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Economy & Business

Will work for job: For college grads, finding work is tricky, but not impossible

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: In the midst of an economic downturn, when unemployment rates hover at 5 percent nationally, it is taking some college students in St. Louis longer to find jobs than usual.

For a few moments during finals week, Cadence Rippeto felt relieved. She finished the last exam of her senior year and stepped into a drizzly day. Then, her relief evaporated.

In a few days, Rippeto would graduate from the University of Missouri-St. Louis with a degree in communications and no leads on a job, no interviews and no job offers.

Not that she hadn't been sending out resumes.

"I don't even know how many now," Rippeto said. "It's been a lot.

And, of course, she's not alone.

In the midst of an economic downturn, when unemployment rates hover at 5 percent nationally, up from 4.5 percent a year ago according to the Department of Labor, it is taking some college students in St. Louis longer to find jobs than usual.

"It's tighter now than it's been in the past several years," said Russ Signorino, vice president of research with the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

And the numbers get worse.

In Missouri, unemployment rates were at 5.7 percent in March, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In St. Louis, rates were 6.4 percent -- higher than any other metro area in the state.

In an annual forecast on the job market conducted by the job-finding Web site Careerbuilder.com, the company reported that 58 percent of employers planned on hiring college graduates, down from 79 percent in 2007.

However, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which connects colleges with staffing professionals, reported that employers expected to hire more college grads than the year before.

All of that means little, however, if you haven't found a job yet.

"You either are 100 percent employed or 100 percent unemployed," said Mark Smith, assistant vice chancellor and director of the career center at Washington University.

So far at Wash U, he said, the number of students finding jobs seems to be better than last year, but it's too early to tell, and their findings could be a result of better data collection.

At the University of Missouri-St. Louis, Emily Rapko McEneny, assistant director of career services, said the number of students finding jobs seems to be on par with numbers from last year. They'll know more after six months when they send out a survey to graduates.

"I suppose it will probably take them a little longer to find something unless they're in a really hot field," she said.

And in many cases, the problem isn't the job market or the economy but the drive of the new graduate.

"The students who were proactive and were engaged early on in the job search are doing well," Rapko McEneny said.

That's certainly true for James Allison. The Lindenwood University student will graduate with his degree in history with an emphasis in education. And he got a job, too, teaching at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles.

"I guess I actually started sending out resumes in December," Allison said.

He figures he sent out about 25, even to schools without openings, had eight district-level interviews, three building-level interviews and one job offer.

It was all he needed, though.

Allison, 33, is married with two kids and knew when the time came, he had to have a job and it had to be in the area.

"You can't sit around and wait for people to call you," he said.

In fact, any sitting around and waiting might not only miss one job opening, but lots of them.

"There's a hiring season," said Dana Wehrli, director of career services at Lindenwood. That season typically starts in the spring, and so students need to be getting serious during the winter.

That might be especially true in a year when economic worries have baby boomers, who would be retiring, deciding to hold on for a little longer. Graduates also have to contend with people already in the job market, with more developed skills and better contacts.

And students can't go after jobs the way they applied for colleges, but often, Smith said, they fail to see the difference. They can't rely on posting their resumes on the Web either, hoping that perfect job will find them.

"It's the basic stuff that always matters," Smith said. "Real experience and developed practical skills."

Other skills the career counselors preach can be honed in during the ever-important internships. Make connections, they all agreed, join professional organizations.

Students need to remember to clean up their social networking pages such as Facebook and MySpace about six months before the process, Rapko McEneny said.

And, they have to hustle.

"I think a proactive student from any discipline could find a good job," Wehrli said.

True, the job market isn't fantastic, but jobless graduates shouldn't despair just yet. In fact, Signorino said, it isn't as bad as it's been in past downturns.

Job openings do exist. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported losses in the fields of construction, retail trade and manufacturing last month, jobs increased in health care, professional services and technical services.

And fields such as accounting, finance, marketing, sales and education seem to be hot now, Wehrli said.

Still, some students aren't taking any chances.

Chris Marcus, who will graduate in the fall from UMSL with a degree in finance, said he already has a job as an intern with Scott Trade. He hopes it will bridge into a something fulltime.

As for Rippeto, the UMSL grad, she's Googling and searching and waiting for that job.

Not right after her final exam, though.

She took a nap instead.

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