How to Find a Job in a Recession: Greg Mass Explains

Career Development Services Director Greg Mass

With the economy in a downward spiral, college students are naturally nervous: In a bad job market, how will they ever find jobs?  And what about internships and co-ops -- will they be available this summer?  

But NJIT students needn’t worry unduly.  First, they tend to major in fields – engineering, computing, and architecture – that are essential to the economy.  Second, President-elect Obama is wedded to a stimulus plan that will rebuild our infrastructure and create alternative energies.  Many jobs in those areas will open, and NJIT students are perfectly suited to fill them. Third, and perhaps most importantly, NJIT has a Career Center that’s devoted to helping students find jobs and develop career management skills.

Gregory Mass directs Career Development Services (CDS).  For the last 25 years, he’s worked hard to help students launch their careers.   Mass has a staff of six employees who advise students on every aspect of a job search: The staff helps students develop their resumes and improve their interviewing skills.  They maintain an on-line database that lists job openings at 5,000 companies.  And they host on-campus career fairs during which top companies recruit NJIT students. 

But in this economic climate, students must make themselves as marketable as possible. In this interview, Mass gives students tips on how to do precisely that.

So what can students do to make themselves marketable?
The first thing students need to do, starting after their freshman year, is to seek major- related experience and skills that are considered to be important to future employers . This may be done through internships or a co-op in their field. CDS has a website that students should check for program information and employment listings. Students are also advised to visit their academic department websites for career information and job listing links.  Students need to be active and do all they can to find an internship, even if it’s unpaid. 

What else do employers look for?  
They look to hire students who have leadership experience.  They want students who took the initiate to hold leadership positions in student government, academic societies, and student professional associations.  They want students who assumed leader roles in class and or community projects, and of course student athletes. 

In today’s global economy with much of the work performed remotely and in teams, students who can show that they lead or were an active and contributing member of team or a group will be sought after.

Many NJIT students perform community service.  Do employers value that experience?
They do.  Our major employers are greatly involved with projects that enhance the communities in which they conduct business.   A significant number of companies are working on green projects that improve or do no harm to the environment.  So if you come into an interview and can talk about the work you did in community service in college, that’s a big plus. It’s especially good if you started or led a community service effort. 

Does CDS help students find community service opportunities?  
We do, and in a way that is considered unique and dual purposed.   We have on-going relationships with hundreds nonprofit organizations and social agencies that need technological help.  We strive to align the needs of the agencies with the career objectives of our students.   For example, we will match an architecture major with an agency that works on urban planning, so that the student can work on a housing assignment for low-income families.  Similarly, we may align a pre-med biology or biomedical engineering major with a community health center.  The students contribute their knowledge and skills towards improving communities, and in return they have enhanced their own lives and have added value to their resume by getting experience in their field.  Today’s more community–minded employers are greatly interested in well-rounded, community–minded applicants.   I encourage students to come into the Career Development Services and talk to my staff about how to find the right community service project for them.

It’s often said that employers want to hire engineers and science and technology students who are not only technically proficient but can communicate well.  Is that true?  Do you hear that from employers?
Yes, employers are continuously communicating this need to us. Communication is not a soft skill that can be undervalued by students.  Technologists are frequently called upon to communicate directly with clients and colleagues. This communication comes in the form of business writing, formal presentations or simply presenting ideas to their managers. Students who speak well and write persuasively impress prospective employers.  They are also impressed by students who can do this in a foreign language. Most major companies have international divisions, and if you speak the language of the country in which a division is based, that’s another skill that will distinguish you in the competition.   

You always tell students to be aggressive, not passive, in their job searches. What do you mean by that?
Passive job searchers operate under the assumption that jobs will find them.  They will occasionally visit on-line job sites and submit resumes.    Or they expect their professors or their relatives to present them with job leads.  An active job searcher is career focused.  They have a clear sense about the types of job they want, based upon self awareness and job-market awareness. They take full advantage of multiple resources. They build effective networks of people that can help them, and they use these networks.  

So an active job searcher will begin early, doing some of the things you recommend above?
Absolutely.  An active job searcher is someone who, after her freshman year, finds a good summer internship.  She’ll get involved on campus running a student group and doing community service.  She’ll find another internship after her sophomore year, and perhaps work a co-op job her junior year. She’ll take the lead in her capstone or senior project.  She’ll study diligently and get good grades and at the end of her senior year, she’ll work with CDS to find the company that is best matched to her skills and interests.

So if a major company is going to hire 200 people this year, instead of 500, they’ll hire a student like that?
Nine times out of ten they will.  So at the beginning of your academic career ask yourself this question.   After four years of hard work and tuition dollars spent, do you want your job prospects to be one in ten, or nine out of ten? I know what odds line I would be in.  

(by Robert Florida, University Web Services)