Iowa State career experts say jobs are still there for spring grads, provide helpful tips

AMES, Iowa -- This spring's new college graduates may be growing nervous about their job prospects amid a workforce that has seen unemployment rise to 7.6 percent nationally and 4.6 percent in Iowa. Yet Iowa State University career counselors say they continue to see consistent entry-level employment opportunities for their grads.

Larry Hanneman, director of engineering career services at Iowa State, reports that fall 2008 engineering graduates with co-op experience -- alternating periods of professional work and on-campus study -- had a 100 percent placement rate.

In the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, Career Services Director Mike Gaul says he continues to see consistent job postings and graduate employment opportunities.

And fellow career services officials in Iowa State's colleges of business and liberal arts and sciences also are observing employment trends that make them optimistic. One reason for that, they say, is that entry-level jobs for new graduates are typically the last positions to be cut.

"Some companies are laying off employees at middle or advanced levels, and at the same time hiring entry-level positions," said Kathy Wieland, director of the College of Business career services. "Our data show that even in the worst economic times, such as the recession of 2001-2002 and 2002-2003, the employment rate was 83 percent -- proving that College of Business graduating seniors do quite well."

Wieland emphasizes that students need to become more aggressive in the job search in order to maximize their job prospects. The ISU career experts also provide some tips to help new graduates land jobs amid a more saturated applicant pool.

Stay motivated through a "career vision"

Mark Peterson, director of career services for the Business Graduate Program, encourages students to have a "career vision" in mind that also maps out alternative routes to their ultimate goals and dream jobs.

"With the economy like it is now it is important to do three things," said Peterson. "Today's graduate has to be more aggressive, continue to make networking a priority, and realize that if the dream job isn't available, to plan some alternative routes to get there eventually."

Work that résumé

Steve Kravinsky, director of career services for the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, said a good résumé should:

  • Be geared toward a specific industry or area of interest.
  • Invite the reader with a clear format and layout.
  • Be concise (one page, two maximum).
  • Start phrases with action verbs.
  • Use the vocabulary of the industry.
  • Contain only the most relevant information.
  • Avoid personal pronouns such as "I."
  • Not include potentially controversial or negative information such as religion, age, politics or salary expectations.

Cover letters still count

ISU's career services experts agree that cover letters are still important, even though they've increasingly become the shorter message in the application e-mail. That just makes them more powerful in fewer words.

"I'm a huge fan of cover letters. It's your chance to sell yourself," said Gaul. "But cover letters need to be well written and show that you're a well-rounded individual through your strengths, international experiences, accomplishments, leadership activities, academics and work experiences."

Keep it real, rather than virtual

Virtual job fairs are similar to online posting sites like and, but are only open for a limited amount of time. Peterson says the quality of virtual job fairs can vary greatly.

"The statistics for these virtual job fairs don't account for a large number of interviews or hires," he said. "While they can be a great way to begin a conversation with a company, the majority of jobs are going to be filled through networking opportunities."

If there's no job, seek another internship

For students who can't find their dream jobs immediately following graduation, accepting another internship may be beneficial.

"If you're looking to gain a set of experiences or skills you don't already have, another internship can be a great way to get your foot in the door," said Peterson. "Many corporations' human resources departments use the company's intern program as a hiring pool in order to sidestep beginner employee training programs."

"The last thing you want is a gap in your resume," added Gaul. "Accepting another internship won't hurt as that opportunity could possibly turn into a job."

Don't go to grad school simply to ride out the economy

"Most companies expect an employee to have an average of four to eight years of industry experience before earning their master's degree in business," said Peterson. "Business students who go straight through to graduate school usually end up with fewer options and higher salary expectations than companies are willing to pay without industry experience."

But graduate school can be a sound strategy for new bachelor's degree holders who want to further their research and pursue academic-related fields. In fact, of ISU's 2006-07 bachelor's degree recipients, 17.1 percent chose to further their education and 77.9 percent were employed within six months of graduation, equaling a 95 percent placement rate.

For all of the would-be graduates seeking jobs this spring, career services experts urge them above all else to stay positive.

"People need to realize there may be layoffs, but there are still jobs open for college graduates," Hanneman said.