Lining Up Work

by Brian Caulfield

Intern Wanted. Some journalism experience required. Send clips, resumé.

The editor eyed me skeptically.

He was interviewing me for a temporary newspaper job in a small coastal city. I'm in my last year of journalism school and looking for a job that isn't at the nearest Pottery Barn.

"So, what's your favorite food?" he asked.

"Uh..."

Suddenly, I didn't know. Coastal town, I thought, tuna fish, turtles, crustaceans, sea anemones... Two others at the newspaper had interviewed me for more than an hour, asking me about deadlines, news philosophy, experience, but no food questions. I was tired, not very hungry though. Mollusks, sea cucumbers, monstrous tentacled beasts, kraken.

"Squid."

"Squid?"

"Squid."

He scribbled something on my resumé. "Squid eating freak - and from Berkeley too," he probably wrote. He asked me about my life. I told him I patrolled East Bay eateries, searching for cheap squid. "No problem around here," I told him. "Cephalopods everywhere, the streets are practically paved with calamari."

They haven't called me back.

Sometimes I'm frustrated in my job hunt, like the scientists who find traces of the legendary kraken, a giant squid, in the bellies of whales, but have never seen one alive.

Now, like the scientists who are sending mini-subs into the coastal waters of New Zealand and California to search for the tentacled beast, this year's graduating seniors are beginning their own career hunts. It is an exciting, scary process, a process that like generations of graduates before them, they will never forget. Like all great journeys, it is a search for the unknown.

It is also a search that isn't getting any easier. Students are entering a job market with more college graduates and relatively fewer job openings than a generation ago, according to government figures. But job counselors say jobs are not an endangered species. Getting hands-on experience as an intern can give job hunters the confidence to navigate the depths of self doubt.

Last year, Berkeley awarded 5,604 undergraduate degrees. Roughly the same number of students will be graduating this year, and many are already wondering what they are going to do next.

The most recent graduates are finding good jobs, according to Berkeley's Office of Student Research. Social Science graduates reported the lowest salaries, with a median pay of $23,300, while engineering and computer science majors reported the highest pay, with median salaries of $36,400. Of the two-thirds who applied for jobs from the class of 1993-'94, 49 percent got more than one job offer and another 35 percent got at least one bid.

S enior Lisa Ghahraman wants to be sure she has at least one offer by the time she graduates. She and a score of other job seekers came to Berkeley's Career and Graduate School Services Center for an orientation on a cold Monday morning the week before the start of the spring semester.

"I won't be able to breathe freely until I have a job offer," Ghahraman says. "I don't think any of us want to go through four years of hard work and have a dead-end job at the end of it."

Ghahraman is already a veteran job hunter, and her experience has taught her not to be discouraged. She thought she did poorly in an interview with the investment banking firm of Robertson, Stephens and Company.

They asked her what would happen to the stock market if unemployment went up. She thought they said "down," so she told them the market would go up. "No, I meant down," one of the interviewers told her. So then she told them the market would go down.

Wrong.

"Then they kind of prompted me by mentioning the Federal Reserve, and that it might boost interest rates, and then I told him the market would go up," she says.

She left the interview discouraged. "All day I was kicking myself," she says. A few weeks later she got a call. It turned out the company was so impressed with her they invited her to spend a weekend in San Francisco for a final round of interviews.

J ob counselor Susan Kishi strides into the career center to start the orientation, beginning with an explanation of basic job hunting techniques. An energetic, articulate woman, she waves a red dry erase marker in circles as she talks to students, as if it will help stir up their attention.

"Students figure they don't have skills, but by gosh, you do have skills. You have work-related skills and skills you've developed in school: analytical skills, writing skills, thinking skills," she says.

The students are quiet at first. Many look like they're not interested in having to sit through one more lecture. But as Kishi gets into her pep talk, they begin leaning forward in their chairs, as if listening to the part of a lecture they know will be on the exam.

Kishi says connections are the key to a successful job hunt. Most people get jobs by meeting with an employer, not by mailing a letter or making a phone call.

"Every single job I have had I got by going in and meeting the person and interacting with them - it's scary," says Stephanie Kaiser, a senior graduating this spring with a degree in comparative literature.

Kishi says that's not surprising. More than half of recent graduates who found full-time jobs say friends and relatives were their most important sources of information during their job search. Those without contacts may want to find an entry-level job where they can get to know people in their field.

Upstairs from the room where Kishi gives the orientation, Audra Strahl, who graduated in December with a biology degree, is looking through binders full of job listings in the career center's library. She wants an entry-level job in health care.

"I'm looking for some experience, employers want people with experience, but to get experience you have to get hired, so it's a Catch-22," she says anxiously.

Just down the table from Strahl, Jason Oh, who is graduating in May with an English degree, is still unsure about what he wants to do.

"I'll get anxious when I don't get any acceptances," he says with a weak laugh. "I haven't even really started my job search."

He says he may apply to a Ph.D. program in English next year, so he's looking for a job or an internship in English, law or publishing. He doesn't know where his job search will take him.

Less than a month later, Oh has changed his strategy. "My brother got me a head hunter tryout in New York," he says, confident that he'll get a job as a paralegal. "It is totally about connections... He's an investment banker out there, and he has a friend who told him about it. It's a relief."

 

Career center job counselor Jim Sullivan says the biggest problem graduates face may not be getting a job, but deciding what kind of career they want to pursue. Business and engineering majors often have an edge because they come to college with clear career goals.

The mean salary for business graduates is $33,892. While students with a business degree are in high demand, most also get internships or jobs in their field before graduation. "It is very rare when I see a resumé from a student without one or two very solid work experiences," says Pat Riegg, a career advisor for Cal economics and business students.

Students without experience may find themselves in a bad situation. Dede Cowan, the principal owner of Ascott Personnel Services in Oakland, knows what this is like.

"After four years, living life in a regimented environment with classes and room and board, all of a sudden you're a college graduate and the world is huge," Cowan says. "Right out of college I had no idea what to do so I went door to door and finally got a position in a management training program. It took persistence and sore feet," she says.

M y quest for testimonials about the job hunt finally led me to Unisys, an information management firm where I got a taste of what students are going through. After questioning staffing manager Carol Langer about what her company looks for in recent graduates, she pauses and turns the tables on me.

"Can I ask you a question of my own?"

"Uh... sure, sure go ahead."

"Are you in the job market yourself, are you a student?"

"Uh, yes, actually I'm a journalism student. I'll be graduating this spring."

"Mhmmm...," she says, in that way only a human resources person can. It could be she was just curious, or perhaps she thought it was a stupid ruse to get a job, maybe she even wants to hire me.

Had I brushed up against the cool tentacle of opportunity? I can see it now, my first day on the job at Unisys, destroying our nation's information infrastructure and electrocuting myself in the process.

No thanks. As Jim Sullivan says, first you have to know what you want, and the opportunity to cause an electrical fire is not high on my list of coveted job perks. Instead I'll try buying a blue suit. I may even ask family members and acquaintances if any of them can help me find that mysterious creature known as a career.


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