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Job outlook brightens for Cal Poly graduates

dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

With an economy still bruised from the recession, finding a job will not be easy for many students in the class of 2011.

But there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the employment outlook, career counselors say.

“It isn’t what it was at the peak, but I would say that it’s a little better than a year ago,” said Markel Quarles, a counselor at Cal Poly’s Career Services. “We’re having more activity with employers, and more jobs are being offered.”

Quarles noted that about 10 percent more students received offers for full-time work than the previous year.

Employer participation at campus job fairs also improved in 2010-11 compared with the previous year, according to the most recent data from Career Services. A total of 457 employers attended job fairs this past year, up from 375 in 2009-10. The center had enough employers to bump up a one-day fair in 2009-10 to two days this year.

A National Association of Colleges and Employers 2011 Job Outlook also offers a brighter assessment of employment prospects.

Employers said they plan to hire 19.3 percent more graduates in 2010-11 than in 2009-10. That’s the first time since 2007 that employers have reported a double-digit increase in their spring hiring projections, according to the national report.

Cal Poly student Justin Harris, who graduated this weekend with a master’s degree in biomedical engineering, said he was initially skeptical about his employment prospects because of the economy. He put off entering the workforce in 2009, fearing a bleak job market.

“I was going to all of the Cal Poly career fairs and interviewing, and there just were not a lot of full-time positions being offered,” he said.

With persistence and prior work experience on his résumé, Harris recently accepted a position at Boston Scientific, where he will research and develop pain management technology.

Harris said he met a recruiter at a university job fair and ran into the same recruiter again at a National Society of Black Engineers career fair in St. Louis. He believes his work experience, projects at Cal Poly and leadership positions were the keys to his success in landing a job that pays him more than $72,000 a year.

“They were interested in knowing the roles that I played at previous jobs,” he said.

Shauna Kimball, 22, who graduated Saturday with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, said an internship with the Navy opened the door to the offer of a full-time job with the Navy in San Diego.

She’s contemplating whether to take the job or enroll in graduate school outside of California, but she feels fortunate that she was able to get an offer quickly.

She said her interview skills, where she emphasized how she could turn weaknesses into strengths, and recommendation letters helped her to get the offer.

“It’s the little things that make you stand out, and the things that you’re passionate about that make you stand out as an individual,” she said.

Cal Poly graduates in a variety of disciplines have continued to be productive, despite the tough economy.

In 2009-10, when fewer employers participated in university job fairs, 82 percent of graduates who responded to a survey reported that they either found full-time work or enrolled in graduate school.

Still, Carole Moore, a program coordinator and Career Services counselor who works with students in the College of Architecture and Environmental Design, said it’s tough out there.

The national unemployment rate in May was 9.1 percent, with 54,000 jobs gained, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau reported that jobs were added in professional and business services, health care and mining, but that employment levels in other major private-sector industries changed little. Local government employment continued its decline.

Optimism must be tempered with the realization that students have to “make a huge effort to get that job,” Moore said.

Students, she noted, should “cast a wider net,” exploring options that they may not have considered.

Moreover, they must be open to learning new skills, understand the importance of networking and customize their résumé to the specific job.

“The résumé’s job is to get you the phone call for the interview,” Moore said. “If the résumé goes in the garbage, that’s a problem.”

Harris said he spent several years tweaking his résumé. During one of his first career fairs, a recruiter returned his résumé after he had presented it because it wasn’t good enough.

“I would say take advantage of the services at the career center early on,” Harris said. “It takes a while to perfect your résumé and presentation, and it’s really about how you sell yourself.”

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