College graduates are less choosy as they launch into their work lives

By Jenna Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 19, 2010

One year ago, the Class of 2009 left college and jumped into one of the worst job markets in history.

Cautionary tales about the real world were quickly passed down to younger students: Searching six months for a job, waitressing and bartending stints, moving home with mom and dad, racking up more debt.

"Many of my best friends graduated last year. One out of five has a 'career job,' " said Christina Haley, 21, who just graduated from Marymount University in Arlington County. "We all had seen a couple of years of people graduating and not finding jobs. It put the fear in us to start earlier, to pull strings so that we wouldn't be stuck."

Several career center directors from around the region say the vibe is different in the Class of 2010.

Instead of debating salaries and benefits, many students set their sights on simply getting a job. They begged for internships. They hyper-networked and filed dozens of applications. They often locked in on early offers rather than holding out for something better.

And some 2010 grads decided to wait things out. This academic year, more have taken the Law School Admissions Test than last year. Teach for America, which recruits for hard-to-staff public schools, received a record 46,000 applications for this year's class and was the top employer at some universities.

"People have not waited for the dream job because they don't think it will ever open up," said Beverly T. Lorig, the director of career services at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

A national survey of about 13,000 graduating seniors found that 39 percent had received job offers and 59 percent of those students accepted them, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. That's higher than last year, when 40 percent of seniors got offers but only 45 percent of them accepted. The result is that 24.4 percent of 2010 graduates reported having a job before graduation, up from 19.7 percent of the Class of 2009, according to the survey.

Several career centers saw record numbers of students at the beginning of the school year in September and October: More seniors wanted to start their job search early, more underclassmen wanted to find internships and more out-of-work alumni wanted help.

To keep up with the traffic, career centers had to be creative with resources -- after all, this is not a time when universities are bursting with extra cash. The University of Maryland at College Park moved some of its career services online, shortened one-on-one appointment time slots and offered more clinics. Catholic University, in the District, upped its outreach to employers, added more walk-in and evening hours, shortened consultations to 30 minutes and reviewed more résumés by e-mail, usually from home on the weekends.

"Usually the fall semester, for us, is a little more relaxed," said Jen Spataro-Wilson, director of career services at Shenandoah University in Winchester. "From the very beginning, at freshman orientation, we're talking about after-graduation. . . . I think now students are actually listening. They want to be prepared."

Simone Smith, 22, who graduated in May from George Washington University in the District, watched the unemployment rate her entire senior year and realized that she had to do something drastic to land a job in the California Bay Area, where her parents live.

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