- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2008

From college seniors entering the job market to freshmen calculating what course credits will most appeal to employers, students are focusing on how the economic downturn is going to affect their lives.

The concern does not have to translate into worry or even fear, according to the American University Career Center, which is preaching that early job searching and a polished resume can still get students far, even in the current economic climate.

Bridget O’Connell, the Career Center’s director of outreach and marketing, said that the Career Center urges students who are anxiously watching news of the unfolding financial crisis not to panic and to continue to build their resumes so that they are prepared to compete in an economy that may offer fewer job opportunities.

“The advising is the same in terms of key messages: internships, research,” she said, adding, “The only message that is different is don’t panic and prepare yourself.”

Camille Franklin, director of career development, said, “The essentials of a good job search still apply.”

Ms. O’Connell encouraged students to research the kinds of opportunities available because, while some industries may not be hiring as much, new industries could be emerging from the financial crisis, such as appraising and money-saving energy initiatives.

Freshman public communications major Chelsea O’Neill was at American’s job and internship fair Sept. 24 looking for internship options. She said that she chose her major because of its flexibility. “You can go anywhere with it,” she said.

Ms. O’Neill admitted to being concerned about the current job market, but as a freshman, she is not worried about her employment yet. “Hopefully I’ll get a job. I want to get a job,” she said with a laugh.

For students in American’s Kogod School of Business, however, the financial crisis has more of a direct affect. The school took its annual trip to Wall Street Sept. 10 to Sept. 12 as Lehman Bros. Holdings Inc. stock was falling. The students visited a number of investment banking firms, including Lehman Bros., Legg Mason Inc., Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citibank.

Jay Liwanag, director of the Center for Career Development for the business school, said that students were taken to New York to learn more about life on Wall Street, increase interest in careers and validate the career choices of students wishing to end up there.

“It’s something that really supplements their learning,” he said.

According to Mr. Liwanag, the school of business encourages students to pursue their passions but to look at the market realistically. “It’s a tough market, and we’ve never seen this before,” he said.

For students on the trip, seeing Wall Street in crisis was both exciting and ominous.

Ander Echanove, a senior finance major, said, “Once we arrived, everyone pretty much knew what the scenario was.” He said that he knew friends who had worked for Lehman Bros. who had already packed and left the city.

Senior finance and international relations major Andy Gierman said the students saw firsthand employees who knew that their company was in jeopardy and were nervous for their futures. “It made it very real,” she said.

Mr. Echanove said that he had a sense of what he would see on Wall Street before arriving, but it was exciting to be in the middle of the action. However, he said that the excitement was mixed with the realization that he wants to work on Wall Street when he graduates and that the current situation does not bode well for his prospects.

He said that he wants to work in banking and is not giving up yet, having applied to more than 20 firms by late September.

“Until they … say no to every application, I’m not going to give up,” he said. “I’m trying every possible route to get to Wall Street.”

For Ms. Gierman, the trip made Wall Street seem more appealing, despite its current problems. She said she had not been sure what she wanted to do with her degree, but after visiting the various companies, Wall Street became one of the options she would consider.

Ms. Gierman had not, however, ruled out graduate school as a way to bide her time while the economic crisis plays out and make her more competitive in the job market. “I hope that works for me,” she said.

The general consensus among the business students and professors has been not to panic, according to Rick Mac Donald, assistant director of the Center for Career Development for the Kogod School of Business.

Mr. Liwanag said that teachers are incorporating the current economy in their classrooms. “It’s been a good tool for them,” he said.

Professor of finance Gerald Martin said, “It’s providing a real-life laboratory.” Mr. Martin teaches intermediate corporate finance classes at American, and he said he has found himself addressing some facet of the current financial situation every day.

Not only are students eager to learn about the economy, Mr. Martin said, but he can also teach a lot of his concepts in context. For instance, when Congress was debating the first bailout bill, his class discussed what a bailout was and related it to risk and return.

Mr. Martin does not work directly with senior finance majors, but he teaches potential finance majors. When it comes to careers, he reiterated the Career Center’s advice to try to stand out through knowledge and experience.

He also emphasized the many options in the field, describing Wall Street as fast-paced, aggressive and “the sexy side of finance.” If that does not fit what a student wants as a career, they will not succeed there.

Ms. Franklin of the Career Center advised students, “Don’t be discouraged, and be open to alternatives to what you thought was the right job for you.”

According to Ms. O’Connell, American University encourages students to look at the possibility of public-sector jobs because many fields of study can find work in the government. To encourage the exploration of government jobs, the university will host Inaugural Federal Careers Week in January complete with discussions and workshops.

With many options being shown to them, Mr. Mac Donald said, “Most of [the students] are remaining fairly optimistic.”

Ms. Franklin said her main concern for students right now is the unknown. “We’re trying to stay on top of things,” she said, but added, “There’s a balance between scaring the students and preparing the students.”

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