Gregg A. Henderschiedt, University of Florida
The current state of the economy is no secret - nearly every newscast, magazine, and blog is buzzing with the latest round of bad news. Not surprisingly, students are beginning to ask questions about how majors relate to their career goals and how they should plan given the current economic reality. It is more important than ever that academic and career advisors keep up with both general economic forecasts to help students with career planning and to pay particular attention to the special needs that students may have in a down economy.
Academic advisors are beginning to hear students ask about "recession proof" fields. In reality, no such field exists. Just a few years ago, finance and management majors would have considered themselves secure for life. Likewise many previous students counted on the dot com boom of the 1990s, which also cooled. All fields experience peaks and valleys, and career planning around the latest "hot field" often leads to chasing a moving target later. Advisors who encourage students to gain practical experience, expand their skill sets, and remain flexible give students the tools needed to react to the range of economic cycles they will experience in their lifetime.
Many students are so concerned with choosing the "perfect" major and achieving good grades that they fail to take advantage of many opportunities to gain experience. Students often fall into the trap of believing that the only experience that "counts" is that for which they have been paid. Internships and volunteering are great ways for students to not only build their skills, but to make important business connections and learn about a particular field. Campus involvement is also an excellent way to build leadership and problem solving skills.
Every spring, thousands of college graduates prepare to enter the job market by writing resumes, attending career fairs, and applying for jobs. With increased competition, students need to pay extra attention to detail on cover letters and resumes. Many students, with some coaching, can write a strong resume for a position, however careless mistakes become more common when they apply for positions using form letters and mass mailings. Students should keep detailed records of their applications and treat every cover letter and resume with care. Many universities have comprehensive career centers which offer workshops on resume writing, interviewing, and other important career planning skills.
Career counselors have long stressed the importance of networking during a job search, and this is even more critical in a tight job market. Many students, especially introverts, find networking daunting, when in reality it can be as simple setting up a group in an email address book. Letting everyone, including even the most unlikely friend or colleague, know about a job search can reap surprising results. Everyone who comes into contact with the student should know that he or she is "in the market." There are more than a few instances in which having a resume on hand has resulted in a job offer from a casual acquaintance. Students can also take advantage of networking opportunities through alumni associations which are often more than happy to connect them with professionals in a variety of fields.
Many students consider graduate school as a "Plan B" during tough economic times. While graduate school is a valid option for many, it is important that a student consider his or her reasons for applying. Students may not have considered the substantial commitment of time and money that graduate school requires. There is also the reality that budget cuts will force some universities to limit enrollments in programs that will likely see even more applications than normal. In short, graduate school might not be the sound backup plan that students envisioned, and referrals to career counselors may be necessary to help students with their decisions.
Some students are considering alternatives to graduate school such as the Peace Corps, Teach for America or AmeriCorps. These can be excellent ways for students to delay a permanent job search, learn new skills, and obtain potentially life (and career!) changing experiences.
Looking for employment can be a full time job, and most students grossly underestimate the amount of time it takes to land their first position. Students will often limit their searches based on salary and geographic expectations, and some may need to reconsider what they consider "acceptable" employment. It is easy to get discouraged during a long job search, so it is important that advisors watch for signs of low self esteem or depression. A few carefully worded questions and a timely referral to a mental health counseling center could turn out to be the most important career advice we can give.
Most experienced advisors know that this economic downturn, like those in the past, will bottom out at some point and conditions will improve. It is important that we convey a sense of optimism to students experiencing this for the first time during such an important stage in their career development. If advising is teaching, advisors in this economy are in a prime position to teach the career planning skills students can use for a lifetime.
Gregg A. Henderschiedt
Career Resource Center
University of Florida
Cite this article using APA style as: Henderschiedt, G.A. (2009, June). Helping students weather the storm: Career advising in tough economic times. Academic Advising Today, 32(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]