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For recent graduates, finding employment is no easy task

After five years and three majors, Luke Goddard graduated from Macon State College cum laude in July with an English degree.

Since graduating a few months ago, he’s mostly used online job search Web sites to look for jobs and post his resume.

“I’m hoping to get a bite,” he said.

Goddard is one of about 15 million Americans applying for 2.4 million available jobs. That breaks down to about six applicants per job, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Labor this month. Nationally, unemployment has reached 9.8 percent, and in Georgia, unemployment has hit 10.1 percent, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

For Americans ages 16 to 24, unemployment has gone up to 18 percent, up from 13 percent last year, according to a Business Week article in its Oct. 8 issue. Just two years ago, 84.4 percent of college graduates ages 22 to 27 had jobs, only somewhat lower than the 86.8 percent of college graduates ages 28 to 50 who were employed, according to the same article.

For now, Goddard, 24, has landed a few interviews, but none of them turned into jobs. He applied to become an academic resource center coordinator for Macon State College’s Warner Robins campus, but the job went to an internal candidate, he said.

“I was excited about it, but it didn’t work out,” he said.

Goddard said he also applied to become a program manager for the The Methodist Home for Children & Youth in Macon and for a position as a total loss specialist with Geico. He has earned some money recently making promotional videos for the American Chemistry Council and distributing them through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

He also is working as a writer for www.theblueindian.com, which features independent musicians, artists and photographers.

Goddard also sells the music he creates with his wife, along with merchandise online. He said he received a boost in sales after receiving national attention when a few cable networks picked up a YouTube video of him proposing to his wife, but making a living through those means has been difficult.

“I’m an educated young man with a degree, but it’s a struggle,” he said.

ENTERING THE Work force

Other recent graduates from area schools have been more successful in their job searches, such as Mercer University graduate Jake Lunday, 22, who finished his engineering degree in May.

Currently, he works as a process engineer for Procter & Gamble’s Pringles plant in Jackson, Tenn., working on machine design there. Later, he plans on going into the Navy reserves as an engineering duty officer.

Lunday applied to several companies online last fall and was later contacted by a Procter & Gamble representative, receiving his job offer last September.

“I guess I lucked out,” Lunday said. “I got in before the economy went down the tubes.”

Lunday developed considerable internship experience as an undergraduate, spending summers working at American Stitchco Inc., the now-closed Rockwell Automation in Dublin, Baxter Healthcare and Miliken & Company.

As a student, Lunday also worked with Dr. Ha Van Vo at Mercer University, assisting in the research, design and fabrication of low-cost prosthetics in Vietnam.

“I applied to many companies. The more companies the better,” he said. “I was very fortunate Procter & Gamble was one of my top picks.”

‘GETTING YOUR FOOT IN THE DOOR’

Marcella Diaz, director of career services at Macon State College, believes the preparation to enter the work force begins long before graduation.

By narrowing fields of interest and seeking work experience in those fields, students will be able to demonstrate their skills when they seek their first jobs.

“Getting your first internship is getting a first job,” Diaz said. “It’s getting your foot in the door.”

The office serves about 7,000 students and alumni, Diaz said, with about 10 percent of those looking for jobs after graduation.

In the future, Diaz said Macon State’s career services office plans to continue to reach out to graduates through coordination with the alumni affairs office and various academic departments.

In addition, Diaz said the most effective strategies for job seekers are networking and contacting hiring staff personally.

Applicants can demonstrate interest in a company or field by conducting informational interviews to learn more about its day-to-day operations.

During the job application process, Diaz advises potential applicants to find ways to make their resumes stand out in a pile, saying the resume should be “like answering an ad, not just (creating a) generic resume.” After interviews, applicants should send thank-you notes.

“The resume isn’t going to speak as well as talking to them, and meeting with them, and sending a letter,” Diaz said.

MORE FREEDOM

For people such as Brandon Thompson, 22, who graduated from Macon State in May with a communications and information technology degree, the economy is affording him the chance to pursue projects he may not otherwise have if the job market were stronger.

Since June, Thompson has been a free-lancer for Spark Media, editing and producing spot ads for companies such as Lowe Toyota, Moultrie Tech and Heart of Georgia Hospice, as well as a 30-minute car lot show for Lowe Pre-Owned Center.

