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Officials: Job outlook bright for NIU, Kish grads

Jocelyn Santana, Northern Illinois University's Career Resource Center manager, advises junior Mike Gish on Monday about making a resume at the center in DeKalb.
Jocelyn Santana, Northern Illinois University's Career Resource Center manager, advises junior Mike Gish on Monday about making a resume at the center in DeKalb.

With diplomas in hand, thousands of Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College graduates will hit the job market in the next few weeks.

Although the state’s unemployment rate is 9 percent, the job outlook for recent graduates is slightly better than it was last year, according to employment analysts.

One indicator is more employers hope to fill jobs, and fewer job seekers are attending job fairs, said Michelle Pease, coordinator of the Employment Resource Center at Kishwaukee College.

A job fair held at the college in April attracted eight more employers and 130 fewer job seekers than last year, she said.

“It felt different,” she said. “It seems employers are ready to hire and there seems to be more comfort in doing that now.”

Based on the increase of employers seeking to fill positions, Brandon Lagana said graduates should be optimistic.

Lagana, director of marketing and information resource management for NIU Career Services, said more than 3,500 jobs were posted to the NIU Career Services online job board between July 1 and April 30.

He said that’s a 28 percent increase from the previous year. Internship opportunities jumped 15 percent compared to last year.

“Employers have a sense of optimism this year that they haven’t had since 2007,” Lagana said. “If students really want to find jobs, there are jobs to be had.”

Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, said jobs have been in demand in computer information technology, education and health care service sectors for the past three years.

About 142,000 jobs have been added in Illinois since January 2010. Prior to that, the state lost jobs every month for nearly two consecutive years, Rivara said. Jobs have been added in professional business services, manufacturing, education and health care services.

“There’s certainly reason to be optimistic as a recent college graduate,” Rivara said. “College graduates are better off than they were a year ago, and certainly better off than in 2004 and 2005.”

Lagana said more engineering firms are hiring, and gains are consistent in professional and business services, computer design, accounting management, consulting, health services and manufacturing.

He said the job market has shifted in the way employers fill positions compared to previous years. More interns are retained, which blurs the line between interns and full-time employees, he said.

Employers also are looking for employees with a broader range of talent and who know their “personal brand” and what skill sets they can offer. Lagana encouraged job seekers to be their own cheerleaders and stand out in the applicant pool by making good impressions and following up.

Carla Johnson, counselor and coordinator of Career Counseling at Kishwaukee College, said cold calls to companies can pay off because some jobs aren’t posted.

Johnson said the market still is tough. Many students seek in-demand degree programs they can complete quickly to land a job as soon as possible – such as a certified nursing assistant – even if it’s not the right fit for them.

She said it’s essential for students to have a good understanding of what types of jobs match their skills and personality.

“If you don’t, it’s not going to last,” she said.

Pease said employers are pickier about candidates, so she encourages students to volunteer, intern or get work experience.

Lagana agreed, saying the key to acquiring a job is ensuring employers know who you are and that you’re looking.

“If students are just going to class ... they’re not getting their names and skill sets out in front of employers,” he said.

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