Job Lined Up Before Graduation

Briana Livingston is a University of Hartford marketing major graduating in May. She is joining the ranks of the employed. She found a job on Craig's List. (MICHAEL McANDREWS, Hartford Courant / April 29, 2013)

For nearly 6,900 students who graduated Sunday at colleges around the state, the natural question is: What's next?

Happily, this year's graduates have more reason to be optimistic than those who graduated two or three years ago, although the market has not yet returned to pre-recession health.

The unemployment rate for college graduates younger than 25 averaged 8.8 percent over the 12 months that ended in February 2013, down from more than 10 percent in 2010 and 2011, according to an Economic Policy Institute study released last month. But the picture is still not as rosy as before the recession, when the rate was 5.7 percent.

"We hit the iceberg in 2008, and 2009 wasn't much better," said John Kniering, director of career services at University of Hartford. "2010 and 2011 was a mild improvement; 2012 seems to be significant improvement. While I'm thinking 2013 will be incrementally better, I'm not expecting it to be much better."

Briana Livingston, a UHart marketing major from Staten Island, graduated Sunday and started her new job last Monday. Livingston, who began looking for a job in January, cast a wide net, applying for positions in New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Florida and California.

She had interned for broadcasters and a music label during college, but was not set on having a job in a glamorous field.

"Sometimes the jobs I had real high hopes for put me down," Livingston said. But she was determined to get a job so that she wouldn't have to go back to her parents' house. "I feel like everybody telling me no helped me a lot. I felt like somebody eventually was going to tell me yes."

Livingston is a project manager at a marketing services firm in Norwalk, a job she found on Craigslist. Fairfield County is the part of the state that added jobs at the fastest clip in April. first job pays $35,000 a year, with benefits. She's thrilled. It will mean tight budgeting to get her own apartment and pay off her college loans of about $300 a month, but she's ready.

The University of Hartford's placement rate is nearly back to pre-recession levels, according to responses to a survey. Last year, 63 percent had full-time jobs six months after graduation, up from 55 percent in 2011 and just 41 percent in 2010. In 2007, the full-time workers were 65 percent of recent graduates.

"There just seems to be an increasing sense of optimism out there," said Michael Petro, assistant director for employer relations at UConn's career center. He noted that there are still 700 job listings on the university's internal system. The most recent placement data from UConn, from 2011, showed that 56 percent of graduates had full-time jobs six months out. In 2007, 66 percent were employed full-time.

It's harder for job seekers who feel they can't move away from an area that is suffering the job doldrums, like southeastern Connecticut.

Jessica Donnel, 26, graduated from Eastern Connecticut State University on Tuesday with a degree in business, and hasn't had a single job interview this year. She's applied for a receptionist job, and a couple of jobs in human resources at the casinos, where she used to work. She has seen so few career-track jobs in southeastern Connecticut this year that her total application tally hasn't even reached the double digits.

"I would like a 9-to-5 job that would allow me to move up the ladder," she said, but she's not feeling that confident she'll find one in southeast Connecticut, where she lives with her parents and her 5-year-old son.

"Part of that is Pfizer closing down all their branches. Electric Boat's holding its own, but if they change things for the sub base. … I was at the casino for two years, I could see it going slower and slower," she said.

Donnel has a part-time job bartending in Groton, but doesn't expect to get more hours after graduation.

"I'm scared. I have no idea what's going to happen. It makes me very nervous," she said. "A lot of people I'm graduating with, they're 20, 21, they don't have a kid. I've been out in the real world; I've worked. I have me and my son to worry about. I can't afford to fail."

Having a job waiting after graduation isn't the norm even in good times. Some students don't try to look for work in their last semester, knowing they can return home after graduation.

Tom Juncadella, another ECSU business major, from Guilford, falls into that group. He didn't visit his college career center either, though he has some ideas about going to work for an automobile manufacturer or a health-care related company.

"I've just been so busy," he said, between a Chamber of Commerce internship and his class load. "It's hard just having time to breathe."

Everyone interviewed for this report chose business- or engineering-related majors. Business is the most popular major — 25 percent of students choose it — and engineering graduates have traditionally had the highest salaries and the highest employment rate.