Making sense of the job market during tough times

By Jessica Shaw and Susan McKenna

When it comes to preparing for the job market, you’re probably thinking, “What job market? Is there still a job market?” After learning that hiring of college graduates is down by 8 percent, people tend to suggest mysterious things like, “Network,” “Keep your options open,” and “Be patient.” While they are trying to be helpful, this just sends you further into a state of confusion.

So, do you want to know what all this actually means for you? Well, here it is. No fluff. No confusion. Real places to check out, actual resources on campus and specific industries to consider – serious advice that can really help you, courtesy of University of Illinois career professionals.

You have probably heard that you’re supposed to network. But do you know how to do that? Make a list of friends and their parents, friends of your parents, neighbors, relatives, alumni, recruiters and professionals in your field(s) of interest. Find some of them through search engines, the University of Illinois Alumni Association’s Online Directory (see www.uiaa.org), alwaysillinois.org or an appointment with a career professional at one of the campus’ 25-plus career services offices.

Talk to these people about how they got their jobs or ask about people they may know who have the job you want. Look for ways to connect, such as through the Illinois Leadership Center, Always Illinois, Facebook, the UI Alumni Association or your college’s alumni association – anything designed to get alumni and students in the same room.

Always be professional in your communication and appearance. Call, e-mail or even hand-write a note to thank someone after a personal contact. Use the opportunity to ask follow-up questions and always make sure your grammar, spelling and punctuation are impeccable. Everyone appreciates this attention to detail, and, in this highly competitive job market, it is more important than ever that you leave a good impression. Oh, and don’t write the way you text your friends!

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    Consider how you could enhance your resume and make it stand out from the crowd. An internship can help make you a more attractive candidate when you’re looking for a full-time job. Some organizations are converting interns into full-time hires instead of conducting costly, time-consuming searches.

    Most likely to be hiring now are: some large organizations that compete globally (read BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal and online news sources to find companies that are faring well), organizations replacing retirees with new hires, including the federal government, small, fast-growth organizations such as “green” industries (use keyword searches on sites such as jobcentral.com, simplyhired.com and indeed.com), and organizations relatively sound, such as nuclear, oil and gas utilities, railroads and information technology.

    The hiring situation at many organizations is a moving target, and that makes pinpointing specific companies and industries difficult. Stay focused and be willing to consider jobs, organizations and industries that were not on your radar screen a year ago … or even last week.

    Search campus Web sites such as www.careerservices.uiuc.edu and www.careercenter.uiuc.edu for job-related events and seminars. Every aspect of your job search is covered by a seminar or workshop offered by The Career Center, and they are all free.

    And if “career” is in the title of an event, go there. This campus holds about two dozen career fairs each year. Take a look at the Career Services Web site (www.careerservices.uiuc.edu) for a list of upcoming fairs. Even if they are not directly related to your chosen profession, they are a wonderful opportunity to network, learn and practice your communication skills.

    Be open to new ideas and new locations and be persistent. Even if you talk to an employer and don’t walk away with a job offer, you may gain a new contact, a new idea for your approach or a new job prospect to explore. And when you want help, UI career services professionals have the resources and connections you need. And they all want to see you succeed.

    See a detailed list of FAQ’s to help guide you, courtesy of the UI career services professionals: www.illinois.edu/goto/jobmarket09.

    Jessica L. Shaw is a UI undergraduate in psychology and an Outreach Team Member at The Career Center. Susan McKenna is a UI graduate and assistant director for advisement, marketing and communications at the Office of Minority Student Affairs. They wrote this article with the assistance of UI career services professionals.