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Bridges Winter 2011 - It's a Bad Economy, Right??
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It’s a Bad Economy, Right??

“Weak job growth,” “reduced consumer spending,” “possibility of a double-dip recession” –phrases used daily to describe current economic conditions. I don’t like hearing these words and I can only imagine how our students, immersed in job and internship searches, must react. They get nervous, too, right? I’m starting to wonder if that is the case. Do those words mean the same thing to our students as they do to you or me?     

Within the past few weeks, I have had several interactions that suggest that maybe students are not as negatively affected by bad economic news; or at least, not affected in a way that would encourage them to fully commit to the job/internship search process. Students have declined interviews for reasons such as (I’m paraphrasing): ‘I’ve talked it over with my parents and we don’t think that’s the right opportunity for me,’ ‘I’m going to be on vacation while that interview is taking place,’ and (my favorite) ‘Due to a family emergency, I can’t make the interview’ (this excuse was cited one full month before the interview day – I’m not sure what emergencies are planned for a full month in advance). 
I am grateful that these students canceled their interviews well in advance, so that other students could fill their interview slots. My question, though, is why none of those excuses included the words, “I have already accepted another opportunity.” How can a student decline an interview in favor of vacation when he or she still does not have a job or internship?
I’m not writing about this to “Millennial bash;” I love working with our students. I just don’t understand why there isn’t a greater sense of urgency when it comes to interviews. Aren’t they excited to receive interviews and don’t they know the competition out there?
Wondering if my interactions were just anomalies, I turned to some employers that I work with regularly to get their takes on five questions:
Compared to the 2007-08 academic year (when the economy really began to decline):
1.      Are students more likely to accept offers you make?
2.      Are students more likely to accept offers quickly?
3.      Are interns more likely to convert into full-time hires?
4.      Do students take more time in preparing their application materials?
5.      Are new hires more likely to stay in their jobs for a few years (as opposed to months)?
I spoke with recruiters at large, medium and small organizations, non-profit and for-profit. Certainly, my survey was not scientific, but I did hear some interesting themes repeated in the anecdotes employers provided. 
With questions #1 and #2, I’m gauging students’ enthusiasm levels. Are they really excited when they get job offers? Will they show their enthusiasm by responding to an offer immediately? Per the employers I spoke with, no. Students might be excited to receive a job or internship offer, but they are still very interested in negotiating their offers (more time to respond and consider other options, desired geographic locations and salary were all cited as negotiating points).   If students do not get the desired response to their negotiating points, they’re not afraid to walk away from offers.
Are interns more likely to convert into full-time hires? Unless students had very bad internship experiences, it seems that they are accepting offers based on their internships. This is good news for employers who go to great lengths to provide quality internship experiences for students and perhaps a sign of the future of campus recruiting programs (internship focused, as opposed to focused on full-time opportunities).
As for student care in preparing their application materials, there is not a lot of change. Some students still do not prepare sufficiently for interviews, while others step it up and recognize the opportunity at hand. ‘Specialized’ career fairs were given high praise as events where students tend to arrive prepared and engage in good discussion with recruiters (for example, an education career fair or a consulting networking night).
Finally, are new hires more likely to stay in their first jobs for a few years, as opposed to a few months? It may be premature to ask this question, as the economic decline is only a few years old. However, the employers I spoke with underscored that they don’t expect students to stay in their jobs just because of a bad economy; students are still willing to ‘job jump’ to other positions or go to grad school.
In speaking with the employers, none of the information that I learned was ground-breaking, but what I found interesting is the strength of generational characteristics. As Millennials, our students want many options and apparently, stay strong in their belief that they have options, even through economic decline. Is it our job as career services professionals to question that belief or should we just learn to appreciate their optimism?

Alexandra Los is the Assistant Director of Employer Outreach for Tufts University Career Services. 

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