Graduates search for employment in a competitive market

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March 29, 2011

12:24 AM

Recent College of William and Mary graduates have been more successful finding jobs than College graduates a decade ago, according to annual senior surveys conducted by the Sherman and Gloria H. Cohen Career Center. While the College employment rate has been on the rise since it hit its nadir in 2002, however, it is lower than it was 15 years ago.

“2009 was a hard year,” Associate Director of the Career Center David Lapinski said. “But it also wasn’t as bad as 2008 or the early to mid-2000’s.”

76.4 percent of 2010 graduates are either employed or continuing their education. This is 17.4 percent fewer than the 93.8 percent of 1994 graduates who were employed or in graduate school within six months of commencement. It is also 9.6 percent fewer than the 86 percent of 2009 graduates.

College graduates are faring worse in the job market than the national population. The 2010 College graduate unemployment rate was 24.1 percent. This percentage includes those students who are job seeking, not job seeking, are unemployed, and are not attending graduate school. In comparison, 90 percent of 2010 Harvard graduates, 76 percent of 2010 Virginia Tech graduates and 66 percent of 2010 Duke graduates are either employed or continuing their education.

“The economic recession definitely had something to do with the number of graduates who are not employed,” Lapinski said. “But it is getting better.”

To combat the relatively high graduate unemployment rates, Lapinski identified several steps the Career Center is taking.

“We are identifying those areas that are increasing their demand for employees in order to bridge the gaps between student and companies,” Lapinski said. “We are also increasing the number of career fairs and strategic partnerships with businesses to enhance the number of job opportunities. We are trying to find ways to better serve students and increase outreach. One of our main jobs is to cultivate employee relationships.”

In addition, Lapinski noted that the Career Center plans to look to industry experts and anecdotal data to determine where the demand for employment is. The Employee Advisory Board of the Career Center composed of alumni also serves as a guidance and networking tool to the Career Center. 24 companies will be attending the upcoming “Just In Time” Career Fair.

Current College seniors have mixed opinions about the Career Center’s efficacy in assisting them with post-graduation plans. Jessie Boylan ’11, who was accepted to several law schools and will defer her enrollment at her top choice institution to spend a year teaching English in Korea, appreciated the assistance she received at the Career Center.

“They really helped me out along the way,” she said. “I made an appointment after I had been accepted, and I was like, ‘well, I’m happy I got into law school, but I’m not sure I should rush into it.’ [The counselor] gave me all these links to applications to programs abroad and I decided, ‘yeah it’s the right decision for me to defer a year, experience the world, and then go. Eventually I want to work for the FBI; the Career Center set me up with an awesome guy who took me step by step through the whole process.”

Boylan feels that her positive experience is the exception rather than the rule, however.

“I think that William and Mary is not very good about the majority of their students,” she said. “I think I basically lucked out. I had my own plans, I studied on my own. I think William and Mary kind of leaves their students in the dark, and you need to push yourself if you want to find out about their great resources. A lot of my friends are struggling, they’re really stressed.”

Among students not certain what they will do after graduation is Erica Wickman ’11, a music major considering eventually going to graduate school for music therapy or early music vocal performance.

“I’m taking a year or two off to figure out what exactly I want to do with my life,” Wickman said. “I don’t feel like I should invest the money in grad school unless I’m sure that’s the path I want to take, and I don’t even know that there’s a career out there that I want, so I’m taking a step back.”

While she considers a degree from the College to be an asset in the job market, Wickman is not satisfied with the Career Center’s post-graduation advising services.

“I went to the career fair last semester, and they only had one organization I was interested in because there was only one arts-oriented one,” Wickman said. “I have a bias against [the Career Center] thinking that they don’t have a lot of guidance for music majors, but I haven’t really tried and I probably should.”

Lapinski identified financial services, non-profit service work, consultation, education, and government as the five main industries where College graduates most commonly find jobs. Many students also choose to pursue more advanced degrees.

“I have seen that a mix of students – not a majority – decide to go to graduate school because they cannot find a job and think graduate school is an alternative to unemployment,” Lapinski said. “That is why in the past our survey treated graduate school as part of those students who were unemployed.”

The average response rate to the senior survey from the past ten years is 77.7 percent, but only 53.5 percent of 2009 graduates responded to the survey this past year. The response rate for the 2010 survey was 72 percent. For this reason, the Career Center cautions viewers against drawing conclusions from the results of the four years’ worth of senior surveys which they have displayed on their website.

The 2009 student unemployment numbers reflect a skewed increase from previous years due to a decision by the Career Center to include students attending or applying to graduate school as a percentage of students seeking employment. 2010 student unemployment numbers were calculated based on the total number survey responses.

“Students don’t realize how important responses to these surveys are,” Lapinski said. “These responses feed our rankings in Business Week and others.”

The Career Center categorizes senior survey responses into four separate areas. Seniors are classified as employed, attending a graduate or a professional school, seeking employment, and other. According to Lapinski, “other” is composed of those students doing research or who have fellowships.

_This article was edited Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. to include recently released information by the Career Center regarding the 2010 senior surveys._

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