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Class of 2003 faces a tough job market
Career counselors tell graduates to adjust strategies, expectations

| 05 June 2003

This year’s graduating students are walking into a job market radically different from the one they started school in.

“When the Class of 2003 entered Berkeley in 1999, they came in during the most robust economy of their lifetime. Now that doesn’t exist anymore,” says Tom Devlin, director of the campus Career Center. “Many are experiencing anxiety and frustration — they’ve worked hard for four years, gotten excellent grades, had challenging internships, and been really focused on what they want to do and where they want to do it. And now they’re hitting a brick wall.”

With the U.S. economy still in retraction — and the Bay Area’s in even worse shape — “the most successful job-hunting students are those who are flexible in terms of their desired industry and geographic area,” says Devlin. “The Bay Area is obviously experiencing a difficult time, but other parts of California are somewhat better.”

Things are very different from the dot-com heyday, when some graduating students waltzed into six-figure jobs and fat signing bonuses after only a two-week search. But Berkeley students still possess an edge over most applicants. The center’s counselors urge those who haven’t found jobs not to despair, but to understand that today’s job market will likely require a carefully plotted, two- to six-month hunt — one that also covers informational interviews, follow-up phone calls, internships, and nontraditional employment.

The grad-school safety net
The 2003 Senior Survey, in which students tell the Career Center of their postgraduation plans, will not be complete until six months after Commencement, but Devlin thinks the numbers will closely resemble the last two years. “Of the 6,000 students who earn bachelor’s degrees each year, about two-thirds tend to go into the workforce, one-fifth go directly to graduate school, and the remainder end up in a variety of areas like the military, volunteer programs, or taking time off,” he reports. Median salaries for most industries have stayed steady; more detailed information about salaries will not be released until January 2004.

Due to the state of the economy, there has been a slight annual rise in the number of students who choose to stay in school and defer the job search. In the class of 2001, 17 percent went directly to graduate school; for 2002, that portion rose to 21 percent. “We envision it will rise a few points in 2003,” says Devlin.

Says Linda Hernandez, a Career Center counselor who deals with engineering majors: “More engineering students are saying that since getting a master’s is important to many employers and is in their future plans anyway, why not get it now?” She continues, “I’ve seen this before when jobs are scarce. Students look for a job and apply to grad school at the same time, and later decide their course of action based on their success in the job market or getting into a particular school.”

Hernandez says she cautions students who go straight into a masters program to get summer or internship experience along the way to become more competitive, as most of the huge increase in graduate-school enrollment has come from people who have already been in the workforce. “I tell them, ‘When you come out with your master’s, you’ll often be competing with people who in addition to a master’s degree have one or two years in the workforce,’” she says. Research with a professor or graduate student also increases a student’s competitiveness.

Many students use graduate school as a safety net, either to delay the job search or to figure out their career path, the counselors say. Unfortunately, says Ruthann Haffke, a counselor who specializes in communications jobs for liberal-arts majors, “using graduate school to explore careers is a waste of time and money.”

Susan Kishi, who counsels students in natural resources, environmental, architecture, health and other related majors, says she recently heard about a student who was taking the MCATs, GREs, and LSATs (admissions tests for medical, graduate, and law school, respectively) all at the same time: “The counselor told him that maybe he should work for a while until he figured out what he wanted to do.”

An expanded version of this story may be found at www.berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2003/05/13_careers.shtm.