The current job market and how to navigate it

Posted: March 4, 2009

First, the bad news:
Even if you don’t pay much attention to economic news, you’ve probably heard bad news about the state, national, or global economic situation. Nationally, more jobs were eliminated in January 2009 than in any year since 1974. During the past three months, employers have eliminated at least 1.8 million jobs. The unemployment rate is at its highest level since 1992. In addition, 2.6 million people have been out of work for more than six months, the largest number of long-term unemployed since 1983.* News reports tell us that more than 525,000 people in Ohio are unemployed, the most since 1980. A recent MarketWatch story was headlined, “worst job losses in 60 years… .” Sixteen US banks have failed since January. Most people have seen retirement accounts and other investments decline in value by 40% or more.

You may have family members who have lost jobs, worry about losing their jobs, or need to postpone retirement plans because of investment losses.

You may have friends who thought their careers were well underway, only to have their prospective employers call to say that their offers had been rescinded. Maybe you know students who learned that their planned-for internship or co-op term was cancelled.

If you haven’t seen it, we in ECS certainly have: every week brings another bad news call or email from an employer, a recent alum, or a current student. The last time we saw this kind of activity was in 2002, and it wasn’t nearly this extensive.

If you’ve been actively using your job search account, whether as an ECIP student or a graduating student seeking career opportunities, you’ve surely thought that the volume of activity seems low. You’re right. Employer activity, as measured by new jobs and new on-campus interview opportunities, is down by 66% vs. 2008 and 44% vs. 2007.

But it’s not all bad news:
In a recent survey of large US companies, only 13% anticipated further job cuts. Of course 52% have already fired workers, 56% have a hiring freeze, and 42% have frozen salaries.** So - is the glass half full – or half empty?

Clearly some employers are still hiring. They’re being a lot more selective, though, in where they recruit, how many they recruit, and who they hire. Fortunately, Engineering Career Services has a broad base of employers [including loyal alumni], and a reputation for excellent service, systems, and of course – candidates. We go to great lengths to make it easy for employers because both employers and our students benefit. So while other campuses have seen employer visits dry up completely, we’re still seeing a low level of activity.

Here’s what you need to know and do if you want a job this year:
1. When it comes to resumes, a neat and spellchecked document is essential – but it’s not enough. Make sure your resume markets you effectively. Instead of asking, “Am I required to come in for resume help?” make an appointment for a professional consultation. [Be prepared to wait a week or two to get in.]

2. Polish your interview skills. No, you’re not required to attend an interview workshop or sign up for a mock interview/coaching session – but some of your competition thought it was a good idea, and they’re going to be the ones who get hired before you do. If an employer hopes to hire 1 of the 12 students on his/her interview schedule, it’s not going to be you if you’re not prepared to present yourself effectively.

3. Think about what you can bring to the company, not what the company can do for you. Not sure what your skills and strengths are? Don’t wait until you’re in an interview to try to figure it out.

4. Be prepared to work harder to get a job this year. Last year, students with a good GPA, a strong resume, and decent interviewing skills might have had a couple of job offers even if they only applied for a few opportunities. Not this year. Are you one of the many students who may have reactivated their job search accounts multiple quarters but have applied for zero to six jobs/interviews? Not sure what to do to ramp it up? Schedule an appointment with an ECIP/ECS advisor or go to a job search workshop.

5. Make good use of available time. We often hear, “I’d like to have a job …internship…co-op, but I’m just so busy.” I know – but you don’t need to do it all at once. In fact, you can’t. Pull out your class schedule and take a good, close look. Most students have at least a couple of blank hours a week [just counting M—F]. Say you have an hour on Tuesday afternoon. If you spend that hour in the computer lab using your job search account and using the other resources ECS recommends, you’ll at least make some make progress towards your goal. Got another hour? You’ll make faster progress.

6. Don’t limit your own options by confusing preferences with “must haves.” (You’d “rather stay in Columbus”? Do you mean, “I’d rather be unemployed than leave Columbus.” – or “I’d prefer to stay in Columbus, so if I end up with multiple offers, I’ll probably pick the one in Columbus.”?) There’s a big difference.

7. Consider companies, jobs, industries, or locations that you’ve never really thought about before. You’ve never heard of a particular company? So what?! Check it out. It just might turn out to be a great opportunity. (Or your only opportunity.)

8. What’s your “Plan B”? So, you’ve planned since you started college to work in the automotive industry. Just in case you haven’t been following the news, it’s probably not going to happen this year. So what kind of job would position you for your ideal job? When those jobs eventually open up, what skills and experiences do you want on your resume?

9. Stay positive and ask for help. Yes, the economic news is grim, but engineering and computer science students are still better off than students in other majors! Ohio State engineering students still have more options than students at other colleges. But if you’re not sure what to do – or if what you are doing doesn’t seem to be working – take advantage of the help and coaching available through ECS. A December 2008 grad who came in for help after his new job vanished told us, “I'm glad that within one month of the rescinding of my accepted job offer I found a new job with the help of ECS.”

*Resources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Washington Post, CNN Money, MarketWatch

"I've been motivated by overcoming challenge and overcoming the hurdles and obstacles that face me. There still is plenty out there to get motivated by."
-Andre Agassi




Authored by Rosemary Hill.