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Career Services helping grads cope with a leaner economy

Entering the marketplace during an economic downturn, members of the Class of 2002 have discovered the importance of networking, flexibility, resilience and perseverance in conducting their job searches.

Optimism doesn't hurt, either. Many of the 2,250 graduates learned these lessons through MIT's Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising (OCSPA).

"This economy underscores the importance of two of OCSPA's first principles: the importance of our emphasis on 'learning to fish' rather than 'being placed,' and the value of MIT networks, especially alumni/ae and MIT-friendly employers," said Elizabeth Reed, director of OCSPA.

When the seniors were freshmen, they saw graduating seniors receiving numerous attractive job offers with minimal effort. But today, an intensive search results in fewer and narrower options. Salaries in some fields are not as high, and there is less room to negotiate for more money, signing bonuses and additional perks.

"Along with the hardships, there are positive dimensions," Reed said. "Some of us have worked with students through several recessions and have seen that a slowdown in economic activity creates a state in which reflection--a basic human need--is possible, even inescapable. The hiring frenzy of recent years didn't support thoughtful, informed decision-making. For example, 'exploding offers' where candidates had 24 hours to choose a job before the offer was rescinded left no time to ask, 'Am I sure I've found the field that I want? Does my choice reflect my values? Are there different choices I might make if I thought they might lead somewhere?'"

Perhaps as a result of this sort of reflection, 295 of the 918 students who responded to the OCSPA Graduating Student Survey by May 31 chose to attend graduate school (32 percent). Of these, 42 percent (123) are entering Ph.D. programs, 9 percent are going to medical school and 2 percent to law school.

The survey showed that 556 (60 percent) had jobs. Thirty-two percent of those found their jobs through on-campus recruiting. Another 115 cited personal contacts and 82 returned to employers where they had internships.

The sagging economy resulted in a 31 percent decrease in firms recruiting on campus, with only 388 employer visits compared to 560 in 2000-01. Reed said the dip was "considerably lower that the nationwide averages we're hearing from other schools." Despite the decrease in recruiter visits, 9,070 job interviews were conducted on campus during the year. "That's impressive," she said.

Deborah L. Liverman, assistant director of OCSPA, said she often reminded discouraged seniors and graduate students that their options this year were similar to those experienced by students at other schools during normal times.

"They're still the brightest and the best, and the MIT name still means a lot," said Liverman. "I'd tell them repeatedly, 'You have keep to trying.'"

Liverman offered the following advice to job candidates:

  • If a graduate is interested in a particular company or industry, he or she may find an MIT contact by searching Interviewtrak, the section of Monstertrak that manages on-campus recruiting. MIT contacts are familiar with the curriculum and have a preference for MIT graduates.
  • ������The Lucent On-line Library offers free access to several excellent periodicals for consulting, finance and investment banking, or to do research on specific companies.
  • Students should conduct a targeted job search by researching companies of all sizes in a particular industry and contacting those in which they're interested. Every industry has a specialized directory that lists companies and key executives in that industry.
  • Keep MIT contacts active. OCSPA services are available to alumni, with career centers located around the country. Most university and college career centers honor reciprocity agreements that include use of their career libraries.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 5, 2002.

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