There is one quote that really stuck with me when we were researching ideas for tonight's story on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric about college students graduating into the recession. "Damn me for being born in '87," Suzanne Block told The Chicago Tribune back in March before graduating. "This is just a nightmare. There could not be a worse time to be looking for a job."
Oh how right Suzanne is. Employers say they'll hire 22 percent fewer grads this year versus last year. And while 51 percent of college seniors looking for jobs found one before leaving campus back in 2007, less than 20 percent were as fortunate this year.
Desperate times call for desperate measures? Well, maybe not desperate but unusual, creative approaches to the job hunt seem to be the norm, not the exception, as students try to find a way to stand out. Remember, today's graduates are not only competing against their peers but against experienced 20-somethings and baby boomers who lost their jobs and are anxiously trying to find new ones.
My colleague, CBS News producer Amy Birnbaum, heard about a "boot camp" at Temple University which we thought would be perfect for our story. It was the brainchild of Temple's Career Center Director Rachel Brown, who thought in this economy, it made sense to give students extra training in the art of selling themselves. "[Employers] are not going to have time to sift through to find your story," Brown told us. "You need to be able to tell your story, sell your story and back it up."
We watched as students learned how to master their "spiel" in 30 seconds or less – who they are, what they've studied and what they want to do; what to ask and what not to ask during an interview; and how to distinguish themselves on a resume.
Four students who attended the "boot camp" sat down with us. They all had good grades, work experience, and were involved in extracurricular activities. In previous years, they would definitely have jobs by now. Not this year.
"It's very frustrating to hear, that you've got it but we don't have it to give to you," said 23-year-old Cedric Hall, who's hoping to land a job in broadcast journalism. He told us he's trying to network with anyone he meets, even "slightly stalking" a family friend for leads.
"Kind of like the mob, I'm just pulling my favors," 23-year-old James Wilson said jokingly. "Hey, you owe me this, anyone who owes me something, I'm kind of pulling it out," said the motivational speaker wannabe, who says he also tries to convey his positive attitude and smile as much as possible during interviews.
Tia Johnson, who studied political science, interned at a law firm as a way to get experience and get her name out there, and admits she never expected to be jobless as a graduate. "The recession, it just threw me for a loop," she said.
Daniel Santiago couldn't find the right job in finance so he decided to pursue his law degree instead. "Given the market, I feel that this is the best thing I can do for myself right now," he told us.
We came across other unusual approaches to the job hunt. Duquesne University senior Damien Gottschalk entered a local contest in Pittsburgh. The prize: a job at a financial management firm. "I wasn't sure if it was an internship or a part-time job," he told us via Skype. "Turns out, it's a full-time position, salary with benefits and everything."
Hoping to land their dream jobs, Damien's classmates at Duquesne University learned the do's and don'ts of interview attire at a Dress for Success fashion show. In previous years, about 100 students participated, this year attendance jumped to over 160 students. And more than 80 students sat down for a four-course dinner to learn proper etiquette for a business meal. Emily Post would approve!
In North Carolina, 23-year-old Robert Hoppey is banking on more than good manners. While he's riding out the recession this summer, biking for charity, he'll be e-mailing his video resumes to prospective employers. The souped-up multimedia online portfolio allows him to do more than just list his credentials. He can showcase his sense of humor too.
"You really do need to find ways to stand out and you can't rely on … the traditional ways of going about things," the communications major told us.
We headed back to Philadelphia when we learned one of the students we met at Temple, James Wilson, had an interview with Verizon for the company's management trainee program. When the recruiter saw our cameras, he joked with James that he didn't realize he was such a "big deal on campus."
More than an hour later, James emerged, feeling confident and letting us know he did smile quite a bit. Could the smile be working for him, I asked. "I believe that it is, a smile will get you a long way," he said.
Perhaps it landed him a second interview. That's set for tomorrow.