Donning the graduation cap and gown last spring was, for many college seniors, symbolic of the beginning of adulthood. But given the economic climate and its toll on the job market, graduation ceremonies have become less than joyous occasions.
College of Communication graduate student Mary Kate Joyce now lives in Manhattan and is a fulltime employee at the public relations firm Edelman, but prior to her May 2011 graduation, she was not looking forward to the ceremony.
“One day, I was so excited to live my dream but then the other day I was scared to take on the crazy responsibilities,” Joyce said. “Before I got hired, I was having nervous breakdowns left and right.”
Post-graduation, Craig Strauss, a recent College of Arts and Science alum newly equipped with an International Relations degree from Boston University, suddenly found himself with a diploma, which he calls “the most expensive piece of paper I’ve ever owned,” and a dilemma millions of college graduates are facing – a futile job hunt.
On the hunt
According to a U.S. Department of Labor report released in late August, the youth labor force (taking into account 16-24 -year-olds in the job market) rose to 22.7 million in July, a growth of 2.4 million from April. The Department attributes this annual increase to the flux of students looking for summer job combined with graduates entering the labor market to look for and begin permanent employment.
“When it came to graduation, for me, I knew I wouldn’t find a job in Boston,” said Strauss. “I know Governor Patrick tries to say that he’ll keep graduates in Massachusetts, but I think the biggest problem, despite his efforts, is that you have the most remedial jobs right now and you’re competing with so many kids from top schools in the country.”
Even after graduation, Strauss described the job search process as “frustrating,” so much so that he was forced to move back to New York with his parents to pursue a job in New York City.
“It was the beginning of July and I had been doing the job search for a full month and a half. I wasn’t getting what I wanted and it was becoming more and more desperate coming home every day,” Strauss said.
Despite his desperation, Strauss kept looking for fulltime positions as opposed to part-time positions.
“What ended up happening was that I would get interviews, more-so than in Boston but they’d be for the most random jobs you never heard of,” Strauss said.
Strauss had only been home in New York for a week when he was given the opportunity to interview with the Malawi mission to the United States, something he had “street cred” for after interning for the Israeli consulate in Boston during his time at BU. After hitting it off with the ambassador, Strauss looked forward to hearing back from him.
“He told me he’d call me in for a second interview and I was really excited because I had only been home for a week or so. And then all of a sudden, they just dropped off the face of the planet. I never heard from them again.”
The experience shook Strauss.
“I kept contacting the office and they said he was very busy and would get back to me, so eventually I sent them an e-mail saying ‘Should I wait for a response from you guys to pursue other internships?’ and they never responded back. I really hit the floor on that one.”
He quickly realized life post-graduation would be even more difficult than imagined.
“I didn’t know it would be a prolonged effort. I came to the understanding that it would be tough and it would take a while and if you hung in there and made the effort, it would sort its way out but I didn’t expect the extended period of time that it really took to even find some hope of promise.”
This promise, Strauss said, came from finally taking matters into his own hands by writing letters to organizations and groups he found online. The letters worked – Strauss landed an interview with the Israeli mission to the United Nations and eventually an offer for a paid internship, with the promise of turning it into a permanent position, from the British consulate in New York City.
“I spoke with them over the phone and they had questions about my resume but they had that resume specifically because I mailed it to them,” Strauss said. “It’s the physical letter that got me [a job] because anyone can send off an e-mail with a resume and cover letter attached.”
Strauss also attributes his current employment to his character.
“I wasn’t going to let anything fall through,” he said.
The employed grad
While business majors used to have good job security, students like Joyce have graduated with jobs unrelated to the financial field.
After interning for the public relations agency Edelman during her junior year in Australia and again during her last semester at BU for their New York office, the company offered her a fulltime job in New York City upon her graduation from COM, which she attributes to her prior internship experience there and elsewhere.
“I had six internships by the time I graduated. I interned my a—off,” Joyce said. “I had my first internship the summer after freshman year and I went abroad twice so I interned both times there. I interned fall of sophomore year and both semesters junior year and before and during my senior year.”
She also gives credit to her persistent networking.
“The woman I interned for senior year taught a class at BU [and] I got to know her. The internship popped up and led the way to a full time job.”
Joyce said this gave her an edge on the competition.
“I admit I was very lucky. In this economy, it’s so hard to find a job because so many people are going straight to law school or straight to business school so there’s people coming out with better degrees than most graduating seniors. You really need to do everything you can to push yourself ahead of the game because the competition is intense.”
The SMG question
Strauss and Joyce both expressed frustration in seeing School of Management students graduate with job offers while other students had no prospects.
“I found BU was extremely unhelpful in the career fair aspect,” Strauss said. “There were times when I went to the career fair and the non-profit choice was slim to none. It was clearly centered on banking and SMG. There was some COM sprinkled in but it was overwhelmingly business management. There was a huge line at Fidelity, but what can I offer as an international relations student at Fidelity?”
But Patrick Cavallario, a Marketing Analyst from SMG’s Feld Career Center, continues to defend the school’s reputation.
“Ultimately, it’s the quality of candidates that get them the job, not us. We’re not a placement agency,” Cavallario said.
On the other hand, SMG works to directly prepare its students for the workforce.
“Almost every student during sophomore year takes SM411, which goes through writing a good resume and cover letter, networking strategies, etiquette and interests in specific fields, including other things,” Cavallario said. “The SMG Corporate Relations Team [does] corporate outreach to encourage companies to post positions, visit and interview students.”
According to Cavallario, many of these visits and postings are open to the greater BU community through the Center for Career Development.
For Joyce, connections played a significant part in landing a job post-graduation, so her advice for students is to establish them and gain experience.
Strauss, whose job search was more tumultuous, paints a darker picture and found that “loyalty is nothing.”
“The biggest thing for me to take right now, as a post-grad, is that your loyalties lie nowhere. It’s gone from any kind of mainstream business world mentality,” Strauss said. “You send off an e-mail and there is no honor just to say ‘thanks, no thanks’ even if it’s a generic email to 2,500 applicants and one person was hired. I learned to cope with that fact.”
However, neither graduate regrets his or her time and money spent at BU.
“The professors and coursework I had played a huge role in finding a job,” Joyce said.
“I know BU cost a [lot] of money but I think that the only way to better yourself is through education,” Strauss said. “I don’t regret it at all.”