Seniors Face Tough Job Market

Author: Ed Cohen

As they walked together between rows of tables of recruiters at the Winter Career and Internship Fair in the Joyce Center Fieldhouse, Lucie Turcotte and fellow senior Courtney Gleason couldn’t help but think back a year. They were at another career fair on campus, this one geared to jobs for science majors like themselves. More than 50 companies and organizations were there recruiting.

“We were just kind of talking to the people and not really serious, "remembered Gleason, who is from Atlanta. “They were like, ‘We need people.’ And we were just kind of like, ‘Yeah, whatever.’”

Looking around at the scores of tables now, the biology majors were dismayed to see only a handful of companies from the life sciences field, mostly pharmaceuticals manufacturers.

“And even they aren’t looking for science majors,” said Turcotte, who’s from Saint Paul. “They’re looking for business majors, sales and marketing.”

According to various reports, 2002 promises to be the worst job market for graduates since 1991. With the economy in recession and the hiring excesses that preceded the dotcom bust fresh in employers’ minds, prospects look dim in many fields.

“Compared to the last couple of years, it’s ridiculous,” said senior Kathleen Smith, a history major from Cincinnati standing with other smartly dressed young women in front of the Liz Claiborne table at the career fair. “We have a bunch of friends who’ve graduated the last couple of years who’ve had eight, 10 offers in the fall. People aren’t getting offers, let alone interviews, and if they are getting interviews, the company isn’t even hiring.”

It’s no wonder students are worried, said Lee Svete, director of the Notre Dame Career Center. “They were 9 years old in the last recession. They don’t understand. This is my third recession, and it’s a little different.”

Svete, who came to Notre Dame four years ago after stops at Colgate, Clarkson and Saint Lawrence universities, said one of the major obstacles facing seniors is that companies “overhired last year, big time.” They promised jobs to graduates and gave them starting dates months after commencement, the assumption being that the economy would continue to grow. When the recession hit, start dates had to be pushed back, creating a logjam for this year’s graduates. So last fall, the season when the Big Five accounting firms and other national companies usually recruit on campus, there were far fewer openings.

“Things have been tough, slow, especially in investment banking,” said Stephanie Apostolou, a finance and French major from Pittsburgh waiting in line at the General Electric table at the career fair. “My best friend is in marketing and another is in accounting. All the accounting majors are in bad shape.”

Nicholas Wibbenmeyer, a management information systems major from Saint Genevieve, Missouri, said he secured an interview on campus last fall with Arthur Andersen. The recruiter told him the firm was going to interview the same large number of people as always but invite only six for an office visit.

“I was one of the six, but the day before I was set to leave they got a hold of me and told me they weren’t hiring anyone and would get back to me in spring.”

Svete said the toughest fields in which to find jobs this year are financial consulting (“just crushed”), dotcoms, investment banking, retail, and advertising and large-scale media companies like AOL-Time-Warner. Among the best: government.

Indeed at the Treasury Department’s table at the career fair, Ken Vega, special agent for the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation division, said Congress had authorized his group to hire 300 new investigators a year for the next three years to follow money trails to suspected criminals. His division was looking to recruit accounting majors as well as students in general business and arts and letters, he said.

The tables for the Treasury Department and especially the Central Intelligence Agency attracted many students at the career fair, but large numbers still flocked to big-name private employers. Senior Adam Turner of South Bend, a computer science major and The Observer’s web administrator for the past two years, waited in line at the IBM table hoping for a lead on a job in software engineering or something involving web technology, only to be told the company wasn’t hiring. Turner suspected he’d have better luck applying to smaller technology companies that might not come to a career fair.

He’s right, according to Svete. Which is why the Career Center has made a push to cultivate more small, fast-growing companies of 35 to 1,000 employees. Smaller companies don’t recruit in waves eight months ahead of graduation like a General Motors or PricewaterhouseCoopers, so they don’t attend job fairs. They hire when they need someone, which is often right now. That can be a problem for seniors, who aren’t likely to drop out a few months or weeks short of graduation to take a job. But smaller, fast-growth companies are where the jobs are being created in this economy, so the Career Center wants to be a conduit to them.

