More than 800 graduate from SEMO, enter tougher job market

Sunday, December 21, 2008
Stephen N. Lmbaugh Jr. talks about watching Southeast Missouri State University grow during his lifetime in the commencement address Saturday afternoon at the Show Me Center in Cape Girardeau. More than 800 students received degrees this semester.

The mood was celebratory at Southeast Missouri State University's commencement Saturday, but graduates acknowledged they may face a tough reality tomorrow.

For many, the weaker economy has thrown a temporary wrench in their postgraduation plans, presenting them with uncertain futures and challenges getting jobs.

Some graduates are having to settle for positions less than their ideal. Others are faced with having to relocate to find an opening. Still others have opted to continue their education, hoping the job market will improve by the time they are done.

"The reality is that they're not only competing against recent graduates, but they're competing against people with years of experience that may have been laid off. The market's tough; I'm not going to sugarcoat it," said Dr. Leon Book, Southeast's director of student transitions and first-year experiences.

But the career expert counsels students that finding a job is not impossible if they have a strategy. He tells students they must expand their horizons and potentially alter their idea of a first-time job.

Commencement speaker Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. addresses Southeast Missouri State University graduates Saturday afternoon at the Show Me Center.

"Maybe it's not the job you envisioned when you declared that major, but it's a place to work, pay your bills, and then use that entry-level position to secure a better job when the economic conditions improve," he said.

Graduate Christine Bond, an interior design major, plans to continue her job as an assistant manager at a shoe store until an interior design job becomes available.

Her friend, Amanda Walter, is still searching for a job. Her strategy is to look on the Internet for positions, consider larger cities and "take the first job you get."

Until recently Missouri performed better than the nation when it came to job growth. But in November, the state lost 10,000 jobs while the unemployment rate rose to 6.7 percent.

"I have no clue what I'll do. I've been looking around St. Louis for jobs, and there doesn't seem to be any," said Kyle Raddatz, who received a master's degree in international business Saturday. "I've started looking for jobs in other states now."

Biology professor Margaret Waterman, right, glances at the crowd at the beginning of the Southeast Missouri State University commencement Saturday afternoon at the Show Me Center. Waterman's red gown is from Cornell University, where she received her Ph.D. Six hundred and ninety undergraduate degrees and 125 graduate degrees were awarded Saturday.

Job-seekers will have to wow potential employers, Book said. That includes personalizing cover letters and resumes for the position and standing out in interviews. And once an entry-level position is secured, the employee will "really have to bust their hump" to be indispensable, he said.

Each student at Southeast is required to demonstrate a series of career proficiencies before graduating, including meeting with a career adviser and, as a junior, simulating applying for a job. The university also employs a St. Louis career specialist and held its first career fair for liberal arts degrees this year.

Noreen Adair, knowing the market she was confronted with, started looking for jobs sooner than originally planned. She landed a job at a law office after searching the newspaper for open positions.

General studies major Kyle Holley became concerned when he called a temp agency in his home state of Kentucky and found there were no openings. He plans to become alternatively certified to teach and has a job lined up in the fall. Until then, he plans to start pursuing a master's degree in business administration.

"In terms of what these graduates are going to find in January, who knows? But we have taught students to be strategic and to use their critical thinking skills and abilities to succeed on their own," Book said.

About 815 students walked across the Show Me Center stage Saturday. Federal Judge Stephen N. Limbaugh Jr. gave the commencement speech, focusing on his time as a child growing up near the campus of Southeast. He quoted Romans 12:4-8, saying each person has their own function but that it is important to work together and use individual gifts to the fullest.


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