The Colgate Scene
The next step
Career services helps seniors creatively pursue their goals in today's economic climate
|by Rebecca Costello|
This year, college seniors face a more uncertain postgraduate world than their counterparts of the past few years. Even last year, it was common for seniors entering fields that traditionally recruit employees to have the luxury of choosing from five or six job offers by spring semester -- and to receive large sign-on bonuses. But in the recent economic downturn, companies aren't hiring as many people, much less in advance. The Center for Career Services (CCS) has been working on creative and strategic ways to help students pursue their goals in this sagging economy.
Among recent Colgate graduates, the five most popular career fields are financial services, communications, education, sales and marketing and consulting, followed by health and medical, law, nonprofit/social change, technology and sciences. According to a spring 2001 survey of the Class of 2000 (the most recent available; 81 percent responded), nearly 80 percent were employed full-time, 16 percent were in graduate school and four percent were seeking employment. Law, medicine/healthcare and the sciences were the most popular graduate school programs, followed by education, arts and communications, humanities, social sciences, theology and business.
This fall, CCS staff members noted increased traffic in Spear House, an observation that could at least in part be explained by a higher level of anxiety among students.
"We began to see a tightening of the market last spring," said Barbara Moore, interim director of career services, who also noted a crunch in internship availability last summer. In the aftermath of September 11, the trend has deepened. Normally by late November, seniors would have landed more than 30 offers through the recruiting program; this year at that time, only a handful had been reported.
"I am worried about the economy, and it is the topic of many conversations with my friends," said senior Sarah Tuttle, a CCS peer advisor who's pursuing a career in financial services. "Companies are hiring less, making it harder to obtain interviews in the first place, which is frustrating. However, it is important to keep working hard until something opens up. I try to maintain a positive attitude and hope for the best."
"I've definitely seen more nervous students," remarked Laurie Murphy '78, career counselor. In that light, "more of them are thinking about grad school even if they don't know what field they want to go into," she said. Graduate school applications tend to increase during recessions.
"We've seen higher numbers of students coming in for individual help, and participating in programs," added another career counselor, Shannon Int-Hout. "Usually by the end of November it slows down some, but it's remained very busy. Many are being creative about their job searches and taking a lot of initiative."
At a standing-room-only information session on the spring job fairs Eastern College Career Days in New York and Capital Consortium in Washington, D.C., David Loveless, CCS program coordinator, stressed: "The benefit with both these programs is that you get actual interviews. You can get yourself in front of a lot of different companies in one day."
"Things were going so well economically, I think we expected it to continue. Now that it's not, it's a bit of a shock," says senior David Park, who plans on a career in film production. "I see my friends reevaluating what they truly want to do. People are looking at other avenues, and for balance between their personal and private lives" -- another recent trend, which the CCS staff began noticing last year. Since September 11 seniors seem even more introspective about their goals.
"Students used to tell me, I don't mind working 80 hours a week for the first few years," Murphy said. "Now I hear, `I don't want to be working all night.' I've also seen them be more reflective about the meaning of work in the context of recent world events; for instance, I've seen more interest in the Defense Intelligence Agency and the FBI."
The staff is in discussions daily about how they're responding to the current situation. "The message to students is, don't give up," Moore emphasized. "This is an opportunity, to take the time to reflect about what's important to you."
Murphy also noted the need to emphasize a practical approach. "Sometimes I have to talk to students about taking a job they're not as interested in, to get in the door of a company, so they will be there when the one they want opens up," she said. "That's not something they want to hear, but I feel it's my job [to tell them]."
Both in response to the current situation, and through an overall strategic plan, CCS has increased and focused its programming this year. A new staff position, held by Amanda Thomas, is allowing them to build and diversify the corporate recruiting program. Additional Gateway ("what you can do with a major in . . .") programs will be offered this spring. Staff members are also spending more time doing research to increase their collective knowledge, and networking with companies to hunt out new opportunities for students.
An increased focus on the nonprofit sector led to a joint venture with the new Center for Outreach, Volunteerism and Education (COVE). The fall Food For Thought luncheon series "Doing Well By Doing Good" brought alumni and others to campus to discuss their work in nonprofits. "We want to show students that anything you do in the for-profit world, you can do in nonprofits," explained Murphy. Other COVE-related activities include the new Service Learning Internship Program -- winter break internships tied to specific courses.
The center surveys students annually to assess changing interests and needs. "Each class has its own culture and personality, and we need to recognize that," said Moore. Last spring, focus groups revealed that students wanted CCS to be more visible on campus. In response, they launched a pilot program this fall, holding satellite office hours at the COVE, ALANA Cultural Center and Barge Canal Coffee Company, with student peer advisors staffing tables in the Coop to adverstise upcoming programming and provide resume and cover letter advice.
Colgate's career service initiatives are heavily alumni-driven, and another goal has been to increase those connections even more. From resume referral and the corporate recruiting program to "Day in the Life" job shadowing, from presentations and seminars to sponsoring internships and networking, time and again the CCS staff members gratefully acknowledge the help Colgate's graduates provide the next generation.
"Alumni are our most valuable resource," said Moore. "They are willing to talk to our students honestly and fairly. I couldn't do my job without them."
Judy Fischer, fellowship/scholarship coordinator, noted that applications for the Watson and Fulbright fellowships increased this year after former Watson Fellow Howard Fineman '70 and Fulbright Scholars Stuart Moffett '91 and Jenny Erickson '99 came to campus to share their experiences.
Recognizing many specific similarities in today's situation to the recession of the early '90s, CCS plans a spring event inviting graduates from that era to share with current students the challenges they encountered. "Having alumni share their experiences will allow students to know they're not the only ones who had to go through this difficult process," said Moore.
Senior Hana Choi, a CCS peer advisor who is considering going into law, says she's learned that "it's all in the networking. Last week I had lunch with an alumna who's an attorney. She told me about working in her firm, and the steps she took to get there. She was really helpful."
Tuttle said that using CCS's list of volunteer alumni career advisors has been the most helpful. "It is so easy to pick up the phone or write an email and ask advice. Because of their own personal trials with the job search, alumni are that much more determined to help others," she said.
The CCS staff members agree, and remain focused on the positive. "There's no better feeling than knowing you're reaching lots of students with opportunities," said Int-Hout. "It really gets the energy in the office up."
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