It’s a sign of the times that in an otherwise uplifting commencement speech to Hollins University graduates, Wyndham Robertson interjected, “your timing, needless to say, is terrible.”
According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, only 19.7% of 2009 graduates who applied for a job actually have secured employment, compared to 51% of 2007 graduates, and 26% of those graduating in 2008.
Part of the reason for the decline may be the ubiquitous discouraging news reports. While 64% of the Class of 2007 and 75% of the Class of 2008 had started their job hunt by May, only 59% of 2009’s graduates have begun searching for jobs.
“Many students have been discouraged with the lack of opportunities in the fields they have studied,” said Ashley Glenn, interim director of the Hollins University career center. “I think they’ve basically said, ‘the economy is so bad that I’m going to wait’.”
Emileigh Clare, a communications major at Hollins who graduated last Sunday, had been aiming for a career in print journalism. But after years working on her high school paper and serving as co-editor-in-chief of the Hollins Columns, she’s now watching the industry suffer as newspapers fold and offer buyouts to their staff.
“I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I hit puberty, but now that particular career aspiration seems as realistic as my other childhood dream of being a mermaid,” she said. Instead, she’s looking at other fields, like marketing, for jobs.
“At the moment, I don’t have a ‘plan’ other than be dependent on my family until I get a job,” said Clare. “In the mean time, I have applied for a few jobs and internships.”
Graduating with such dim job prospects may be doubly intimidating for those with substantial student debt. According to the 2007-2008 first look report by the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, the average debt for an undergraduate senior at a 4-year institution is approximately $22,500.
Even job fairs, a standby for students looking for employment, have been a dead-end for some. Glenn said that she’s heard from many students that they’ve gone to job fairs only to find that some companies weren’t even hiring.
Now, more than ever, Glenn says, finding a job is all about who you know.
“I think if (graduates) have not networked previously and early in their college career, they are way behind in the game,” Glenn said. She encourages them to look to the people they’ve met through internships as well as other alums.
Meanwhile, her best advice to graduates is to keep from becoming stagnant by finding something, whether it’s something temporary or outside their field so that they’re strengthening their résumé.
“I have told our students to really think outside the box,” Glenn said. “There may be opportunities out there that you might not have thought of doing.”