As seniors prepare to graduate this Saturday, their path into the workplace may depend not only on what they learned, but who they met - both in and out of the classroom.
Although the job market is slowly improving, some local students are still finding job prospects to be bleak. But it’s those who planned ahead and networked often that are the ones discovering opportunities.
“What I’m finding is pretty anecdotal, but I’m getting a sense that I’m hearing more students are getting jobs earlier than they have, let’s say, in the past three or four years,” said North Central College director of career development, Jeff Denard.
While Denard is still cautious given the up-and-downs of the current economy, he said it’s all about students positioning themselves for success from the moment they step in the door freshman year.
“Regardless of what the market looks like, it still comes down to the individuals and how prepared they are to look,” he said. “Mainly, if they’ve had internships, if they’ve had previous work experience, if they’re connected through networks. That seems to be a common denominator that’s always been there, but more so now.”
Students are harnessing all of the resources available, including the career center, which Denard said has seen more traffic this year than in the past two. Many have come in for advice on writing resumes and cover letters as well as to conduct mock interviews.
Even though online job boards like Monster.com and social media sites like LinkedIn can be useful, students and administrators agree that solely relying on the web to find a job isn’t the most effective route.
“That’s not an active job search,” he said. “It’s really those that are really connecting with either alums or networks of their own - their work, their family, whatever that might be.”
North Central senior Erin Martin, who just signed a contract this week to teach English at Wheaton North High School, said finding a job didn’t come without maximizing her resources and face-to-face networking.
“It’s just a lot of getting out there and meeting people,” Martin said. “There’s just a ton of opportunities in this area, downtown Chicago, within our school alone. The more times you’re able to get your face out there to really meet people, I think that’s the best way, instead of just going online to sites like LinkedIn. I think it’s really important just to network personally, too.”
Originally from Dubuque, Iowa, Martin knew she wouldn’t be able to find work nearby through family, so she made it a point to get involved early her freshman year. She not only played soccer all four years at North Central, but also was a student teacher at Wheaton Central High School along with working in the college’s admissions office.
Like many students today, she also had a lot on her plate academically. Martin graduates on Saturday with a double major; English literature and secondary education with a minor in theatre.
Other students are feeling the pressure to excel beyond an undergrad and polish their skills in graduate school as the workforce becomes more competitive.
“It’s gotten harder to get a job with just a B.A. or a B.S,” said North Central senior Katie Legner. “The job market has gotten a lot more difficult. It used to be that a college degree was enough, but I feel like you need more and more either experience or more and more education to kind of back-up your application.”
Legner, like Martin, is also graduating with a double major in English writing as well as theatre performance and a minor in Spanish. She’ll be attending graduate school next fall in Scotland at the University of Glasgow to study playwriting.
For those who might not be able to afford the added expense of graduate school, or find immediate employment after school, Denard emphasized the importance of internships.
“We do know that over 50 percent of the employers, according to survey’s, prefer people come in with experience, so that means internships,” he said.
While they may come with a lot of work for no compensation, Denard said in the long run, internships do pay off.
“But if they can’t get internships we push work-related experience, so if it’s volunteer, community experience or a summer job, just having that content on your resume or that you can talk about in your interview, I think you need that.”