“Every day we want to find 60 fast-growth organizations,” said Svete. “We don’t want to sit here and have the companies come to us.”

Many students praise the help and resources provided by the Career Center, which is housed in Flanner Hall. Created 2½ years ago to replace the old Career and Placement Services office in basement of the library, the center usually organizes a career fair in the fall geared to companies looking to hire full-time employees and another in the winter focusing on internships. This winter’s fair, at the end of January, combined full-time jobs and internships in a neatly organized way. One or more color coded helium balloons at each table indicated recruiting intention — purple for internships, red for full-time jobs, yellow for master’s graduates, blue for Ph.D.s.

This year, for the first time, the center flew in representatives of nonprofit groups like the Brookings Institution, American Enterprise Institute and Smithsonian Institution. These organizations are prime employers for arts and letters graduates, but because they don’t recruit en masse like large private employers they don’t normally attend career fairs.

Probably the center’s most popular offerings are its slick on-line tools like Go IRISH (Internet Recruiting & Interview Scheduling Hotlink), which lets students store multiple versions of resumes and cover letters and make them available to employers with a mouse click. Go IRISH is tied into more than 1,200 employers looking to recruit Notre Dame students for jobs or internships. Another web page, part of, connects Notre Dame alumni with other alumni and with students seeking jobs and internships.

This past February Notre Dame students could log onto a virtual job fair called Hire Big 10 Plus. At this password-protected site, students from the Big Ten athletic conference universities plus the University of Chicago and ND had exclusive access to 294 job openings with 95 companies and organizations.

“The Career Center has been just awesome with the resources they’ve provided,” said Peter Rossmann, senior class president and one of many Notre Dame students who had a job lined up by the start of spring semester.

Actually it was well before. After graduation he’ll be working in the equity sales and trading area of Morgan Stanley in New York City, he said. It’s an unlikely match, given that Rossmann, from Iowa City, majored in government and said he’d never taken a business course before interning with the company last summer. He said his bosses offered him a job on the last day he was there in August. “So I never really participated in the job search.”

Another government major, Brooke Norton from Glendora, California, took a similar route to the job she has lined up at Procter and Gamble in Cincinnati. Notre Dame’s first female student body president, she interned with the company last summer, helping out with marketing and management of the company’s Folger’s coffee brand.

As with Rossmann, at summer’s end Procter and Gamble offered her a full-time position for after graduation. But Norton, who has a concentration in journalism, said she didn’t accept immediately.
“I told myself I would interview for other jobs out there . . . and there was not much out there.”
She said she went on four interview trips off campus fall semester — she declined to say where or if she received any offers — before deciding the P&G opportunity was right for her. She said she called after Christmas to accept.

The theme seems to be, opportunities exist, but in smaller numbers.

The same month Norton was saying yes to Proctor & Gamble, James Webb, a senior marketing major, accepted an offer from General Mills for a business management associate position. It was exactly what he was looking for and he’s not at all disappointed, he said. But he also wasn’t overwhelmed with alternatives. At the start of fall semester, he had applied to about a dozen positions but received interviews with only two. Of his group of six friends who are business majors, Webb said, only three had jobs as of January.

That’s a big change from when he was a freshman and the economy was in better shape. He recalls seniors being offered jobs and bonuses "from companies that they didn’t even really know what the company did.

“This was kind of a given for us, that getting a job wouldn’t be a problem. Now I think we feel like if you get an offer you’ve got to take it.”

But not necessarily a conventional job.

Left at the interview altar by Arthur Andersen, Wibbenmeyer the MIS major said he was considering launching his own enterprise. It would be a joint venture with, a company that consults with nonprofit groups on fund-raising and is based near Columbus, Ohio. Wibbenmeyer interned last summer with the company, which is headed by alumnus and longtime Bengal Bouts coach Tom Suddes ’71.

