When I graduated from Pacific University in 1989, the job market was poor, which I sidestepped briefly by entering a graduate program in literature. Afterward, I was a clumsy job seeker, but miraculously landed a teaching job at Portland Community College by just stopping by and inquiring. I was offered a writing course on the spot, followed by six years of adjunct teaching. That particular job search technique is still valid, but it’s interesting to note some key changes in the job market since then.

When I joined Pacific’s career center in 1996, our signature event was an annual, two-day career fair featuring full-time jobs.

Day one was a frenetic meet-and-greet, with students competing for interviews. On day two, the recruiters would file continuously before a crowd of nervous candidates, calling each in turn for their interviews with many scoring six or more that day. Information and experience was gained and jobs were landed. When the economy fell into shadow some years later, the interview portion of the fair stopped and never returned.

The economy improved, but recruiting practices evolved. Now, many employers favor in-house interviewing, often preceded by an online screening application. Recruiters commonly use LinkedIn to prospect for applicants, which, by the way, favors those who present a compelling online presence and prepare for Skype interviews.

However, student participation at our main career fair waned over the years, in turn reducing employer attendance. Some of my counterparts attribute this to “the kids these days.” However, the college student journey today overwhelms students with opportunities.

Events like job fairs can remain unnoticed, but also the opportunity cost of attending is undeniably high.

Twenty years ago, course schedules had more gaps. Lunch was relatively open, evening classes less frequent; and club, athletic, and research opportunities were fewer.

Yet, current student engagement in myriad activities (sometimes to exhaustion) means that many students’ careers effectively commence before graduation, via strategic internships, part-time jobs, research experiences, etc.

It may be only in hindsight that some graduates see this, realizing that the post-graduation job they landed was a logical extension of related work experiences. Exceedingly more such opportunities and resources exist now than did 20 years ago. So in this sense, the career launch environment is yeastier now than in the past.

Significantly as well, back then capstone projects were not a cornerstone of senior year. Now, the senior thesis can crowd out career launch activities. Senior projects can also propel students to graduate school, thus opening more career doors and expanding the demonstrated limits of what’s possible with a Pacific degree.

This in turn inspires students and fellow alumni to new career heights, effectively improving the job market for graduates by expanding career horizons. The alumni network then becomes more diverse and powerful for students and the cycle continues. Additionally, the senior thesis provides a rich and marketable project to draw on highlighting skills and accomplishments to recruiters. The challenge for students, is finding a way to leverage the senior thesis in the service of career plans.

As for changes in the sorts of opportunities available to new graduates, the rise of big data and “smart” technology continues to cry out for mathematic and analytic skills. Majors forced to get comfortable with statistical analysis can thank faculty and senior projects for the edge this provides in the job search.

Local markets, especially Portland and Seattle, are brimming with opportunities with companies driven by passion to disrupt existing business models through innovative thinking and technology. At the same time, these work place cultures, while often notable for exciting benefits and norms reflective of younger, more contemporary values, often have high expectations around commitment and results.

In the end, the job market defies generalized descriptions, as it’s so broad in scope and tackling it well before graduation remains a key challenge and opportunity.

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