By Kristina Goetz
The Cincinnati Enquirer
DELHI TOWNSHIP - Sporting a smart tie, and clutching a fistful of resumes, one business administration major tried to stand out in a crowd of students this week at the College of Mount St. Joseph's annual career fair.
Pam Brazzle, a business administration major from Price Hill, looks over recruiting materials at Mount St. Joseph's job fair. This year's market is said to be brightening.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/MICHAEL E. KEATING
It was Brian Belton's first big chance to meet with prospective employers and the best way, he said, to get his name out before he receives his degree in June.
While the economy is showing signs of a slow recovery, analysts say, upcoming college graduates like Belton, a 22-year-old from Monfort Heights, have reason to be cautiously optimistic about job opportunities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Wednesday that Ohio's jobless rate, 6.2 percent, was unchanged from December to January. Kentucky's decreased from 6.0 to 5.2 percent and Indiana decreased from 5.1 to 5.0 percent.
Surveys show that companies nationwide expect to hire between 8 percent and 12 percent more new college grads than last year. And more are reporting starting-salary increases, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
"The economy is picking up," said Roger Herman of the Herman Group, a Greensboro, N.C.-based business-consulting firm. "Employers are beginning to look more aggressively at how they're going to be staffing.
"They're going to be asking this year's college graduates and last year's college graduates for fresh ideas, energy and to take projects and run with them. We're advising our clients to get ready."
Messer Construction Co. in Bond Hill, one of the region's largest commercial construction companies, has been recruiting at local colleges for graduates majoring in everything from civil and mechanical engineering to accounting and business development.
The fundamental quality that managers want in a potential employee is leadership, said Bill Krausen, the company's professional development vice president.
Messer has increased the number of college hires over the past several years because of growth in current and new markets.
"One of our common values is growth from within," Krausen said. "Virtually everyone at Messer starts at an entry-level position and grows. We develop a career plan that is really fostered through effective mentoring and coaching. Each of the employee-owners has a personal responsibility for instilling values in these college students, the very same values that have made our company a success for many years."
While the national labor pool is brimming with well-educated workers, this year's college graduates may fill a niche for employers: young people with fresh ideas who are willing to work for entry-level pay.
"The big word today is agility," Herman said. "Employers will be looking for people who can change quickly. The younger people can be particularly valuable for that.
"The emphasis we're hearing is liberal-arts graduates ... people who can think, who are good collaborators and those who can challenge the status quo."
Michigan State University's 2003-'04 national college employment survey predicts that business and biological and physical science majors will have the best job prospects, while computer science majors will have it rough. Those leaving college with MBAs will also have a difficult time finding jobs. Some companies have reported that they're offering positions once offered to MBA graduates to those with bachelor's degrees.
Students with the best chance of securing a full-time position, though, are those who have had internships or participated in co-op programs. For the third straight year, employers rated their internship programs as the most effective recruiting method they use for hiring new college graduates, according to the 2004 Job Outlook survey conducted by NACE.
The numbers show how effective those programs are:
During the 2002-'03 academic year, employers said they turned more than 38 percent of their interns and nearly 51 percent of their co-op students into full-time hires.
David Kistler, 22, of Fremont, a senior accounting major at Miami University, landed a full-time job with Ernst & Young in Cleveland after he completed an internship last summer, nearly a year before his graduation date. He will start his position in global investigations and dispute advisory Aug. 9.
During his internship, Kistler worked on a variety of projects and traveled, which allowed him to get to know his bosses and build good relationships.
"It was a huge relief to have a job going into my senior year,'' he said. "It takes a lot of pressure off."
Faith Smith from the Cincinnati Recreation Commission was a recruiter at the Mount's job fair this week, seeking students for part-time summer jobs. These jobs are a good way to build a resume, she said, especially if graduates still aren't sure about a career. Many college counselors are advising students to contemplate summer internships.
"They're a little surprised at the variety of opportunities we have," said Smith, a community center director for the Dunham-Sayler Park service area. "This is a great way to get practice interacting with the public and to talk to total strangers. It's a great breeding ground for training."
As the spring job-fair season kicks into high gear, college counselors are encouraging students to get started on their job searches, if they haven't already.
Rick Hearin, director of career services at Miami, tells students not to overlook smaller, emerging companies, which sometimes have the best entry-level positions.
Bill Lamb, employer-relations coordinator at Northern Kentucky University, reminds students to be flexible in getting a foot in the door.
For the Mount's Belton, it's time to surf online for job postings and send out more resumes.
At the job fair, he talked to representatives from seven companies about his concentrations in marketing and management. Some told him about job openings; others asked for his resume.
"At least I'm getting more acclimated to talking to people in higher positions," he said. "I was kind of nervous, but I let them know my name and that I'm interested. I'm looking for a job where I can be creative, assert ideas and work with people.
"I just now started looking," he said. "I consider this a turning point where I really start my search.
"I've heard negative things, but I'm optimistic."
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