Searching for a job after graduation can be a nail-biting, humbling experience for anyone, but looking for one in an economy that has lost its luster in the last couple of years makes it even tougher.

Recent graduates say that they have had to send out more résumés, network with more people and work harder at job hunting than their counterparts a year ago. They are landing jobs … it’s just taking a little longer.

Students who graduated in May faced a job market that wasn’t as rosy as when they enrolled as freshmen. When they began their senior year, the U.S. economy was slowing due to the collapse of dot-com companies and the instability of the information technology sector.

The events of Sept. 11 also affected consumer confidence, which along with sustained national economic growth are the two top factors that affect hiring, according to “Recruiting Trends,” published by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute of Michigan State University and a resource used by St. Thomas and other institutions.

Here are the reflections of some May graduates about their search for employment.

Job market is not ‘hopeless’

“Everyone’s finding it more difficult, but little by little, they’re finding jobs. The job market is coming around. It’s not hopeless,” said Nicole Osgood, who had three prospects she was pursuing in late June.

“I remember four years ago when everyone – like my cousin and my parents’ friends – were telling me the job market was great and that I wouldn’t have any problem getting a job,” said Osgood, a marketing major from St. Louis Park.

“The downturn in the job market has affected us a lot,” said Andy Grover, a native of Minot, N.D. “It is completely different from when we were freshmen. I remember seniors being offered $60,000 starting salaries. I haven’t heard anything like that now. The most I’ve heard is $45,000. Most of my friends are still looking for jobs or going to graduate school.”

Like other motivated students, Grover was involved in several undergraduate activities. He was the All College Council academic affairs vice president, a Morrison Hall apartment coordinator and a member of Omicron Delta Kappa, Delta Epsilon Sigma and the Aquinas Scholars. He has decided to work for a couple of years to pay off some of his student loans before attending graduate school. An English and theology major, he started a job as assistant director of annual giving at St. Olaf College in July.

“When I decided that I wanted to eventually work in academic administration, the administrators I talked to said that a lot of their job involved fund raising,” he explained.

The number of companies recruiting students on campus this year saw only a slight decrease from last year, according to Nancy O’Brien, employer relations specialist in St. Thomas’ Career Development Center. “What was more noticeable was the change in the recruiting industries. We saw more insurance and financial services companies this year and fewer marketing and general business type opportunities.”

Students in any major have transferable skills, said Diane Crist, director of the Career Development Center. “A challenge for students is knowing what their skills are, what they offer employers and researching the job market.”

Internships instead of full-time jobs – a new trend

Crist explained the increase in the number of paid internships: “Employers are hesitant to hire full-time employees because they’d have to offer benefits. They are more likely now to hire recent graduates for entry-level internships. That way they can ‘test out’ students and decide whether to hire that intern as a full-time employee.”

Sara Schaber said she feels fortunate to have a summer internship at Words at Work, a Minneapolis marketing communications agency.

“Almost all my friends are still looking; very few have jobs,” Schaber said. “Every time we get together, we chat about our job situations. It’s the hot topic.

“I’ve been looking for a job since the fall. I feel like I’ve sent out a billion résumés and a ton of e-mails. Most of my down time between classes was spent searching the Web for companies.”

While in college, she interned with the St. Paul Saints and CONUS Communications, but neither had full-time openings.

A marketing major from Edina, she said, “My type of position is always the first one cut in hard times. Companies always get rid of the marketing or PR person. I was lucky to find an internship with an agency. I’m working on some fun writing projects and learning new things.”

Dave Forster, whose internship as a reporter for the Fargo Forum will end in August, plans to apply for another internship at a larger newspaper. A print journalism major from Sleepy Eye, Minn., he said he wanted to get more experience before committing to a full-time job.

“I’m not really worried about finding a job,” he said. “Ideally, I’d like a general news reporting position at a daily newspaper, preferably near one of the coasts, or in Hawaii,” said the former Aquin editor, who also interned with Lillie Suburban Newspapers last summer.

Mike Varpness didn’t need to be concerned about finding a job because he was offered a position at Target Corp. in October. A marketing major from Richfield, he had interned there last summer and now works as a business analyst in the merchandising area.