“I suppose I thought there would be possibility there would be more job openings,” Thompson said, “ but I may not have decided to go freelance.”

He also bought a video camera recently for his company, BT Media Productions, to shoot commercials, training videos, campaign ads and other video productions, according to the company’s Web site. For now, Thomspon is pursuing freelance assignments in Middle Georgia and Atlanta and working on a show.

As a college student, he worked as an intern at 13WMAZ and Bright Blue Sky Productions, as well as a production manager for Athletic Broadcasting for high school sports. Also, he ran MSC-TV, the college TV station, where he also oversaw its Web site and students’ video work in journalism classes.

Overall, Thompson feels optimistic about his opportunities in the field.

“If I hadn’t had my experience and MSC-TV, I wouldn’t say the same thing,” he said. “Having that real-world training and experience, you just can’t beat that.”

While many are struggling due to the economy, Thompson plans to make the best of it.

“I’m starting to like the idea of the freedom of it,” he said. “I take jobs and work on them, but I don’t like to work the 9-to-5.”

Mercer University graduate Patrick Phaneuf, 23, also has used his time after finishing school in May with an engineering degree to pursue other interests.

Since graduation, he’s chosen to seek opportunities away from his degree training, working at YMCA Camp Greenville. Currently, he is traveling through Europe and visiting his parents, who live in the United Kingdom, he said in an e-mail interview.

He also worked at YMCA Camp Greenville in 2006 and 2007. Last summer, Phaneuf had an internship at Rave Wireless, a mobile applications firm based out of Boston.

“Pursuing a degree in engineering meant that I had to deal with a very heavy workload,” he said. “I therefore easily became restless and tried to counter this over the school year with exercise and the occasional night out.”

Phaneuf eventually plans to earn his Master of Business Administration and work in management, but he feels it would be more advantageous for him to earn work experience first.

“I’ve had a difficult time finding an entry level career, though I am partly to blame, because I began my job search in the fall rather than spring since I worked at summer camp again,” Phaneuf said.

While in Europe, Phaneuf continues his job search through the Internet and networking. In January, he plans to move to Seattle and focus his job search there.

THE IMPORTANCE OF NETWORKING

Steve Brown, director of career services at Mercer University, also stresses the importance of networking for young job seekers. While doing so may involve more effort, connecting with individuals ultimately results in a better pay-off than posting resumes on Web sites.

“More and more students are recognizing that they need to reach out to an actual person rather than developing a resume and putting it on a job board somewhere,” Brown said.

Brown said the strongest fields for job seekers are with the federal government and nonprofit organizations, because those jobs tend to stay steady even in difficult financial times, he said.

Among Mercer’s May graduates surveyed, 64 percent were seeking jobs, Brown said. Of that number, 35 percent found either full-time employment or were pursuing opportunities such as Teach for America, the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. Mercer will survey its graduates again next month at the six-month mark after graduation.

Brown said graduates also should pursue short-term experiences such as internships and fellowships to gain experience and meet people in the field. These can turn into full-time jobs offers down the road.

“They need to be actively engaged in a job experience,” Brown said.

While young graduates may be considering a number of options, he does not recommend students pursue graduate school as a last resort, as many graduate with debt from their undergraduate days.

‘A PERSONALITY CONTEST’

Pat Ivey, director of career services at Middle Georgia Technical College, said the job interview and application process is about selling yourself.

“It’s first and foremost a personality contest,” Ivey said. “You want them to like you.”

To do that, applicants need to understand what companies are looking for in the hiring process, to “get them into the head of the employer,” Ivey said.

The better you understand what they’re looking for, the better chance you’ll have of meeting expectations, Ivey said.

More than 97 percent of Middle Georgia Tech’s class of 2009 were placed in jobs by graduation, Ivey said. Of these, 81 percent were employed in their field of training.

He recommends applicants ask themselves three essential questions in preparing for job interviews: Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Can you get along with people?

“If you prove to the employer you can do that, you will get the job or have a good chance of getting far in the interview process,” he said.

While the objective is to market themselves, students shouldn’t narrow their searches to the most high-demand jobs or the one those with the highest salaries.

“Find something you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life,” he said.

To contact writer Andrea Castillo, call 256-9751.

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