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Christine Nicholson, a broadcast journalism student at the University of Texas at Arlington, works with professor Julian Rodriguez in the school's newsroom. She has been preparing for graduation by interning at a local TV station and sending out resumes. (Steve Pfost/Dallas Morning News/MCT)
Thursday, May 3, 2012

Grads hunt for jobs in recovering market

DALLAS – Christine Nicholson worked in marketing for several years before she returned to college to realize a dream: to become a television news reporter.

The Euless, Texas resident will graduate from the University of Texas-Arlington on May 12. Being a veteran of the workforce, she is prepared: She is an intern at a local television station and lined up an interview with a station in Sherman, Texas.

“I’ve been sending out resumes and visiting every news station in the area – even those up to two hours away,” Nicholson, 36, said. “The one thing I’ve been told is that it’s competitive.”

No doubt.

As the job market slowly returns from the depths of the recession, many industries are once again hiring. Soon-to-be graduates and those just out of work have room for optimism.

But, as Nicholson has learned, it’s competitive.

The U.S. economy has added almost 800,000 jobs since December, allowing optimists and job seekers a slowly rising confidence that the economic recovery is solidly under way, even if it is taking its sweet time. Unemployment edged down to 8.2 percent nationally in March and 30 states recorded decreases in unemployment rates.

No matter the field, there are good prospects for job-seekers who know how to look, according to those eyeing the market.

Cheri Butler, who runs the Career Center at UT-Arlington, says students and job seekers sometimes miss the obvious.

Butler said that companies seeking workers most recently are in the health care, technology, some construction and various business management areas.

“Supply chain-logistics,” she said. “Huge.”

That the health care field is hiring is good news to Tina Mendez, who taught pre-kindergarten in Dallas schools until she was laid off in December. She is now searching for a job in education or health care, where she is certified as a nurse assistant.

“It’s not easy,” she said in April, adding that she is having trouble finding a job that will meet her salary expectations. “The jobs that are out there don’t pay anything.”

If Mendez is patient, though, she may soon find something that fits her skills and her budget. Health services companies in Texas added almost 50,000 jobs in the past year.

“It’s slower than everybody wants it to be, but it’s steady,” said Theresa Maher, vice president of media affairs at Jobing.com, a website that lists job openings.

“Baby boomers are retiring in droves,” Butler said.

That should be encouraging for Britton Carmony, 24, who will soon graduate from El Centro College of the Dallas County Community College District and wants a job as a social worker with child protective services, a nursing home or children with special needs. She is now working part time at Homeward Bound, a substance abuse treatment facility.

“It’s not the best-paying job, but I’m sticking it out because it will look good on my resume.”

Of course, the experts suggest that, as Nicholson and Carmony have done, students and applicants should have experience in their chosen field.

Erick Baez, 23, a culinary arts student at El Centro, is working part time at Whole Foods Market while he finishes school.

“It’s what I enjoy right now,” he said, adding that he may consider management positions after he’s served some time in the kitchen. “Restaurants and hotels and resorts want to hire people who already have experience.”

Perhaps the most effective job preparation tactic used is by those who have returned to school to freshen up skills, redirect their career arc or get the training they’ve always felt they needed.

Kristin Carter, 29, and Elizabeth Rose, 32, both of Arlington, Texas, and Kimberlee Williams, 40, of Grand Prairie, Texas, have all returned to school to get their registered nurse certification after working as health aides, nursing assistants or other health care jobs.

“This stint has taken almost three years,” Williams said of her career redirection away from teaching.

“It’s a calling to a different kind of service.”

(EDITORS: STORY CAN END HERE)

Some new graduates may have to take lesser-skilled jobs that pay less in order to make ends meet, according to a recent analysis of Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

That analysis found that nationally half of college graduates under age 25 are unemployed or underemployed for their skills, according to the analysis performed by Northwestern University for The Associated Press. That data was also supplemented by material from Paul Harrington, an economist at Drexel University, and the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington think tank.

For those who don’t have college, the outlook is less than rosy.

Juan Cardenas, 21, sought the assistance of the Texas Workforce Commission a couple of weeks ago to get a job in retail after having been laid off from GameStop.

He’s had a few calls, but is learning some tough lessons about tenacity and ego.

“It kind of hurts when somebody has a job opening and then they don’t hire you,” he said.

The answer is to be prepared, the experts say.

Nicholson has created a website to tout her experience, portfolio of work and skills.

Her fellow student and workmate Stephanie Knefel, 23, who also graduates this month, has a particular viewpoint on the job market.

“I think that anyone who is smart is looking for a job all the time,” she said.