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CU business grads face bleak job outlook

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a bachelor’s degree in business administration/management is the second-most popular degree for employers in 2003. But don’t tell that to Mary Banks, the director of career development at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business.

“It looks terrible,” Banks said, when asked about the job outlook for her CU-Boulder students. “The only bright spot I see is that my students are taking the responsibility for looking for jobs where there are none. They’re doing the networking they need to do, which the experts say is how 75 percent to 80 percent of the people get their jobs.”

Banks, who deals strictly with business school students, said her function at CU is not actually to get students jobs, but to do everything she can to facilitate their finding one.

“What I want to do is set expectations that this is a partnership,” Banks said. “It’s about getting together and developing a job search strategy.”

According to the NACE’s annual job outlook survey, most employers rate the current job market as “fair,” whereas only two years ago it was considered “excellent.”

“Our office is kind of in the middle of supply and demand, and in this environment the demand has dropped quite a bit,” said Gordon Gray, the director of the Leeds School’s career services department.

He said the university holds seven career fairs at the school each year, the most popular of which is in September. In fall of 2000, 192 companies were represented on campus. By last September, that number had dropped to 124 — a 35 percent drop in just two years.

“(Companies) are still hiring, but they’re hiring in smaller numbers, and they don’t have a need for the kind of overt recruiting that a campus career fair represents,” said Gray, who has held the same position at CU for 21 years. “In terms of percentage drop, it is the worst in my career in terms of employer participation on campus.”

Linsey Adam is set to graduate in May with a degree in business administration with an emphasis on finance.

“I’ve had 18 interviews that have pretty much hit a dead end,” said Adam, who has interviewed with banking, insurance and retail companies. “I’ve done just about everything; I haven’t limited myself because I knew it was a tough job market out there.”

Gray said he sees students like Adam in his office all the time. All he can do, he said, is offer encouragement — and sometimes, a reality check. While the students always have been told that “education leads to a good job and a good life,” he said, “we’ve got to burst that bubble just a little bit.”

Remember when the job market was rated “excellent”? Back then, Alan Greenspan spoke of “irrational exuberance.” Students graduating in May are learning the meaning of that expression in a whole new way.

“I do think the realism is an important part of our job,” Gray said. “With the last two years as an exception, they’ve lived almost all of their lives in a time of economic plenty.

“These students were freshmen when people were graduating with six job offers, and now they’re scrambling to get one.”

Banks said her office has worked hard to cultivate relationships with CU alumni who have started their own business or may be in a position to hire people. She also said internships are still a good way for new members of the workforce to get their foot in the door and gain experience.

“Seagate just called — I’m not sure if they’re interested in a graduate student or an undergraduate, but they’re looking for two students in the area of finance,” said Banks, adding that internships are often paid positions. “We’ve gotten a huge number of unpaid ones from the non-profit world — well, some of those carry stipends — but the learning potential for those is tremendous.”

According to NACE, the most in-demand bachelor’s degree is accounting — Arthur Anderson notwithstanding. Other degrees popular with employers this year are electrical engineering, marketing, mechanical engineering and computer engineering.

Even as the experts continue to disagree on when the economy will finally take a turn for the better, Banks said she is still seeing students that come out of the business school not looking to work for somebody else but rather to work for themselves.

“We have a number of people, believe it or not, who are planning on starting their own business,” she said. “These are tough kids. They’re not afraid to go out and butt heads with a tough economy.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.