University of Rochester

In a Tight Job Market, a Focused Search Gets Results

May 14, 2002

College students think that if you're open, flexible, and willing to consider any job once you've graduated, an employer will hire you. That's a fallacy. Career experts at the University of Rochester say that a strategically successful job search means having specific goals-even if they're for the short term.

"During tough times, a fear of focus gets to graduates," says Burton Nadler, director of the College Career Center at Rochester. "They can be afraid to say what they want to do because the competition is so intense, or because if they find a job, they think they'll be stuck there for the rest of their lives."

Nadler counsels students to name three fields where they can see themselves working in the next two or three years. As graduates begin to picture a location and a certain work setting, they gain confidence in the search process.

"Three words everyone hates to hear from a graduating senior are 'I don't know,' " says Nadler. So he and his job search counselors and coaches in Rochester, N.Y., encourage setting goals and other specifics from the beginning.

Beyond individual counseling and coaching sessions, the Career Center uses a group job-search strategy called "resume collection"-shorthand for targeting resumes to a specific company where students want to work. Students select firms from banking and biotech to consulting and engineering; the Career Center's Web-based resume system ships them out.

Mark Presnell, Career Center assistant director, says business schools originated the process, but undergraduates can benefit just as well. "We say to the employers: 'Don't you want to take a look at our students?' " says Presnell. "It's priming the pump for our students and it helps mobilize employers to think of hiring college students again."

Like any marketing or networking effort, new ideas are essential. "If you rested on strategies of five or six years ago-think about job postings and on-campus recruiting-the students would have nothing," says Nadler. "We're finding out that graduating seniors have to work harder for these jobs today. It could change the Y Generation into the 'Why me? Generation.' "

For graduates who haven't lined up jobs, the Career Center encourages them to consider an internship-even without a promise of full-time employment later-or to take a summer course or seminar to show a serious effort to learn workplace skills, for instance.

The center's staff continues to work into the summer with "If UR Still Looking . . ." programs where recruiters, alumni, and counselors offer advice and fresh perspectives after graduation ceremonies. By mid-April last year, 11 percent of Rochester graduating seniors confessed to not yet looking for post-baccalaureate positions. To meet the needs of students like them, the center has scheduled special programs for Boston on June 3, New York on June 5, and Washington, D.C., on June 6.

Some students may need all of these strategies to land a first job out of college. Remember that at your graduation party when Uncle Harry says you should keep your options open. It's probably the least helpful advice you can get.