Today's tight job market is forcing college grads to make themselves more marketable.

During his second job interview, Ball State senior Tim Bodnar acted as a travel agent to sell his prospective employers a travel package. Not an easy assignment with the current travel fears.

In reality though, Bodnar was doing something much more difficult. He was selling himself and competing for a job in a market plagued by recession.

The recent economic recession has left many upcoming graduates unsure about their futures. According to Bodnar, a finance major, they must now compete for fewer openings against older, more experienced applicants who have been laid off.

"Not many people are looking to hire you unless you are on the dean's list every semester and Johnny All-American," Bodnar said.

According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employees, hiring for 2002 graduates will be down 20 percent compared to 2001 graduates. Camille Luckenbaugh, employment information manager of the NACE, said she blamed the drop partly on a lack of production and manufacturing demand. Businesses have fewer orders and therefore place fewer orders for employees.

According to Larry Beck, associate director of the Ball State Career Center, companies are taking a wait-and-see attitude with hiring.

As a result, Beck said, students need to become their own career agents and market themselves more aggressively.

"Employers want to know what students can do for them," Beck said. "They don't always want to hear students tell them how wonderful it would be for the student to be able to work for their company."

Seniors can no longer wait for recruiters to approach them like they could two years ago, Bodnar said. Instead, he is using the Internet to seek them out.

Bodnar said he has recently employed a site that lists around 400 employers in Chicago and Indianapolis. He picked his 10 favorite companies from each city and has sent resumes to them.

Ultimately though, Bodnar said, his most promising possibility has come from old-fashioned networking.

As the former president of the financial management association, Bodnar spoke with a representative of American Express Financial Advisers at an FMA meeting. The conversation eventually resulted in two interviews, and Bodnar said he has scheduled two more with the same company.

He began his job hunt in December, and he said he expects the search to continue for up to another four months. According to Beck, seniors could spend up to 12 months searching for jobs, depending on their willingness to move and take different offers.

To avoid post-graduation unemployment, Beck said students should get started in the job search as soon as possible and build it into their weekly schedule. Beck said to gain related career experience, including internships, early. He also said attending campus and regional job fairs, networking through professional clubs and using Web sites such as are helpful.

Bodnar said he puts eight extra hours a week toward his job search and compares it to having two extra classes.

"It sucks," he said. "You worry more about finding a job than you do about classes because that's why you go to school - to find a job."

Bodnar's worry is not unfounded. The job market for financial services ranks among the worst according to Luckenbaugh. Communications and auto industries also rank low, while engineering, accounting and government jobs rank highly, Luckenbaugh said, citing a survey from NACE.

The airline and travel industry has been hit hard by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to Beck. He said, however, that the attacks have been used as a corporate scapegoat for poor economic performance.

According to a NACE survey in October, 66.5 percent of employers said the attacks will have no effect on their college recruiting plans for the year.

Sept. 11, however, did alter the way businesses contact students, Luckenbaugh said. Many recruiters, she said, have limited air travel and are making fewer campus visits. This makes it necessary to find alternate ways to contact students. Recruiters are using more phone interviews, more teleconferences and more Web-based methods, the NACE reported.

Jeff Fouts, financial adviser for the Frontier Financial Consultants Inc. in Muncie, said the job market should start turning around by this fall. He said manufacturing earnings are already starting to make a comeback and that people are starting to build and buy homes again. Unfortunately, he said, the public is still cautious and slow to invest. Fouts said he blames this on the media.

"A lot of the information that's out there for the general public is spun, and the public isn't as aware as they ought to be," he said.

According to Fouts, when people become more informed, they will invest more, and the job market should make a turnaround.


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