Press Release

Campus helps graduating students cope with bleak job market

| 15 April 2009

With the Class of 2009 understandably worried about employment prospects after graduation next month, the University of California, Berkeley, is helping seniors prepare for a job market riddled with layoffs and hiring freezes.

Many students are flocking to campus job fairs, stress management workshops and, in hopes of riding out the recession in graduate school, to Graduate Record Exam (GRE) courses. UC Berkeley's Graduate Division has seen a nearly 7 percent rise in overall applications for the 2009-10 academic year. The biggest draws are business administration, with a 9.4 percent increase in applications, and engineering (14.6 percent).

"This is a phenomenon we've seen in other recessions," said Joseph Duggan, associate dean for degrees, admissions and appointments in UC Berkeley's Graduate Division. "Students are taking the opportunity to get further training to make themselves more attractive in the job market."

"I'm graduating in May, and the prospect of no foreseeable income is stressing me out," said Albert Wang, a major in political economy, who chose to attend a recent campus workshop for students on how to manage their finances.

Financial stress has sent an increased number of students to counseling. University Health Services reports a jump in counseling appointments this spring, with many patients citing shaky finances as a major anxiety.

"We help them to explore options for dealing with the financial crisis, such as taking a reduced course load while working, looking at paid internships and for ways that will allow them to continue their education," said University Health Services staff psychologist Rick Low.

State budget cuts have spurred a UC system-wide hiring freeze and tuition hike, squeezing student budgets even tighter. Chemistry professor Heino Nitsche, co-chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health, said he urges students to seek counseling before giving up and dropping out of classes.

"We don't want those who are in dire straits to just disappear from campus," Nitsche said. "First, come see us."

Meanwhile, the UC Berkeley Career Center's five-member employer relations team is stepping up its efforts to meet the burgeoning needs of this year's graduating class by calling recruiters to campus and marketing online resumes for jobs and internships. Next Wednesday (April 22), the Career Center will host its annual "Just in Time" job fair, which is expected to see at least 1,000 graduating seniors mingling with 80 recruiters about everything from internships to full-time jobs.

Tom Devlin, the Career Center's director, said he has seen a 40 percent decrease in recruiters on campus, compared to last spring. Yet, although the job market is less robust than it was this time last year, he said, UC Berkeley graduates continue to be highly marketable - even in a recession - because of the institution's enduring cachet, the competition for new talent, and industry's need to fill internships and entry-level positions and stay ahead of the game.

Typically at UC Berkeley, two-thirds of the students enter the workforce after graduating, one-quarter pursue graduate studies, and the remainder enter the military, the Peace Corps or take a year off to travel or explore other options, according to Devlin. Given the current economic climate, however, Devlin is advising juniors to seek out internships because they're likely to turn into full-time positions once hiring freezes begin to thaw.

"Graduating seniors need to be flexible in their job search by having both a Plan A and Plan B," Devlin said.

The Haas School of Business MBA Career Services Organization, ranked No. 4 among recruiters surveyed by the national magazine Business Week, has seen a 20 percent decrease in on-campus jobs after five years of steady growth.

"Competition for jobs is fierce, but our students report that job offers and job postings continue to come in," said Abby Scott, executive director of MBA Career Services at the Haas School. In response to the downturn, her office has dramatically expanded its outreach to alumni and other prospective employers. And those efforts, which include providing valet parking on campus for recruiters, have paid off.

"Rich Lyons (dean of the Haas School of Business) sent a note to alumni in mid-March asking for their support. Within 24 hours, we had 14 new job postings," Scott said. The school has also created job search teams led by faculty and staff to connect students with employers.

The UC Berkeley School of Law is expecting a similar downward trend in recruitment, but spokeswoman Susan Gluss said small and mid-sized law firms remain a good bet for job hunters with law degrees because they're less vulnerable to the ebbs and flows of the market.

As for growth areas, Gluss said she anticipates seeing greater demand for legal expertise on climate change, public-private infrastructure development and the mortgage industry. Overall, she said, graduates will need to be adaptable.

Far less promising is the forecast for journalism graduates who have seen a dramatic decline in recruiters and internship offers as the industry shrinks beyond recognition. But it's not altogether hopeless, said Rob Gunnison, the Graduate School of Journalism's director of school affairs.

He noted that Web sites are a good bet for job seekers fresh out of journalism school looking for online work. In addition, Gunnison said, Gannett Company Inc. has a talent development program on the lookout for outstanding journalism graduates, while the Bloomberg business newswire remains a viable destination for those with a few years of journalism under their belts.

And, there's an emphasis on freelance writing. This spring, journalism school alumna Catherine Price, editor-in-chief of Salt magazine, wrote in Salon about how to cope with working, while adjunct professor Ken Light taught a class on how to survive as a freelancer. Meanwhile, said Gunnisson, a recent UC Berkeley journalism graduate has started a network called the Freelance Café, whose members meet monthly to share ideas and resources.