World of work: Recent college grads share experiences looking for first jobs

It’s no secret that the economic downturn of 2007 hit the U.S. hard, making it tougher for those just out of college to secure high-paying jobs. View caught up with some recent college graduates to find out what their plans are for tackling today’s job market.

RECENT GRADS PLAN TO RETURN TO SCHOOL

Kimi Sharma of Summerlin attended The Meadows School and then went to Boston University, where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in psychology this year. She said she hoped to find a job in animal care or as a veterinary technician.

“As a recent graduate and having never been employed, I knew that getting a job right away in the animal care field would be a difficult task,” Sharma said. “That being said, I do think that the resources like the Center for Career Development and advisers at my university gave me the tools necessary to start off on the right foot. All in all, I knew that it would take me a while to obtain a job in the field that I desired.”

After submitting a few applications and not hearing anything back, she said she rethought how long it would take to secure a job, as well as which areas to consider.

“Unfortunately, not many job openings were available in the animal care field,” Sharma said. “Most of the positions require a degree or license, for example with veterinary technicians. So I have now broadened my scope to anything that includes work with animals, and the search has been slightly easier.”

She said she searched strictly through online advertisements and estimated that about 75 percent of job openings wanted part-time or seasonal positions. That did not deter her, as she was looking to get her foot in the door to get some work experience. She plans to apply to a master’s program over the next year and then to veterinary school but said she wants to make some money before doing so.

After Lauren Ruvo graduated from The Meadows School, she double majored in psychology and communications at Boston College, with the intent to become a clinical psychologist/researcher. Next she plans to attend Harvard Graduate School of Education to pursue a master’s degree in human development psychology.

This year, she landed a research assistant job after her professors suggested she get “involved in various research projects (to get) published,” Ruvo said. “At first, I was unsure how to find openings as a research assistant, but fortunately, thanks to the many amazing resources at Boston College, I realized that it would be pretty easy.”

Within a couple of months, she was working as an undergraduate research assistant, which allowed her to get involved in a number of other projects that interested her and helped solidify her ultimate career goals.

“When I first applied to be a part of my first research team, I was, of course, interested in the topic but had no idea how much it would influence my career as a researcher,” she said. “But being able to branch off from my first research project with the many skills I learned is invaluable and something I credit as to why I am able to obtain a position in the field of research that I want to be in.”

Ruvo said most job listings she found — in New England and on the East Coast — wanted full-time workers. She did not look for work on the West Coast.

After looking into what was available, how did she view her chances of getting a job right away?

“Honestly, everything I had been looking at really seemed like I would be able to get a job immediately,” she said. “I had many different internships during college, and I worked in various research labs on top of being on the dean’s list every semester at Boston College, which led me to believe, based on the jobs I was looking at, that I was qualified and would be able to land the job.”

She applied to five jobs and eventually was offered interviews for all of them but declined, as by that time she’d been accepted into the graduate program.

“For my field of psychology, obtaining, at minimum, a master’s degree is pertinent in order to be successful,” Ruvo said. “I one day hope to earn my Ph.D. in either clinical or counseling psychology so that I can further myself as both a clinician and a researcher.”

EXPERTS SAY MARKET IS IMPROVING, INTERNSHIPS ARE VITAL

“Looking back at where we’ve been, (today’s job market is) much better,” said Brian R. Gordon, a principal at Applied Analysis, an economic, fiscal and policy research firm based in Las Vegas. “We’ve seen improvements in the unemployment rate fairly consistently over the better part of the past three years. … While there’s still work to be done, the employment situation is much improved.”

Bobbie Barnes, director of career and student services for UNLV’s Harrah College of Hotel Administration, said that for hourly jobs in Las Vegas, hotel/culinary sectors hire those with only a high school diploma but that for “anything in supervisory or above, a degree is becoming a prerequisite.”

Barnes suggested that students get an internship or a part-time job so that when they graduate, they have job experience to bring to the table as well as practical interpersonal skills.

“For some students, they believe that education itself will get them the job,” Barnes said. “There’s an assumption made that, ‘Well, I can just get through it, and then doors will open for me automatically,’ then, come to find out, they’re still very competitive out there.”

GRADUATES AGREE INTERNSHIPS MADE THE DIFFERENCE

Those who graduated in 2013 and stayed in Las Vegas saw similar trends in the local job search. Some said interning did make the difference in finding employment. Lisa Coruzzi of Summerlin studied integrated marketing communications at UNLV. While still a student, she got an internship for summer break at Gaia Flowers, 6 E. Charleston Blvd.

Her paid internship was extended for 1½ years. In her senior year, Coruzzi did a second internship at an advertising agency, Summerlin-based R&R Partners, where she worked for four months.

“It gives you hands-on experience,” she said. “As a student, you don’t have anything on your resume because you’re so new. In a classroom, you don’t get to see the industry in progress. It makes a big difference to be in the environment and see how it works in person. It confirmed where I wanted to take my (career). UNLV has great professors, great instructors, who can give you an idea of what it’s like, but you really didn’t know unless you’re there, experiencing it.”

Coruzzi also networked by getting involved with the American Advertising Federation. She said social media didn’t play a role in her getting a job.

She said other students in her program at UNLV ended up going into unrelated fields, such as food and beverage or waiting tables.

“A lot of them, they wanted that, they started (those jobs) in college, and they never got out of it because there’s money involved,” she said. “And I’m talking more about those who got jobs in the night life and cocktailing. There’s a lot of money in that.”

Melissa Bermudez got an internship at Xyience Xenergy, a Las Vegas-based energy drink company, as a senior at UNLV. She was tasked with keeping the company’s visibility high through social media and maintaining the website. After she graduated in 2013, the company hired her for a part-time position, and she recently became a full-time employee.

What did she learn as an intern?

“That your life work is much more different than your school work,” she said. “What I did at the internship was actually something that was put out there and helped the company. School work is just for the classroom. No one’s going to really see it. It was kind of scary at first.”

Bermudez’s new duties include tracking locations carrying the brand, ensuring that the website is updated with new retailers, developing new athlete challenges and coordinating team workouts for its Power to Win Team. She said being an intern definitely placed her above other applicants for the job.

“I think it was definitely a big boost, that people knew me, and I knew more about the company than somebody who would just walk in,” she said. “That knowledge, itself, gave me a huge boost in getting hired with the company.”

Carter Jones, who went to Coronado High School, found a job at Red Rock Resort, 11011 W. Charleston Blvd. She got her undergraduate degree in 2011 from Samford University in Alabama. She said the prospect of getting a job back then was so bad that she opted to go for her master’s degree while she “waited out” the economy.

As she was wrapping up her advanced degree, she began attending career fairs and looking for jobs through her school, Tulane, and getting interviews. She did find work, but the job was in sales.

“That’s not what I was looking for,” she said. “I wanted to use my math skills and my data skills. … You could tell companies were hesitant to hire when I was searching. They were happy to be at the career fair and get their name out there, but they were not actively searching for talent.”

Jones said she braced herself for a long job search, figuring it would take all summer and fall of 2013 before she found employment. He biggest fear, she said, was staying out of the job market too long and having a prospective employer ask why she had a six-month gap on her resume.

A former high school classmate told her there was an analyst job opening at Red Rock Resort. Jones returned to Las Vegas, applied and was hired.

“It was one of those great situations where it all happened within a few weeks, and it felt like the right place to be,” Jones said.

Lori Nelson, spokeswoman for Station Casinos, said the company received approximately 50 resumes or people of interest vying for the position that Jones landed and that no preference was given to applicants from Las Vegas.

“It’s all about the qualifications,” she said.

Contact Summerlin Area View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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