By De Andra Kenoly
We have heard it before. Having a college degree leads to higher earnings and more career opportunities. But with the economy on shaky ground, how are graduates supposed to find jobs?
According the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the national unemployment rate for December 2009 rose to 10 percent, compared with 7.2 percent in December 2008.
With more than 15 million Americans jobless, prospects of finding the ideal job look grim, especially for recently graduated students with little or no experience.
Sandy Nowack, Whitworth's assistant director of Career Services/Internships, said one of the best ways to combat post-graduate joblessness is to look for alternative job paths such as temporary job placement agencies and service organizations such as AmeriCorps.
"In the downturn of the economy, almost anything that will get your foot in the door is a good idea," Nowack said.
That worked for Suzanne Rains, '07. She wanted to work for Nike and tried to find a way into the company the traditional way.
"I literally did 13 or 14 informational interviews," she said. "I knew one person at Nike, and I went to meet with him. He told me about someone else that I should meet with. I introduced myself to that person."
Rains said the people she met in the interviews did not have a specific position to offer. But through the interviews Rains learned about the temporary job agency Kelly Services, from which Nike contracted workers. Through the agency she landed a one-year contract with Nike, Rains said.
Nowack said working in a temporary position is a good way to get inside information on a company.
"[Temporary agencies] will put you in a variety of businesses where you go and work a few weeks in this company and in that company," a strategy that enables you to get to know an organization, Nowack said.
When Rains saw a position open for a recruiting coordinator, she applied. Rains said her experience at Nike gave her an advantage over other applicants.
"Since they already knew me, they hired me," Rains said. "So [connections gave me] a leg up because I think there were an extra 1,200 people who applied for this job."
An untraditional approach can work in the not-for-profit sector as well.
Many religious-based social service opportunities welcome post-graduate volunteers, some providing monetary stipends and other benefits.
One such program is the Christian Appalachian Project, an interdenominational nonprofit organization committed to serving people in need in Appalachia.
The Christian Appalachian project offers a post-graduate volunteer program. According to the organization's website, it provides benefits such as room and board, a monthly stipend, health insurance and potential loan deferment for volunteers committed to a year or more.
Other nonprofit programs such as Teach For America and AmeriCorps are good options for gaining employment and experience.
Take Tami Hagglund, '04, for example.
Hagglund knew she wanted to teach but did not want to take the normal route of being a substitute teacher, she said.
"You often don't know until you get a phone call at 6:30 a.m. that you will sub that day, which requires being up, dressed, and ready every day in case you get the call," Hagglund said in an e-mail interview. "Not fun, and not great pay, either!"
As a history major with certification to teach in secondary schools, Hagglund said she was aware of the program Teach For America (TFA), a nonprofit organization with the aim of ending educational inequality.
The program recruits college graduates to teach for two-years in low income communities in the United States.
According to the TFA website, those accepted into the program teach full time and receive the same salary as other teachers in the school district they are in.
Although TFA has many benefits, Hagglund warns it is not for the faint of heart.
"I won't lie – it's grueling," Hagglund said. "The application process is hard and a lot of amazing people don't get accepted."
After acceptance, members undergo a six-week intensive training program to prepare them for the difficulties of teaching students living in poverty.
Although Hagglund faced many challenges teaching in rural North Carolina, she said the experience has positively affected her.
"When I look back I remember the highs far more than the lows," Hagglund said. "That's a testimony to what a great experience TFA is if you put your whole self into it."
Similarly, for Nissana Nov, '08, the first step on her career path also came through a nonprofit, AmeriCorps. AmeriCorps is a network of local, state, and national service programs that meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health, and homeland security.
Nov, a Cambodian immigrant, said she wanted to aid the Cambodian community in her hometown of Tacoma, Wash., but did not know what career path to take.
Nov thought AmeriCorps would give her the opportunity to find a career she would like to do, she said.
"I didn't want to jump in and go directly into something then realizing I hated it," Nov said.
Nov was accepted into AmeriCorps and worked for Northwest Leadership Foundation in Tacoma. One of the Foundation's activities is the Act Six Leadership & Scholarship Program; Nov was an Act Six-sponsored student when she attended Whitworth.
According to the organization website, Act Six is a leadership and scholarship program that "connects urban ministries and faith-based colleges in order to equip emerging urban leaders to engage the university campus and their communities at home."
Nov said because of her experience in AmeriCorps, she decided to earn a master's degree in social work, and is now attending Columbia University.
Students should not stress about finding their dream job right away, Nowack said.
"I think what people need to know is [they should not] get discouraged or panic, because they have a lot to offer," Nowack said.
Rains said graduates should not be afraid to try other employment options when things don't work out at first.
"Look for different doors," Rains said. "For me it was going in through a contract position," she said, an avenue she did not think of going down in the beginning.
Although it may seem discouraging not to get hired right away, people like Nowack emphasize that there are other options. Be open to alternatives as they can lead you to the job you want.
As Frank Tyger said, "Learn to listen; opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly."