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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Countdown to commencement: The not-so-bleak future

The class of ’09 considers finding jobs in a tough economy

Published: March 6, 2009
Section: Features

Photo gallery for the Career Fair.

EMPLOYED: Brandeis students meet and greet employers at a Hiatt Career Center sponsored career fair Thursday. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Barbara Stark/The Hoot</i>

EMPLOYED: Brandeis students meet and greet employers at a Hiatt Career Center sponsored career fair Thursday.
PHOTO BY Barbara Stark/The Hoot

We’ve seen it in the cutbacks at school. We’ve seen it in the statistics on the number of people losing their jobs every week. The hurting economy is all around us, but we have not yet been subject to the full force of what President Obama has called “the worst economic crisis since the great depression.”

College has provided a shield of sorts, but for the class of 2009, life in the bubble is coming to a close, and fast.

The life of a second semester senior is always fraught with anxiety. Their choices usually amount to something like this: graduate school, a post-baccalaureate program, service programs like the Peace Corps or a real job. Between the mountains of applications, the interviews and cost, even in the best of years, all of these options and the stress can be unbearable. Add an uncertain economy and the fact that the unemployment rate is the highest it’s been (7.6 percent as of January, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) since 1984, and the future probably looks bleak to a senior on the verge of stepping off into the real world.

Perhaps looking at the scariest job market are those seniors who had planned on entering the finance sector, Wall Street in particular. In her Feb. 20, 2009 article, Ellen Goodman wrote that “An outsized number of students raised on liberal arts educations and wrapped in ivy ended up taking their degrees to Wall Street with the goal of becoming masters of the universe.”

That is, many people pursued hard-earned degrees in economics, business and similarly business-orientated majors in the hopes of coming into a comfortable salary, perhaps at the expense of pursuing a career in a field they would enjoy more. However, Goodman also quotes a friend of hers saying that in this economy “It’s not as easy to sell out even if you wanted to.”

LOOKING AHEAD: Charlie Gandelman ‘09 speaks with National Collegiate Volunteers Co-president Noah Kaplan ‘09 about internship possibilities. <br /><i>PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot</i>

LOOKING AHEAD: Charlie Gandelman ‘09 speaks with National Collegiate Volunteers Co-president Noah Kaplan ‘09 about internship possibilities.
PHOTO BY Max Shay/The Hoot

In fact, according to Goodman, the option to explore employment opportunities that are traditionally not as competitive or as high paying is a bright spot in the gloom of the job market.

Joe DuPont, Esq., Director of Brandeis’ Hiatt Career Center, touched on the same silver lining in an e-mail to The Hoot. Dupont addressed the tension students often feel between taking the high paying job and the one that they might enjoy: “There are many students traditionally who feel torn to take the higher paying job as opposed to the job they are truly passionate about. Ideally, we would work with them to find [the job] that matches both criteria. In this market, however, the ideal for many students is to get a job. We can’t really argue with that, but we try to encourage them to think very thoughtfully about whether they will be happy in the role they take.”

But how much has this news – the good and the bad – really changed peoples’ plans? 

Hiatt has been working hard to prove that all hope is not lost with the implementation of various new programming such as the brown bag lunch series, where representatives from different job sectors come in and share experiences and information over lunch, in addition to career fairs and the like. Hiatt has seen a 20 percent increase in counseling appointments since last year, though they would like to attribute part of that increase to increased visibility with programs like World of Work (WOW) funds awarded to students taking full time, non-paid, summer internships.

“There is no silver bullet,” DuPont wrote. “You should be fully engaged in a wide range of strategies to counter what is going in the economy.”

DuPont’s advice is particularly important in light of a recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers that found that despite data from the fall that suggested hiring would be flat for the class of 2009, new data suggest otherwise. In their monthly bulletin, NACE announced that, “Respondents to [the] Job Outlook 2009 Spring Update survey now expect to hire nearly 22 percent fewer graduates from this year’s class than they hired from the Class of 2008, ending a string of positive college hiring reports dating back to 2004.”

Jeremy Botwinick ’09 plans on moving to New York City in hopes of finding a job there. He said the economy has not changed his plans, though he has felt “increased stress regarding the job search because there are less jobs out there and more people trying to get them.”

Fellow senior Gideon Katsh, an economics major, said in an e-mail that he had always planned on finding a full time job upon graduation. Katsh wrote, “I planned on finding a job and working for a few years before grad school, and I’m sticking to it. Implementing my plans hasn’t been affected by the economy and job market.”

Katsh wrote, however, that the same couldn’t necessarily be said of some of his friends who majored in economics: “A couple friends of mine who are econ majors have switched paths and are now looking at law school or work at law firms.”

Hiatt recently conducted a three-year trend analysis of where students go after graduation which showed that approximately 60 percent of seniors go straight to a full time job or service program, like Botwinick and Katsh plan on doing.

The same Hiatt trend analysis showed that approximately 34 percent of students go on to graduate school. Thomas Broussard, Ph.D. ‘06, Assistant Dean, Admissions, Recruitment and Career Services at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, has watched what the economy has done to graduate school applications. He said people need to ask themselves, “How do I end up at [where I want to be] in 10 or 20 years from now?”

One senior, who wished to remain anonymous, asked herself that very question. “My long term goal is going to require a lot more schooling,” she said, but her plans have not been affected by the economy.

Her plan is to do a pre-med, post-baccalaureate program, and then move on to medical school, and her plans have not been altered in light of the recent economic conditions. “Earning money would be especially nice at times like these…but I can’t ultimately get the job I want without getting the next few years of school out of the way,” she said

Another senior, Michael Schwartz, is also set on graduate school, but while his plan of earning a master’s degree in either international development or medieval history has not changed, his graduate school strategy has. He has watched his spending meticulously, cutting back on outings and sticking to his meal plan in attempt to ready himself for pending graduate school tuition.

Schwartz applied to 16 schools. “I applied to a lot more than I would have [in a better economy] to make sure I would get in somewhere,” he said.

He also noted that several of his applications asked for rather extensive financial information. After talking with friends, Schwartz realized that the amount of information he has to submit was more than applications have asked for in the past.

Schwartz is not wrong in expecting steeper competition. Overall, Heller has seen a 15 percent increase in applications, with an almost 100 percent increase in applications to their MBA program. Heller, like Hiatt, does not attribute the increase wholly to the economy, but rather to a new, more aggressive, marketing campaign. Broussard noted that applications to graduate school tend to be counter cyclical to the economy. In a recession of this magnitude, however, even that relationship gets thrown off balance. “Hiding out” for two years is not long enough—waiting out the economy becomes the new challenge.

But though there may be many challenges out there, DuPont has a bit of helpful advice for seniors, and all students, looking to make the best of the situation: “If I had one last piece of advice it would be [to] use all the resources at this great institution and your friends, family, etc., to develop a job search plan that is tailored specifically to your interests. We at Hiatt can help you create the roadmap to do that regardless of your class status. When you are ready, we are here to help.”