EL PASO — Crystal Ortiz walked tall into a new life after she was handed a bachelor’s diploma in education at The University of Texas at El Paso last December, but frustration set in when she began to search for a job.
“Finding a job in the field of education is a challenging task,” says Ortiz. “I am planning on going to graduate school this coming fall semester in order to increase my chances of being hired.”
For the past few years, she studied in classrooms, sitting among other students at aged desks, tapping at laptop keys as professors delivered lectures. But now, that chapter of her life has closed as she begins a new more difficult journey.
Right now she hunts for a job that can provide a stable income while she waits to begin the career to which she devoted four and a half years of preparation. “As of right now I am employed, but I have had this job for a couple of years now and it‘s not a job you go to college for,” says Ortiz.
A sigh escapes her mouth as she checks her email to see if she has received an answer. Ortiz has already applied to 15 jobs around the city and has yet to receive a reply. “It’s frustrating. I feel like I went to college to get a degree for nothing.”
Although Ortiz may feel abandoned in her search, she is not the only one on the lonely hunt.
Elizabeth Estrada, also a recent UTEP gradate, aspires to begin a career in Public Relations but has found it difficult to land a job even though she graduated nearly two months ago. “I would love to land a job in the field of Public Relations, but it is difficult because many employers are asking for five years or more of experience,” says Estrada. “I feel like I’m stuck in a rut.”
Long-gone are the days of waiting in line to purchase textbooks at the university bookstore or checking syllabi for the coming week’s assignments. Yet finding a job is not the only worry on Estrada’s mind, “If I don’t have a job, I can’t pay off my student loans.”
The tough job market is also causing recent graduates worried about student debt to look at graduate school as a way to postpone paying student loans while avoiding unemployment. Estrada says she will go back to school for a graduate degree this fall if she can’t land a job. “All I can do is hope that I can find something that will give me that chance to show my skills and give me experience for the future. Besides making myself more marketable, going to graduate school can defer the payments I would be making on my student loans,” she said.
After years of hard work and academic dedication, new graduates enter the job market expecting to land a job. Instead, they may be stepping into a period of crisis because their newly minted bachelor’s degree is no longer the ticket to a prosperous life.
Dr. George Barton, Director of UTEP’s Career Center says the first thing students should to do is to use career center. Barton says the Center offers various programs that can help prepare the career search. The Center helps students with resumes, interview tips, and workshops.
Barton says students should start preparing for life after graduation in their early college years. “Freshmen and sophomores need to be thinking ‘What should I do now to prepare myself to be a better candidate for professional employment later’.” Barton said students also need to keep their grade point averages up. “When things are really tough, employers are saying give me this student with this degree with a 3.0,” which he says is a common cut off point for job eligibility.
Barton also stressed the importance of doing things outside of the classroom while attending school. “They should be getting involved. It gives them a chance to go out and rub elbows with people that are in that profession to learn more about it and possibly take part in a leadership role, which makes them more marketable when it comes to an employment.”
Estrada, however, says she was very involved while in college. “I made sure I joined organizations while I was in school. One of them actually was called Future Leaders of Public Relations, exactly what I got a degree in. I also had the opportunity to hold the position as President of the organization before I graduated.” Although still on the hunt for a job, Estrada said the FLPR helped her develop the skills she went to school for.
Barton said students must start building credentials early to make themselves more marketable. Students need to start getting experience in their fields through internship or by get involved in their major’s professional association. “When employers look at that resume they don’t just want to see that you have a 3.0 or 3.5. They want to see that you have good grades and that you have been involved, and have a work ethic. All of those things count for a lot.”
He also said that students must sharpen their verbal and written communication skills. “A survey that our professional association conducts every year goes out and asks employers what the most important qualities that they seek in candidates, and every year, within the top one of the two or three, is communication skills.”
Recent graduates are not the only ones stressing about the tough job market. Students getting ready to graduate are also panicking. Says Omar Perez who will be earning a BA in Multimedia Journalism in December 2011, “I have been dreading the search for a career since the beginning of last semester. I have yet to visit the university’s career center but I think it’s a good idea.”