What happened to the days of multiple offers?

Alumni who graduated a few years ago may remember multiple job offers. This year, fewer students were so lucky

Brian Brenberg, the 2002 Tommy Award recipient, had five job offers on the table. “I realize that most people are not in that situation,” he said.

A finance and marketing major, he interviewed with three other companies before deciding to accept a management associate position at the St. Paul Companies. A Wyoming, Minn., native, Brenberg was one of 11 players nationally named to the 2001 Good Works Team by the American Football Coaches Association.

Companies may not offer as many incentives this year to attract candidates, according to Crist. “The good news is that starting salaries have not been reduced substantially.”

Networking: ‘Do you know anyone who works at the place I want to work?’

Many recent graduates have found networking and St. Thomas’ Career Development Center Web site to be two of their greatest resources.

“I have three good leads and had two interviews this week – all through my parents’ friends,” Osgood said. “I’m an opportunist. At my little sister’s open house, I asked people what they did and they gave me their business cards.”

Osgood’s parents also were valuable networkers for her fiance, Clayton Schultz, another May 2002 St. Thomas graduate. Schultz, an international business and German major from Wayzata, began his job with Shenehon Co. as a business and real estate appraiser in July.

For some students, teachers are the best people with whom to network.

“My professors were the only resources I used,” Forster said. “Actually, I think they’re about the only resource available at St. Thomas for print journalism students.”

“I talked to Dr. Ellen Kennedy and she helped me through senior year,” said marketing major Joselyn Wilson of White Bear Lake. She will attend the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan this fall to earn an accelerated associate degree – a necessity for those who want to pursue fashion merchandising management in New York.

Wilson said she also visited the Career Development Center and often used the center’s Web site to access its job and internship listings. The site receives about 800 hits a day.

One way to students to assess their skills is to read through the resources on the Career Development Center Web site. (See the resources listed on Page 35.)

“I used the Web site almost daily,” said Sarah Schmitz, an accounting major from Cedarburg, Wis. “That’s how I found out about a job opening at Wells Fargo and an internship at WSI Manufacturing.” Schmitz interned at WSI her senior year and has applied for a position at Wells Fargo.

As in most things, persistence also pays off. Wilsons Leather Co. didn’t have an opening when Alisa Frost initially talked to a representative at the Minnesota Private College Job Fair held in spring. St. Thomas’ Career Development Center collaborates with other colleges to coordinate the job and internship fair each year. “I just kept in constant contact with them until there was an opening,” she said. She started her job as a merchandise production specialist at Wilsons in June. A marketing and business communication major, she had interned at three companies while an undergraduate.

Hope for the future

Four large firms that formerly recruited at St. Thomas did not visit one or both semesters this year. “They mainly cited the need to be cautious with staffing projections for the time being,” O’Brien said. “On a positive note, three out of the four employers already have scheduled interview dates for this fall.”

Some students, like education majors, rely on events like the Minnesota Education Fair to meet and interview with school district representatives. The fair is organized with the assistance of St. Thomas’ Student Affairs Life-Work Center staff.

Sarah Haxton, an elementary education and sociology major, is optimistic about landing a job. “I think if I am persistent enough and present myself with confidence, I will find a teaching position suitable for me,” said the Omaha, Neb., native.

When her job as a nanny for a family in Edina ends in August, she will know if there are teaching positions open in the St. Paul school district. If there are none, she will apply to other districts.

“Graduates from past years have taken various roads that suit them,” she said. “Some have gone right into the job market, some have volunteered and some still don’t really know what they are doing. It’s different for everyone.”

For those who are not feeling so positive, take Osgood’s advice: “My whole goal is not to get stressed out about finding a job.” To help her accomplish this, Osgood has been working at Braemar Golf Course this summer so she can golf every day.

Sooner or later, all these recent graduates will find jobs. According to the most recent statistics available of the St. Thomas alumni who graduated in 2000, 90 percent said they were employed full or part time, when they were surveyed in 2001. Another 16 percent said they were enrolled in a graduate degree program.