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Even in tough times, college seniors finding jobs

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Even in an economic downturn, college seniors with the right preparation and perseverance can find jobs, a Purdue careers executive and some students say.

Timothy Luzader, director of Purdue University’s Center for Career Opportunities, says employers will continue to look at students from schools where they have built good relationships. “Purdue has a great reputation among employers,” he says. “They respect the rigor of the curriculum.”

They also keep coming back because of the students’ work ethic, he says. “It seems almost trite to say, but it’s what we hear from employers. Companies know that the Purdue students they hire are going to work hard.”

Three Purdue seniors who will receive bachelor’s degrees in May and begin work in their chosen fields this summer agree that their on-campus experiences were key to landing their jobs.

“Employers see a degree from Purdue as a real asset,” says Amy Burrell of West Lafayette. In the Krannert School of Management, she has majored in management with minors in economics, and organizational behavior and human resources. She will go to work at Eli Lilly and Co. in Indianapolis doing a human resources rotational program.

“I felt confident and well equipped while interviewing because of all the preparations that Krannert and Purdue give their students,” she says.

Kristin Burkenpas, a food science major in the College of Agriculture from Somerset, Ky., says not only was she prepared with the knowledge needed to work in her field, but she also had the tools to convey that knowledge during job interviews.

Burkenpas, who will work in the beverage lab at Sensient Technologies in Indianapolis as an applications technologist, says networking opportunities through guest lecturers in her Purdue classes also were invaluable. “I took an elective in the fall of 2008. The class instructor for the course will be one of my co-workers come June.”

Mike Mierzwa, a nuclear engineering major in the College of Engineering, says co-op experience during college and Purdue’s reputation as a premier engineering school helped him succeed in his job search. Mierzwa, of Morris Plains, N.J., will work for Westinghouse in Pittsburgh as a reactor core design engineer.

“Though my studies at Purdue, I’ve acquired the mindset of a problem-solving engineer and valuable communication skills,” he says.

All three say they started early – before their senior year – laying the groundwork to find a job after graduation. And all of them stepped up the effort last fall.

Mierzwa, who also served as chairman for the national Rube Goldberg Machine Contest, took a scientific approach to his job search. He developed a list of 20 companies and ranked them in order of his desire to work for them. Last fall, he actively pursued the top 15 or so. In the second half of the semester, he traveled regularly for interviews. In the end, he had offers from four companies, including his top two, one of which was Westinghouse.

Burkenpas says she attended job fairs and worked with the Department of Food Science’s placement coordinator to line up interviews.

“However, the job with Sensient came through industry contacts that I had networked throughout my college career, ” she says.

Burrell says she started making connections her junior year and last fall began aggressively pursuing any job lead she found.

“To begin with, I applied for positions that were posted on the Center for Career Opportunities Web site and followed through with contacts I made through Krannert’s Emloyers Forum,” she says.

At the career center, Luzader says there is no doubt that employers are making fewer recruitment visits because of layoffs and hiring freezes.

“But the good news for Purdue students is that companies are still going to make recruiting visits to their key schools. For many large, multinational companies, Purdue is a key school. They are going to be here recruiting and conducting interviews. They know if they disappear from campus, they lose their brand recognition as an employer and fall behind their competition.”

Luzader says that among universities with comprehensive career centers, Purdue consistently ranks in the top five for volume of recruitment. The center helps students explore career options and develop effective job search skills. It hosts companies recruiting on campus and sets up activities such as job fairs to connect students with employers.

Luzader says one trend he is seeing for the first time in his 30 years in the field is companies rescinding job offers in high numbers.

“We’ve seen about 100 students who have had offers rescinded or starting dates delayed,” he says. “It is affecting students’ full-time jobs and internships.”

Recognizing that some soon-to-be graduates are struggling to find jobs, the career center will hold its first ever “No Fear Job Search Day – Working Off-line” for seniors on May 12 after finals.

While they won’t actually be recruiting, company representatives will be on campus to help students hone their job-search skills through resume critiques, job search advice and networking. A “mocktail” party will help them learn how to work a room. They also will pick up interviewing techniques during speed interviewing, based on the speed dating model.

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