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MIT seniors are facing bleaker career outlooks than their predecessors as on-campus recruiting is down over 30 percent from last year, fewer graduating students have secured jobs, and more students are applying to graduate school as a backup option.

Of 220 students who participated in a survey conducted by the Career Development Center last month, almost three quarters said the state of the economy had affected their job search and just over half reported that they had not yet received a job or internship offer. About 10 percent said that an employer had rescinded an offer.

In the country as a whole, employers are expecting to hire about 22 percent fewer new college graduates this spring than last, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment among people with bachelor’s degrees has risen to 4.3 percent in March 2009, up from 2 percent a year earlier.

This dimmer reality was evident at the Spring Career Fair held last Tuesday, April 28, in Walker Memorial, which the Career Development Center organized specially in light of the recession. Many attendees were students looking for somewhere to work after graduating in June.

The economic downturn is changing not just the number of opportunities available but also the industries in which students are able to find work. The hardest-hit industries should come as no surprise: Finance and consulting firms, which have historically attracted about a third of MIT graduates, have cut off their hiring more than most. Meanwhile, government offices and companies that draw government contracts are doing better than the norm: health care and energy are growing sectors, said Robert Dolan, a counselor in the Global Education and Career Development Center (GECDC).

Because of the flux in these sectors, students should “put on their wide-angled lenses and look at opportunities across sectors,” said Dolan.

Joseph S. Lee ’09, a Course XVIII (Mathematics) major, has been targeting jobs in trading, as opposed to other areas of finance.

“[It] is in the finance area but it’s better than [investment] banking or hedge funds … because it’s kept its head out of the water,” said Lee.

Even in trading, though, Lee has not yet found an offer. He said that mathematics hadn’t prepared him very well for finding work in trading these days since math is not specifically geared toward finance.

“Course XV [(Management)] classes are helping me the most,” he said.

If finance doesn’t work out, Lee plans to take a year off and apply to graduate school in business or math.

Esteban L. Hufstedler ’09, a Course XVI (Aeronautics and Astronautics) major, said that the tough job market had forced him to consider a broader range of Course XVI-related jobs and companies than he originally did not plan to consider.

Hufstedler said he preferred a job in aerodynamics and had applied, unsuccessfully, to some of the best-established aerospace companies, such as Boeing and Aurora.

Hufstedler, who began his search in the fall, said he has started looking at companies in the military industry.

Often, in this economy, the money is where the government is; Hufstedler said he planned to apply to one defense contractor, Raytheon, which is hiring hundreds of workers to fill a large government contract.

Course VIII (Physics) senior Amrita V. Masurkar, who has accepted an offer from Raytheon already, said she also had not ended up in the field she originally targeted. She was originally hoping to work in optics.

Masurkar said she applied to between 30 and 40 companies, mostly small ones, and said she thought the small companies were “having a hard time” and that optics firms “weren’t really hiring at the entry level.”

Some students have decided not only to look in other fields but to look in other countries.

“More non-U.S. citizens may have to go back to their home countries,” Dolan said.

Tips for landing offers

Dolan said that the GECDC has “expanded its outreach to students” this year. He said that, before the recession, an effective first step in a job search was to simply post a resume on CareerBridge, an online system that connects students with employers. Now, he said, many students must “do networking and expand their search strategy in order to increase the odds of being successful.”

He said that these days internships can be more valuable in finding employment as some employers are drawing more exclusively from their previous interns for new staff.

Patricio D. Ramirez Munoz G, co-president of the Science and Engineering Business Club, described some of the effects of the economic downturn on later stages of the job-searching process.

“In the interviewing phase, there are fewer interviews and longer delays to hear back from companies,” he said. He said one company had interviewed several students on campus, intending to hire, but ended up not giving any offers since its outlook had worsened after the interviews occurred.

Ramirez Munoz also noted that companies had started placing students on wait lists for positions that might open up in the future.

Companies have become more selective in their hiring, Ramirez Munoz said, more frequently requiring that students have skills specific to their sectors instead of general technical adeptness.

“It’s becoming harder to change fields,” he said.

Ramirez Munoz suggested that MIT students put more energy into preparing for interviews and work on developing “soft skills” to improve their odds in hunts for jobs in business.

“Students should have really good stories to tell their interviewers and should know their fields really well,” he said.

Reasons for optimism

Despite the difficulties some students are facing, many seniors’ career searches have not been impacted by the recession and have landed them the jobs they most coveted.

Elizabeth G. Reid, a Masters student in Course VI (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science), said that she would be working at Apple, where she interned during the past two summers, after graduating in June. Reid also said that most of her friends in Course VI had not had trouble finding offers.

Mikey M. Fujihara ’09, a Course 18C (Mathematics with Computer Science) major, said he had found his job, software engineering at Referentia Systems, in November without much trouble.

“The company said they were doing pretty well,” he said.

And, said Dolan, MIT students are well-suited for the government jobs cropping up this year.

“The government is hiring like crazy and is looking for very technical skill sets coming from this campus,” Dolan said.