Among students who can’t find permanent jobs, some are applying for internships in the hope they’ll lead to something permanent. The trouble is, only about 35 percent of internships are paid, Svete said. Many graduates have student loans to worry about.

In recent years about 10 percent of Notre Dame graduates have chosen to embark on full-time service work for a year or more. Some expected that figure to grow significantly this year, given the dearth of paying jobs, but it’s not looking that way. John Staud, head of the Notre Dame-based Alliance for Catholic Education, which places new graduates in Catholic schools for two years to teach while they earn a master’s degree in education, said applications from Notre Dame seniors were up about 10 percent over recent years.

Andrea Smith Shappell, director of senior transitions programs for the Center for Social Concerns, said interest in service opportunities overall remained strong but that she had not seen a significant increase.

Another option for seniors is graduate school. In recent years about 30 percent of Notre Dame graduates have indicated they plan to continue their education. Nationally, law and business schools reported being swamped with applications this past winter. Speculation was that the jump resulted from panicky seniors looking to wait out the recession in grad school.

Notre Dame’s professional programs appear to be following the trend in terms of application volume. But in the case of the law school, where in January applications were running 50 percent ahead of the same time last year, officials weren’t sure how much of the upsurge stemmed from the poor job market and how much from the school encouraging earlier application.

In the Mendoza College of Business, applications for the MBA program were running 93 percent ahead of last year, according to Brian Lohr, associate director of admissions. But most applicants aren’t recent graduates. They’re middle managers, 26 or 27 years old, who are currently employed but know that during a restructuring they’ll likely be the first let go.

“It’s the perfect time [for them] because the economy is going to come back in a year or two and when they’re finished with their MBA they can hit the deck running. They’ll be a hot commodity.”

In the Notre Dame Graduate School, which awards master’s degrees and doctorates in arts and letters disciplines, science, engineering and architecture, applications were up slightly compared with last year but not in the fields one would expect if jobs were tight. English was a big winner while science and most engineering disciplines were down, said Terry Akai, associate dean for admissions. “Apparently people are getting their jobs [in those fields].”

As spring semester got under way views differed as to the prevailing mood among seniors.

“I think it’s desperation,” said Gleason, one of the biology majors who listened impassively to desperate science recruiters a year ago. (Though science-related employers were few in number at the winter fair, some were scheduling interviews the next day, and she and Turcotte met with representatives from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.)

Rossmann, the senior class president who parlayed his internship at Morgan Stanley into a job offer at the end of the summer, said it’s obvious to him that it’s been more difficult to find a job this year than in previous years, “but most of the seniors I know are pretty upbeat about it all.”

There’s a long tradition of gallows humor on campus in regard to job searching. Some students post rejection letters outside their residence hall doors. At one time the Alumni-Senior Club would give a free drink to anyone who brought in a rejection letter, but that tradition ended more than 15 years ago, according to the club’s manager. The club now gives free soft drinks to everyone as an encouragement to cut down on alcohol.

Jaye Parody, a marketing and Spanish major from Wellington, near West Palm Beach, Florida, said she had accepted a job that starts in July, as a business analyst with the Target discount store chain in Minneapolis. But her two roommates were still looking.

“Some people don’t expect to have a job. People are really worried and they think it’s going to be brutally hard,” she said.

She said the tendency was to cover up the anxiety with sarcastic humor.

“Everyone’s like, ’I’m doing service,’ and they’ll laugh, or ’I’m going to graduate school,’ and laugh, or ’I’m doing nothing,’ and laugh.”

Svete sees reason for optimism. The waves of job cuts last summer and fall may be over, he said. And if the economy recovers as projected, 75 percent of normal hirings may yet take place between March and August. Also, fast-growing smaller companies continue to generate jobs.

In the meantime, some seniors are pursuing every opportunity they can. Waiting in line to meet the Liz Claiborne recruiters, history major Smith was asked what kind of a position she hoped to find.

“I’m looking for any job,” she said. “Right now you can’t be choosy.”

Ed Cohen is an associate editor of this magazine.