SMU Graduates In the Job Market

November 29, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Kate Gardner
kateg@smu.edu

On paper, graduate Lisa Collins is doing everything right.

She graduated in May 2011 as a double major in Advertising and Journalism with Honors in Liberal Arts. Her resume is brimming with internships at prestigious publications like D Magazine, ELLE Magazine, Paper City Magazine and The Lance Armstrong Foundation. As the former Arts and Entertainment Editor for The Daily Campus and The Daily Mustang, Collins was actively involved on campus and held several jobs while in school.

So why is she having such a tough time finding a job?

Collins’ frustration is shared by countless other bright college graduates.
According to the U.S. Bureau Labor of Statistics, as of August 2011, 9.1 percent of the U.S. labor force was unemployed. Of those individuals, 4.3 percent are college graduates with at least a Bachelor’s degree.

Collins may be in luck, though, if she is persistent.

In March, The National Association of Employers (NACE) found that 53 percent of employers intended to hire more college graduates from the Class of 2011 than from the Class of 2010.

Also, the NACE’s Fall 2011 Salary Survey indicates that the average salary offer to 2011 graduates rose 6 percent over last year’s average, from $48,288 to $51,171.

Hegi Family Career Development Center Director Darin Ford says that statistics regarding the employment rate of recent SMU graduates are unavailable, but there are reasons for students to stay positive.

“Overall, we are seeing an increase in employer activity on campus and a slight increase in job postings on MustangTrak,” he said.

While these percentages are hopeful indicators of a recovery on the horizon, many students remain wary.

“I consider myself very lucky to be heading into an internship,” said Jack Benage, an accounting major who received an offer from KPMG, one of the largest accounting firms in the nation, back in April. “It has certainly made me feel more comfortable about graduating early.”

Benage said that his ability to get a job after graduation was one of the factors in his decision to major in accounting.

“You almost take it for granted after it’s there, but it is so satisfying,” said Benage of getting the internship. “I don’t have to worry about looking for a job.”

Graduates like Collins remain undeterred. Having consistently applied to a variety of communications-oriented positions over the last several months, she says that the time spent on the hunt has allowed her to explore options she wouldn’t have otherwise thought to consider.

“There are companies and industries I had never even heard of before that I’ve realized could be interesting to work in and gotten to learn a lot more about,” she said.

Prior to graduating, Collins did a summer fellowship with a communications consulting firm where she worked for one of its clients in the Dallas area.

“I was definitely hoping that it would turn into a full-time job, but unfortunately they did not have any available positions by the end of my fellowship,” she said.

Collins says that the most frustrating part of her search has been the digital job sites and applications.

“I find myself getting really excited if I find a job online that sounds interesting, then I’ll spend hours on an application and the next day the position has already been filled and the job is taken down,” she said.

Collins also says she’s found that as a recent graduate, she doesn’t have enough work experience that employers want to see.

“In the industries I want to work in, there is not typically a lot of college recruiting and positions are filled on an as-needed basis,” she said.

SMU senior Pat Traver, who graduates in December, finds herself in a similar predicament. An English major, Traver came close to getting a job as a video editor when she became one of two candidates to reach the final round of interviews. Unfortunately, she didn’t come away with an offer.

“I could tell that he didn’t want to let me go,” she said of the company’s hiring manager. “There are just more good people than there are open positions.”

Traver believes that in such a competitive job market, graduates are going to have to get creative if they want to find a job.

“I’ve always just had to create opportunities for myself, I don’t know why I expected it to be any different career wise,” she said.

Traver is starting to feel the pressure mounting, as graduation gets closer.

“As far as a safety net, I don’t really have one and that’s terrifying,” she said. “I don’t have a source of income to go off of at this point.”

While Traver says that her parents are willing to help, it is important for her to become financially independent quickly, as they will soon be putting her younger sister through college. Having taken out a considerable amount in student loans, it makes finding a job all the more imperative.

“Clearly everyone wants that perfect job. But at this point, I graduate in four weeks, and I just need something that’s going to pay my bills,” she said.

Traver says that she was told to reapply for the video editing position, which she will probably do, but will continue looking at other options in the meantime.

“If you can get to a point where you have a job, then you can still continue looking for one,” she said.

Joy Schwartz, a career coach at the SMU Cox BBA Career Management Center, says that in a competitive job market, graduating students need to be resourceful and dedicated when it comes to their job search.

“There isn’t a prescribed career path anymore,” she said. “You just have to continually build your network, build your skill set and put yourself out there so that the right opportunities find you.”

Texas Capital Bank Executive Vice President of Recruiting Tricia Linderman emphasizes the importance of making connections. Linderman oversees the recruiting department in all of the bank’s Texas branches, in addition to running Texas Capital’s on-boarding program, which helps new employees transition into their work environment.

“When people send me a resume and say, ‘Hey I know this person, they’re talented, they’re good,’ I’m going to look at that resume a lot faster than I’m going to look at one that comes in off the website or just randomly show up in my email inbox,” she said.

As a smaller bank, Linderman says they prefer candidates to have between 5 and 20 years of experience. While they do not typically hire recent college graduates, she says that model may change soon due to company growth.

“Within 2012 I think we’ll probably start looking at some things and doing our own training program instead of hiring experience,” she said.

Aside from internships and work experience, Linderman says that a graduate’s ability to write can really separate them from other prospective candidates.

“I think one of the reasons why I’ve been successful is that I can write well,” she said. “Don’t ever underestimate how important that is.”

Personality is also a big plus.

“Everyone for the most part is smart and can do the job,” Linderman said of those who come in to interview. “But once you get there, you’re looking for someone who is going to be a good cultural fit, and who people are going to enjoy working with.”

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