Spring is here. And for millions of soon-to-be graduates of the class of 2002, that means it's time to leave school behind and join the "real world."
While both high school and college graduates face one of the more competitive job markets in recent years, it doesn't mean landing that first job is impossible, experts say.
For Katrina Cope, career adviser at the University of California Santa Cruz, a recent job fair illustrated the challenge this year's crop of graduates face. The 2001 job fair attracted 116 employers, 38 of them tech companies. This year, 75 companies set up booths, but only one of them was a technology company.
"You can no longer be a warm body and wander into Silicon Valley and get hired," Cope cautions. "In terms of foot traffic to the career center, we're up 20-30 percent over last year."
While the computer science majors may be crying, there are hot areas: bio-technology firms are growing and recruiting more than just science majors, needing support staff in marketing and the business side. The same goes for government jobs, defense contractors and teachers. Social workers and healthcare professionals are in demand as well.
Jobs are also going begging for accounting students, says Alicia A. Owen, recruiting coordinator at Fresno State University. "We're amazed at how many accounting firms are looking for students, including government agencies."
But what if you're not an accounting major? What if you picked a major four years ago like computer sciences expecting to make big bucks and stock options?
Marketing Yourself 101
"You have to learn the tools of marketing yourself," Owen says.
To start, make sure your resume is perfect and shows you to be a person that the employer really wants.
"You have to have good interview skills, first impressions really do count," Owen asserts.
Then network, network, network, Cope recommends. Job advisers have always stressed the importance of face-to-face contact. During tough times, it's more important than ever. Use friends, family, former students, anyone
you can think of to get your foot in the door. Nothing beats personal contact to build trust with an employer.
"I would try to tap into the hidden job market," Owen advises. "There are many positions that aren't advertised, and jobseekers are going to have to find out where they are."
Cope worries students are sometimes too enamored with their computers, and they think they can land a job just by posting their resumes. The fact is, only about 25 percent of hiring is done through the Internet, she notes.
To find the hidden jobs, network as much as possible. Ask for informational interviews with recruiters or other company officials to find out where those jobs are. Also make yourself known at campus recruiting programs, job fairs and the career center.
A good portion of Fresno State students are getting jobs through internships, Owen reveals. Students can offer to intern for a company they really want to work for, if they can afford it.
"More and more employers are hiring this way because it's a good way to find out if a person is a good employee and if they're going to work out," Owen explains.
Help for the High School Set
For high school graduates who are not planning on pursuing higher education, the outlook may be even tougher. Most jobs are in the low-paying retail and restaurant industry. But if you can work well with others, have basic computer skills and can read and write at an appropriate level, there are employers looking for you.
Joyce Ovoian, vice principal of Duncan Polytechnic High School in Fresno, strongly recommends that high school graduates pursue some kind of higher education while they work part-time.
"Employers tell us they don't want students right out of high school, they want students who go on to further their education," Ovoian reports. "High school graduates should think about a good part-time job while they're putting themselves through school." Many employers are willing to provide assistance for further education, she notes.
Besides basic math, reading and computer skills, employers are looking for interpersonal skills, Ovoian believes. "They want to see students who have a good work ethic, who are able to communicate in both written and verbal form, and students who can work with others."
Patty Pin, project manager for Contra Costa County Office of Education's Regional Occupation Program, agrees. "The ability to read, write and think as part of a team, and problem solving skills, these are the kinds of things we try to teach kids."
"And no matter what you do, you need to have some computer skills," Pin adds. "And if you didn't do that in high school you kind of have a problem. I had my oil changed the other day, and the person who received my car had to access a computer terminal . . . If you have to do that with two fingers, you're just not as likely to get the job."
When going in for a job interview, make sure you dress appropriately, and make sure you have a positive attitude to go with your business attire, Pin recommends. "The employer is often looking for someone eager to work more than someone who has specific skills," she says. "They will probably teach them the way they want the job done."
"What employers want to know when they call for references is: were you on time, and did you have a good attitude," Pin contends. Ovoian agrees and says jobseekers must sell themselves as good employees.
"Try to get as much work experience as you can, even if it isn't what you plan to do for the rest of your life," Ovoian counsels. "The most important thing is to get your foot in the door. Once you're there, you can prove yourself and get ahead."