- The Washington Times - Friday, June 1, 2001

This year's college graduates are facing the toughest job market in a decade as the economy slows and companies reduce hiring plans and look for more experienced workers.
As recently as last year, companies scrambled to expand luring new workers with the promise of high salaries, long vacations and signing bonuses. But this year employers are much more cautious. Some are even retracting their job offers and offering generous severance packages to axed entry-level workers.
"It's a very, very difficult period," said John Challenger, president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago outplacement consulting firm. "Many companies in this cost-cutting, profit-squeezing environment are looking for people with experience who they can hire, and expect to have them hit the ground running without start-up costs and lots of training and orientation that typically would be more expected from a new grad."
Nationwide, unemployment has risen from 3.9 percent in October to 4.5 percent in April. And since the start of 2000 U.S. companies have cut some 700,000 jobs, 100,000 as a result of failing dot-com ventures, Mr. Challenger said.
This is bad news for this year's estimated 1.2 million graduates. Many of the recently unemployed are 1999 and 2000 graduates with a little experience on their resumes, giving them a leg up on this year's new entrants.
New graduates are also competing with a slew of retirees who are returning to work to recoup losses in their retirement funds amid the stock market slump.
Graduates who had planned on jobs related to technology and manufacturing are facing toughest competition, Mr. Challenger said.
"Those are industries that dominate our economy and in many ways are having significant difficulties," he said.
More employers than ever recruited engineering graduates at the University of Virginia this year. Yet the number of job offers made to the grads has dropped compared with last year.
Two big employers, Ford Motor Company and Motorola, said they will no longer recruit on campus, referring applicants to their Web sites, university data show.
The story is similar at Marymount University in Arlington.
"The ones that are struggling the most right now are candidates looking for more of your entry-level technical jobs because of the dot-coms folding and other organizations holding off on hiring," said Suzanne Harvey, assistant director of graduate career services at Marymount.
She also said there has been a slight increase this year in retracted job offers to Marymount graduates.
Several companies, like Intel Corp., are offering recent hires they don't actually need up to $20,000 in education bonuses in exchange for not taking the job, Mr. Challenger said.
Some industries are still in the hiring mode, university officials say. Jobs remain plentiful in sectors like health care, energy, education and education training, defense, mortgage banking, paralegal services, human resource management and graphic design.
"Anyone in the field of teaching," said Ms. Harvey. "Any specialty area like elementary, middle, secondary, school counseling, nursing no problem. Accounting. We can't graduate people fast enough."
Jennifer Medicus, associate director of graduate career services at the Kogod School of Business at American University, said this year's graduates are finding work, but it's taking longer.
"So far it hasn't been too bad, though there are a few who for one reason or another are not finding work," she said. "It's just taking a little more work than say the class of last year, or than the group that graduated in December."
Washington and Lee University graduate Melanie Baker has not yet found a job. So she's moving back to Texas.
"I've been wanting to get into publishing," she said. "The first problem I ran into was that I didn't even know how to break into the whole system."
Miss Baker said most of her friends who worked hard at the job search have found employment. But for some it remains a frustrating and long process.
Mr. Challenger noted that the job market is still strong with a 4.5 percent unemployment rate.
But he warns graduates to try to find work soon.
"If you're a summer grad, get in your seat now, don't wait, don't take a summer vacation," he said. "It's like musical chairs and you don't want to wait until December and find yourself without a seat if the economy tanks."


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