tests and interviews and her willingness to relocate to St. Louis earned her a position in equipment engineering and a place in the company's Leadership Development Program a month later. The newly employed engineer reported for work in August; her starting salary: $34,580.

It is this kind of preparedness that recruiters and companies are looking for. "Students must be able to represent experience, whether they've utilized their summers for internships or some other way that they've acquired management experience," says Frito-Lay's Brown.

Don't Go It Alone

One of the simplest steps in any job hunt is to let people know you're looking and to enlist as many people as possible in your search. Elementary? Perhaps. But too often, job seekers keep their efforts a secret, needlessly shouldering the burden alone and ultimately wearing themselves out and prolonging the process. "Implore your parents, their friends, your friends and anyone you know for leads and introductions," advises Richard V. Clarke, president of Richard Clarke Associates Inc., a New York City executive search firm. "If you don't ask for help, they'll never know you need it."

"Network!" implores Vanessa R. Exhem, staff specialist at INROADS/New York City Inc., a regional branch of the national career development organization. Exhem says the nonprofit concern urges its interns to continually foster relationships by frequenting seminars and joining professional groups. This allows you to cast as wide a net as possible for potential contacts.

Even small-scale networking can lead to big-time payoffs, as Mark Watson learned somewhat late in his arduous search. Watson entered Manhattanville College in Purchase, N.Y., with high hopes of converting an economics degree into a lucrative investment banking career. Unfortunately, it was 1987 and the ensuing stock market crash and its aftermath caused the dreams of many like-minded students to evaporate. When senior year rolled around, Watson found his job searching campaign--mainly circulating resumes-- rendering no takers. A chance visit to a campus National Black MBA meeting introduced him to his future mentor, who effectively put him on the right career track.

"My mentor showed me that I wasn't being aggressive about getting business cards or making follow-up calls," remembers the New York City resident. Watson's mentor helped him fine-tune his resume, set up role-playing exercises and mock interviews. He also stressed the importance of keeping an organized record of job-hunting activities. Soon, "looking for a job became a job in itself," says Watson of his ordeal, which ended last December, seven months after his graduation. After circulating nearly 100 resumes, and receiving as many rejections, Watson was hired as a Pitney-Bowes associate area sales representative in Queens, N.Y., a position his persistent and rejection-laden search had uniquely qualified him for.

Give Employers What They Want

If nothing else, young recruits will have to be chameleons in order to remain marketable and land choice jobs. The following tips from industry experts may help in the process:

* Be flexible in your choice of job assignment, salary and relocation. Juan F. Menefee, CEO of the Oak Park, Ill.-based executive search firm, Juan Menefee & Associates, says the current job market leaves no room for what he terms as "frictional unemployment, where candidates search for a specific job and won't take anything less." New York City headhunter Clarke agrees. "Companies are seeking switchhitters with flexible skills that can be moved around as needed."

* Market yourself as a profit center. According to Dan Lacey, editor of Workplace Trends, a management newsletter based in Rocky River, Ohio, "Today's job seekers must sell a potential employer on how they'll positively impact that company's bottom line." Successful candidates will be those who, rather than plugging credentials, can show how being hired will either save or make their employer money over time.

* Investigate new and nontraditional options. Don't be afraid to be innovative and creative in your search. Used in moderation, such measures can give you an edge and help you stand out among the competition. Look to nontraditional firms and fields as a source of employment. Charles A. Grevious, vice president of the New York City-based executive search firm The Johnson Group Inc., cites sports management as an example of a field that was previously off-limits to blacks but has increasingly surfaced as a lucrative career choice.

* Remain active while looking. Rufus E. Robinson, assistant director of the career planning and placement office at Howard University in Washington, D.C., points to the increased number of recent grads who have opted to enroll in graduate school rather than remain idle while unemployed. Among other tips, experts encourage consistent searching, joining professional organizations, networking and even volunteer work to maintain visibility while in the job searching loop.

* Do your homework. When you have a job interview, recruiters strongly suggest that you find out as much as you can about the company before you go there. Read the annual reports, chairman's remarks, brochures on the company or its products and check the library for any newspaper or magazine clippings on the company. If you have contacts or sources in the organization, talk with them first to find out the company's general needs as well as what its like to work there. Being an informed applicant also helps you ask the right questions.

* Hang in there. Industry insiders, successful recruits and current job seekers agree that it is vital to remain persistent and upbeat while looking--no matter how long it takes. Laziness or depression will only hinder the process.

Despite the indicators, jobs are out there for those willing to go find them. Knowing what's ahead can make it that much easier. So go ahead--take a deep breath, grab your resume and full speed ahead ! --Additional reporting by Eileen Davis


The following are some sources and tips to help in the search:

* The 1992 What Color Is Your Parachute? by Richard Nelson Bolles; Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, Calif., $12.95. A practical and everpopular manual for job hunters and career changers.

* The Complete Job-Search Handbook: All The Skills You Need To Get Any Job And Have A Good Time Doing It by Howard Figler, Ph.D.; Henry Holt and Co. Inc., New York, $12.95. A soup-to-nuts guidebook that provides advice for every phase of the job search.

* Information databases like kiNexus (800828-0422) and Connexion (800-338-3282 ext. 561) put thousands of students' resumes at the fingertips of potential employers. Employers specify their criteria for a position and a random, computer-generated search pulls up the appropriate candidates.

* Scan the annual "Top Companies" lists of the major business periodicals for potential job sources. For instance, see the "25 Best Places For Blacks To Work," BLACK ENTERPRISE (February 1992).

* Remember, most job vacancies never get to the classified section of the newspaper, and those that do are often filled before you read about them. Keep your reliance on these ads to a minimum.

* Don't overlook college placement offices, alumni associations, fraternities/sororities and nonprofit organizations in your search.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Author:Baskerville, Dawn M.
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Oct 1, 1992
Previous Article:On the rebound.
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