Some U.Va. Graduates Face a Still Solid Job Market

March 13, 2009 — While the current recession has pushed some industries to contract, many students graduating from the University of Virginia this spring will be able to find jobs in their fields.

Some specialties, such as engineering and nursing, remain strong fields, while others are feeling more economic erosion.

School of Engineering and Applied Science

The engineering job market is still in good shape, said Clarence J. Livesay, director of career development at the School of Engineering and Applied Science.

"We are seeing students with multiple good job offers," he said. "We have not seen offers withdrawn or secondary visits cancelled."

The trend of hiring engineering students at the end of their third-year internships ¬ which allows companies to apply for security clearances while the students finish their degrees ¬ is continuing.

"In the class of 2008, about 20 percent had security clearances." Livesay said, noting the strong demand for engineers in homeland security, defense and intelligence agencies.

Sixty-nine companies and government agencies were represented in a recent engineering job fair, all but one looking for '09 graduates, Livesay said. There were 11 fewer companies than the previous year, but most of those absent had held interviews on Grounds in the fall.

There is still demand in construction, civil engineering, systems engineering and consulting, he said.

While there are headlines about layoffs, Livesay believes they reflect restructuring within the industry. "I think they are getting rid of low performers," he said.

The College of Arts & Sciences

Despite a tough employment market, many firms are still hiring entry-level college graduates, said James L. McBride, executive director of University Career Services

"Firms want bright young people," he said. "They are still looking for the special graduate. They are all after the best candidate. This is a good time to have a strong performance record."

Even in the market downturn, many government agencies are still hiring, he said. There continues to be demand in consulting and information technology.

"Defense is still strong, especially with companies such as Lockheed-Martin and Northrup Grumman," he said, noting that Washington, D.C., just two hours up the road from U.Va., is well stocked with defense, information technology and non-profit opportunities.

Students are also casting a wider net and considering more options, McBride said. They are working on a wider range of skills, looking where previous graduates were hired and building networks.

"Networking is huge," he said. "They already have these social networks and there are a phenomenal number of people on them and now they are developing more professional networks."

On the downside, signing bonuses are history, and relocation allowances are shrinking. "The perks will vanish
More students are putting off entering the job market, so admission to graduate schools is becoming more competitive, he added.

Jobs and internships are fewer, but companies are still coming to U.Va.'s career fairs, he said, because U.Va. has a good reputation.

Many companies had planned to replace retiring workers, but now fewer workers are retiring, leaving fewer open slots.

While graduates are concerned, McBride said there is no panic because they know they have a sound education from one of the best schools in the country.

School of Architecture

The current job market is "challenging," said Ellen Cathey, director of career services for the School of Architecture.

"The building industry is not what is was and jobs are much scarcer," Cathey said. "There is no safe zone. The larger firms may be hiring a few people, but the smaller firms are not hiring people and some are closing."

There have been cutbacks in construction and internships, she said, and students are looking at other options, such as the Peace Corps and Americorps, while waiting for economic recovery.

"The students aren't panicking," Cathey said. "It is not like this is the first time we have had a recession. People have survived."

McIntire School of Commerce

"Job acceptances are right where they were at this time last year, with more than half the class reporting full-time employment," said Tom Fitch, director of Commerce Career Services.

"Employers are still reaching out to our students as they consider interns and full-time hires," Fitch said. "But as the national trend suggests, overall recruiting is down."

The number of commerce students planning to attend graduate school has doubled.

Commerce Career Services is working with students and potential employers to network, on Grounds, in key cities or virtually. 

Fitch said it is too early in the season to determine the salaries and/or bonuses students are receiving.

School of Law

About 90 percent of the 2009 law graduates-to-be currently have job commitments, but how many of these will still be there when they walk the Lawn is an open question, said William S. Hopson, assistant dean of career services at the School of Law.

He cited a report in AmLaw Daily that the large law firm Latham & Watkins had laid off 190 lawyers and 250 staff in its New York, Los Angeles and London offices.

"This is a tough, tough market," he said.

As of Feb. 15, 99.5 percent of the law class of 2008 was employed, but Hopson said two members of the '08 class have already been laid off.

Law students were expanding their horizons, looking at public interest law, legal aid services, prosecutor's offices, judges' chambers and government agencies. Some are seeking work with smaller firms.

For the graduates who do find positions, the large firms are paying about $160,000 a year, while smaller firms are paying between $80,000 and $90,000.

"I hope the law firms have learned the lesson of the 1990s recession," Hopson said. "If they stop hiring, they may not have the people they need in the future."

While other industries are seeing a reduction in retirement, many large law firms have age cut-offs, where senior lawyers must retire at 60, 65 or 70 years of age, he said.

Darden School of Business

About 70 percent of Darden School of Business degree candidates have job offers, a reduction of 10 percent to 15 percent from last year.

Everette Fortner, executive director for corporate relations at Darden, said about 20 percent to 25 percent of the graduates were going into investment banking, with an equal number entering consulting.

Many job offers were made at the end of students' summer internships, and Fortner said the companies have honored those commitments. Now, though, it is becoming more difficult for first-year students to land internships.

Fortner advises students to not worry about whether they're interning at a large consulting firm or a locally owned retailer. "We tell them that they need to do something that will get them some experience to put on their resumes," he said. "They need to build their credentials."

For those who have taken jobs, Fortner said the salaries were close to last year's level at $96,000 to $100,000. But students are also looking further afield for work, including smaller firms not getting government bailouts. He said students are looking at recession-resistant businesses, such as energy, health care and sustainability.

Students are concerned, but their mood is more determined, he said.

"We tell them not to take their eyes off what they came back to business school to accomplish," he said.

School of Nursing

Nursing still seems recession-proof. While some hospitals are cutting back on nursing hires, nurses are still experiencing 23 percent job growth across the industry, and up to 39 percent in physician offices.

Nurses graduating this spring have been able to get jobs in the specialty units they wanted, said Theresa Carroll, assistant dean for undergraduate student services. Some hospitals have delayed hiring, but the students are confident of being able to get jobs.

"Some hospitals have put off when they hire," Carroll said. "They used to interview January through March. Now some of them are not interviewing until later in the spring or in early summer."

— By Matt Kelly