By KAREN SHIH
COLLEGE PARK (Nov. 29, 2008)—When Chad Drummond graduates with a government and politics degree from the University of Maryland in a few weeks, he'll be willing to work almost anywhere.
"I'm just looking for a job at this point," he said, "doing anything except for retail."
After the caps and gowns come off, December college graduates will face a difficult job market and the highest unemployment rate in 14 years: 6.5 percent nationally in October, up from 4.7 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Career counselors at area universities say flexibility and advance planning will be key.
"It can take four to six months to get a job in good times," said Alan Goodman, director of career services at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. In the current economic climate, "finding a job won't be impossible, but it will be harder," he said.
Seniors should be using the fall to network and get their names out there to prospective employers, Goodman said.
Drummond had hoped to find work researching politics after college, but now he said he wants to go to graduate school. It will postpone entering the job market in earnest, buying him time as the economic situation—he hopes—improves. It should also help that he'll be more qualified when he finishes his master's degree, he said.
Brianna Johnson, graduating in December from the University of Maryland with a degree in linguistics, also wants to go to graduate school—but she first wants to pay off as much of her undergraduate student loans as possible.
"I'm not looking for a full-time job right now," she said, just something to make some money. She said she might stay and work in College Park, or move out to Lake Tahoe and pick up a job at a camp where she worked last summer.
She's glad she'll have fewer loans by graduating a year and a half early, but her original plan to pay those off has suffered because of the economic downturn.
"All the money I've had in a mutual fund I've been saving up my whole life has plummeted," she said.
But it's not all bad news for these soon-to-be graduates in the Washington-metropolitan area. Area college career counselors said that the number of employers contacting the schools and coming to their job fairs has not dropped, even though there may be fewer positions open in the private sector.
The area also has some job stability because of its location near many federal government offices. The federal government is constantly growing, and with increasing baby boomer retirements, it's looking to hire, said Mark Kenyon, associate director for the University Career Center at the University of Maryland.
Students "need to have an ideal career, but they need to be flexible," Kenyon said. He advised, "Look for opportunities in many different industries." The federal government, he said, "has opportunities for all majors."
Nancy Hennessey, career center director at Hood College in Frederick, said she's seeing more interest from students in securing jobs with nonprofits.
"They're seeing that there's more to life than just the mighty dollar," she said. "This whole economic downturn is life-changing for this generation."
And for students with technical backgrounds, there should be jobs available. The National Association of College Employers 2009 job outlook said that employers are still looking for accounting, engineering, computer science and information technology majors.
Zaven Mnatzakanian, a computer engineering major at the University of Maryland, has already secured a job with Lockheed Martin after interning there this past summer.
"Everyone still needs stuff to be built," he said.
For those still looking for jobs, networking is key, career counselors said.
Take advantage of the season, said Anne Scholl-Fiedler, director of the career center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
"The holiday period is a great opportunity for people to (network) while they're at celebrations," she said.
"I'm an optimist," she added. "I think really, if people are able to present themselves in a really good way ... and they talk with a lot of people, and they build their network, they'll be able to find a job."
Capital News Service/Maryland Newsline