May 23, 2010 in City

Facing the future

By The Spokesman-Review
 

College career counselors this year have better news for graduates trying to land a job: Things are not as bleak as they were a year ago. There are jobs to be found, though they may not be where you want them. And they might not be your first choice.

“Last year in our office we saw a common problem with students coming in,” said Stefany Unda, senior counselor at Washington State University’s Center for Advising and Career Development. “It was career paralysis.”

Students read bleak economic news, figured the job market was dismal and sank into a funk. They drifted and couldn’t focus on building their networks and shipping resumes to recruiters or companies, Unda said.

Job prospects in 2010 are slightly better, say people watching the workplace, including John Challenger, CEO of a Chicago outsourcing consulting firm.

“It’s better and still improving,” he said. But he doesn’t call the job outlook bright.

Graduates also are competing with many grads from 2008 and 2009. “Many of those graduates are still trying to land in jobs in areas related to their fields,” Challenger said.

A recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found about one of four 2010 graduates who has searched for a job has one lined up after graduation. That group excludes the roughly 27 percent of grads who plan to continue studies instead of finding work, according to the association.

Bryan Fazzari, 23

Bryan Fazzari, who grew up in Walla Walla and liked taking apart radios and engines, earned an electrical engineering degree this spring from the University of Idaho. That degree helped him land a job this spring with Pullman-based Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

His good fortune proves that people finding jobs most easily are those with engineering or accounting degrees. Associate engineers like Fazzari starting a job in the Northwest typically earn from $56,000 to $68,000 a year, according to the website Glassdoor, which collects salary details from employees.

For the past three summers Fazzari had paid internships with Schweitzer, and he figured he’d probably have a job there. Even so, it wasn’t a sure thing.

Married and with his first child due next month, Fazzari needed to find work somewhere where his wife, Kira, could continue graduate studies in speech and hearing sciences.

Like nearly all his classmates at UI, Fazzari spent the year keeping track of possible jobs in his field.

“I looked at jobs on (popular resume site) Monster.com, and I really didn’t see as many engineering jobs as I expected,” he said.

What sealed the deal was Schweitzer saying they’d hire Fazzari and later this year move him and his family to Georgia, where Kira can earn her advanced degree.

It’s important for engineers or graduates with any other degree to work with companies before graduation, taking any kind of internship if necessary, he said.

“You need to learn skills you won’t find in college,” Fazzari said. “You need to start thinking about the future early on.”

Danika Heatherly, 21

Twenty-one-year old Danika Heatherly, a Whitworth University grad with majors in journalism and marketing, says she’ll take any good job.

The day that happens, “I’ll throw my bed in my truck and leave, at the drop of a hat.”

If she had a choice, she’d find a marketing job with a Spokane-area company or nonprofit organization.

As a second choice, she’d jump at any job offer where she could do print or broadcast journalism covering sports, she said.

This past year Heatherly had a paid internship at Greater Spokane Inc., the region’s chamber of commerce. She also did phone work for The Spokesman-Review sports desk.

Her networking connections led her to an interview last week for a part-time job with a Spokane startup, Inland Northwest Coalition, which promotes business-friendly candidates for local political office.

Heatherly also plans to apply for a full-time job next week in the Visalia, Calif., visitors and convention bureau.

If those leads don’t pan out, Heatherly may take an unpaid internship with GSI this summer. That stint, if she takes it, will be her third unpaid internship in four years.

In this economy she’s just one of many graduates making the same choice to work for a few months without pay. The logic is that an internship, even if unpaid, amounts to an extended job interview.

Her parents want her to move back home to Visalia. “But they know I want to stay here,” Heatherly said.

But liberal arts graduates in Spokane – in communications, education, sociology, history and psychology – are the most likely to be underemployed if they remain in this area, labor analysts say.

“I’d go pretty far for a job,” Heatherly said. “I seriously looked at applying for a PR job in Hong Kong.”

Spenser Williams, 21

Spenser Williams graduated this spring from Gonzaga University with a degree in math and economics. This past year he had a paid internship with Avista Utilities, working on power analysis. He liked the company and the team he worked with. All he needed was the usual job offer many interns get.

Williams found out, however, that nearly every Avista department is facing budget cuts. Hiring interns for full-time jobs has halted across nearly all the utility’s departments, a company spokesman said.

Williams moved back to his parents’ home in Portland last week. He’s got feelers out with PacifiCorp, Portland’s largest power utility. Using references from Avista, he hopes to land a job there.

He also recently interviewed with Portland-based Liberty Northwest, a subsidiary of national insurance provider Liberty Mutual Group.

“I’d like to get a job working in their risk management group,” Williams said. “That would combine my background, my interest in math and economics.”

That interview came about through persistent networking. Williams met Liberty Northwest human resources vice president Mark Fineran at a GU career fair three years ago. He has stayed in touch and continues to contact Fineran from time to time.

This spring Fineran contacted Williams, told him about the opening at Liberty and encouraged him to apply. The general starting salary for a risk analyst at a company like Liberty is in the mid-$40,000s, Williams added.

Building and maintaining a professional network makes a difference, he said.

“In this economy, you have to have someone inside a company who knows your name and who can get others to look at your application.”


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