FRESNO -- New college graduates are getting the message about how tough it is to find jobs these days. They're starting job searches earlier, looking outside their fields and going to graduate school to become more marketable.
All that work appears to be paying off: Almost 25 percent of 2010 college seniors who started their job hunt before graduation found employment by the time they finished school, up from about 20 percent last year, according to a survey by the Bethlehem, Pa.-based National Association of Colleges and Employers, a nonprofit organization.
That's still a far cry from 2007, when the economy was booming and 51 percent found jobs before graduation. But there are glimmers of hope. For example, employers plan to hire about 5 percent more new college graduates this year than last year, according to an NACE survey.
But students increasingly are waking up to the realities of the job market, said Edwin Koc, the organization's research director.
"One of the biggest reasons that more have a job (this year) is that they tended to be more flexible in their approach; they're more willing to accept an offer than students were last year," Koc said.
The change since last year is obvious, he said. "The extent of the economic decline had not sunk into last year's class" at the time of the survey, he said.
For Stacy Heaton of Visalia, the tough job market means applying for jobs outside her field barely a month after she graduated from Fresno State. "I'm not too picky at this point," said Heaton, who is looking for a new career after raising three stepchildren and working part time while going to school for six years.
Heaton has been job hunting for about half a year, hoping her bachelor's degree in communications would land her a marketing job. She has a job training insurance agents, but she wants to advance in her chosen career. After not getting a single interview, she started applying to jobs outside her field, including in public relations and management.
"There's not a lot out there right now," she said. "You really have to depend on your social networks to try to find something, and even then, there's not a lot out there."
A high unemployment rate contributes to the difficulty new graduates face. Students have learned this and are starting their job searches earlier this year, said Rita Bocchinfuso-Cohen, director of career services at California State University, Fresno. In past years, she said, it was more typical to wait until after graduation.
Students also realize they're competing against laid-off workers and others with more experience, said Natalie Culver-Dockins, dean of work force development at Fresno City College.
"We're seeing young people taking the job market a lot more seriously. They're really taking their résumés very seriously ... because they realize the competition is a lot tougher," she said.
Nationally, a greater percentage of students is headed to graduate school this year -- 27.4 percent compared to 25.6 percent last year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This helps them avoid the job market while they better prepare themselves for when they look for a job.
Diana Diaz, 21, of Lompoc originally hadn't planned on graduate school, but she decided to pursue it after learning through job fairs how difficult it would be to find a job with her Fresno State bachelor's degree in political science and Chicano studies. "I realized I probably wouldn't be able to find a job right away. I figured I might as well just continue on," she said.
She's starting her master's degree in public administration at Fresno State this fall, which she says will make it easier to get a government- or policy-related job. "Maybe in two or three years ... I'll look a little bit more attractive than someone else with a similar undergrad degree."