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Recent graduates enter cutthroat job market as economy picks up

Nicole Radivilov | Contributing Photo Editor
Nicole Radivilov | Contributing Photo Editor

Media Credit: Nicole Radivilov | Contributing Photo Editor
Hilary Kelly, a graduating journalism major, has applied to publishing positions across the country, but has yet to be hired.

Allison Kowalski | News Editor

When senior Hilary Kelly was denied yet another publishing internship, she was shocked that the chosen candidate had vast coding experience – a skill that was not needed for the job.

She said several employers at publishing houses across the country picked other candidates who had skills and experiences far beyond the job description. With a week left before graduation, the journalism major is considering secretary positions while waiting to hear back about unpaid internships.

“I had every qualification they were looking for, but I guess they went with someone who had a specific skill set that they wanted,” she said.

Like many in the Class of 2014, Kelly is facing a job market filled with ups and downs. With the economy picking back up, there’s more competition than ever before for the slowly growing number of skilled job openings, and more recent graduates are being passed over for entry-level positions.

As more are turned away from full-time jobs, a growing number of recent graduates nationwide are accepting options for which they are overqualified: part-time work, internships or jobs outside their chosen field. Many in this year’s about 2,500-student graduating class will earn diplomas this week with that uncertainty over their heads.

While GW has poured millions of dollars into improving career services, the percentage of students employed within six months of graduation has hovered at about 63 percent over the past three years, according to a survey released last month.

The center’s services are barely recognizable from what seniors were offered when they arrived at GW in 2010. To help students break into a still-tough job market, the career center started to give seniors priority for one-on-one counseling appointments this semester as part of a larger overhaul to career advising that has rolled out since 2012.

By adding several industry-specific advisers and hires who push employers to recruit at GW, the center has helped connect students with alumni. These mentors have introduced them into the professional world, Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski said.

“We now have some specialists in these industries who are able to go a lot deeper and a lot more personalized, so you can see getting alumni and certain students together by major and by field,” Konwerski said.

Facing tough prospects
Less than half of the Class of 2013 responded to the University’s survey that tracks employment rates. It does not specify if respondents were working full-time, working part-time or interning.

While GW does not keep tabs on the number of students who are underemployed, recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that over the last five years more graduates are taking jobs with which they are unsatisfied.

As more Americans than ever before graduate with college degrees, the job market has struggled to match every college-educated worker with a skilled position, said Carl Van Horn, the director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University.

“Employers prefer the better-educated applicant. That means jobs that used to be filled by people with high school degrees are now being taken by those with bachelor’s because they’re not finding the jobs they thought were there,” Van Horn said.

The Economic Policy Institute found that underemployment has doubled in the U.S. since the recession, according to a report released last week. About 17 percent of recent graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 are currently underemployed, according to the report.

The study, based on responses collected between April 2013 and March 2014, also looked at unemployment, revealing that roughly 8.5 percent of recent graduates were jobless. That’s on par with GW’s survey results, which found that 8 percent of last year’s class were unemployed six months after graduation.

Senior Rachel Hamilton said while she is disappointed she will work as a “glorified intern” after graduation, she feels better off than many of her friends who are still looking for work.

After managing 15 theater shows at GW, Hamilton said she expected to land a more solid position than the one-year assistant stage manager apprenticeship in Maryland that she will start in July. Even with her experience, she said she will be responsible for coffee runs and paper work.

“It’s weird for me to go back to being an assistant stage manager when it feels like I’ve graduated from that,” Hamilton, a technical theater major, said.

Staying positive amid growing underemployment
Though underemployment has grown in the past five years, Assistant Vice President at the New York Federal Reserve Bank Richard Deitz said graduates should remain optimistic.

“By the time people reach their mid-to-late twenties, these difficulties become less significant,” Deitz said. “A college degree does tend to pay off.”

But for a school that ranks nationally at No. 207 for return on investment, recent graduates may have reason to worry. Twenty years after receiving their degrees, alumni will have made on average of just $370,000 more than a high school graduate, according to salary-tracking company Payscale.

After subtracting GW’s estimated sticker price of $230,500, that figure averages out to about $18,500 a year.

That makes GW, the 40th most expensive college in the nation, a poorer financial investment than many of its peer schools, including New York, Boston, Catholic and George Mason universities.

Hilary Wething, a senior research assistant at the Economic Policy Institute, said recent graduates across the nation have a harder time breaking into the job market to “get on their first rung of the income ladder,” but they are more likely to find work in D.C. than in other U.S. cities. About 80 percent of college graduates in D.C. are employed, compared to about 72 percent of college graduates nationwide, according to the institute’s report.

Most GW alumni stay in the D.C. area, said Rachel Brown, assistant provost for university career services. That’s mainly because they have a “home-field advantage” in the competitive job search thanks to the relationships they have formed while in school.

“Many students also have made inroads via internships and part-time jobs in D.C., which can lead to full-time employment,” she said.

-Zaid Shoorbajee contributed reporting.

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