Zoe Renew of Evans is looking for a job -- and, so far, not finding one.
The senior chemistry major at Augusta State University is graduating this week and has joined the ranks of thousands of soon-to-be college graduates nationwide seeking permanent employment.
She'd like to find an entry-level chemist position. She started applying for jobs about two months ago and has sent her résumé to Savannah River Site, Savannah River National Laboratory and local chemical companies.
"I haven't heard anything. I have been optimistic up until now. I don't feel like I waited too long, and I felt that because I have a bachelor's degree surely I'll be able to get a job. Some of my friends that are applying for jobs are not having much luck as well," Renew said.
She would like to stay in the Augusta-Aiken area because she is getting married, and her fiancé already has a job in the area.
If Renew doesn't land her dream job, she's got a part-time job as a pharmacy tech to fall back on. She's also on the waiting list to attend school to become a physician's assistant -- though her goal is to find a full-time job in her field. She chose chemistry as a major because she loved the subject and thought it would help her land a job.
Until she finds a job, she'll keep applying for positions via the Internet.
"The majority of the places here require a position to be open to apply. You can't just submit a résumé, so you have to be on top of things," Renew said.
This year's college graduates are entering the working world in a tight job market. As the nation struggles to recover from recession, graduates find themselves competing for fewer jobs against many unemployed Americans.
"Hiring is getting a little bit better, but it's still very tight. I see it a lot with the anxiety level of students when they come in to talk about their job search. I especially think that students who have ties to the area and want to stay very local can find it to be a very tight market," said Corey Feraldi, the director of the Office of Career Services at University of South Carolina Aiken.
In today's job market, it could take graduates seven to nine months to find a job in their field -- if they're consistently searching, said Julie Goley, the director of Augusta State University's Career Center.
"Some may be shorter, some may be longer. It just depends. The good news with a lot of our graduates (is that) so many are from the local area, so they're already working. They might be underemployed, but at least they're employed, which kind of gives them a buffer," she said.
Expect hiring decrease
According to the Job Outlook for College Graduates Spring 2010 update by the National Association of Colleges & Employers, employers in the Southeast expect a 10 percent decrease in new college hires over last year.
Augusta State University Career's Center indicates a 25 percent decrease in postings for entry-level positions requiring a degree compared with the same time last year. However, the positions have been more diverse in the fields targeted compared with those in years' past, Goley said.
"To me, that's kind of the bright side. That we're seeing some gradual pick-up across a variety of spectrums. But it's slow, and it's very competitive," she said.
More positions have opened in the sciences, manufacturing and communications, Goley said.
In today's job market, top fields for hiring include nursing, chemistry, accounting and marketing, Feraldi said.
For students with technical school degrees, opportunities in allied health fields such as nursing and medical assisting are typically strong, said Donna Wendt, the career services and recruiting specialist at Augusta Technical College.
Some near-future "hot fields" are health care and energy production/industrial construction, she said.
"In the energy/industrial construction areas, companies that manage the production of electricity and those that are instrumental in the expansion of energy production facilities at local nuclear power plants are also offering tremendous current and near-future opportunities for well-trained, skilled workers, Wendt" said.
Goley said she has not seen a "high demand" for college degree entry-level hiring.
It's difficult to pinpoint local companies doing significant hiring, Feraldi said, but some businesses that have recently hired workers include Savannah River Site, financial institutions such as Wells Fargo and Verizon. There have also been sales and business-related positions available.
Education majors are facing an extremely tough job market, Feraldi said.
"There's still a need for teachers, but there's absolutely no money to hire for new positions," he said.
Liberal arts majors, such as English and sociology, also need to be proactive in their job search and prove how their skills match an organization's needs, Feraldi said.
At the University of South Carolina Aiken, students are pursuing some of these in-demand fields but not others. There are more students interested in nursing than available space in the program, but the school would like to see more math and science students. The institution has a strong number of business majors, Feraldi said.
Many students at Augusta Technical College are interested in health care, which remains a top hiring field.
The school anticipates a large number of graduates in medical assisting, dental assisting, surgical technology and health care assistant programs. In fiscal year 2009, roughly 80 percent of Augusta Tech's graduates found employment in their field of study, Wendt said.
There are some success stories in today' job market. Jonathan Wiggins, a senior accounting major at ASU, accepted a full-time accounting job at Serotta Maddocks Evans & Co. a few weeks ago.
"It's exciting. ... It's good to know that I have a job already," Wiggins said. "I have that job security that everybody wants right now."
Last year, he was offered a co-op with Serotta Maddocks for both the fall and spring semesters. He was able to gain experience and prove that he was a good worker.
Wiggins was named the 2010 Co-op Student of the Year at ASU. He believes the co-op played a major role in gaining full-time employment with the company.
Among his peers, he has seen more opportunities becoming available compared with a few months ago, and five classmates have received job offers. If he were still looking for a job, his focus would be on networking.
"That's what they've been drilling into us the last couple of years. That's pretty much the only thing anybody can do right now. It's not what you know, specifically, it's who you know," Wiggins said.
Miranda Brown, who graduated from ASU in December 2009 with a degree in communications and a concentration in TV/cinema, found success through internships. She had three last year: Country Music Television in Nashville, Gospel Music Channel in Atlanta and Fox News in Nashville.
"I was really blessed to get them," Brown said. "They were really awesome."
In February, she was invited to return to the Gospel Music Channel to continue her unpaid internship from last summer.
People thought she was crazy for doing it, but only a few weeks later, the unpaid internship turned into a part-time job as an asset manager.
"The internships are what set me up for everything because it put three huge companies on my résumé," Brown said. "A lot of people don't want to do internships because a lot of companies have them doing work like taking out the trash or going to get coffee, but do it. You're right there in the environment. They're going to see how you work first before they let you do some of the bigger stuff."
For now, Brown is living with a host family in Atlanta, but she's hoping the position will turn into a full-time job by the fall. Her boss has told her they want to hire full time, but finances have been tight because of the economy.
Her advice to upcoming graduates is not to be afraid to move away from home.
"You can't be scared to go places," she said. "You can always come back home. Go out and get your experience first."