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Class of 2023 looks to carve space in job market shaped by lofty layoffs, low unemployment

Members of the Class of 2023 are expanding their job-search horizon as they get set to graduate into a labor market that is simultaneously desperate and reticent to welcome them. A survey from the college recruiting platform Handshake showed that 47% of college students in its network are applying to more jobs in response to […]

Members of the Class of 2023 are expanding their job-search horizon as they get set to graduate into a labor market that is simultaneously desperate and reticent to welcome them. A survey from the college recruiting platform Handshake showed that 47% of college students in its network are applying to more jobs in response to economic uncertainty, while 36% are opening their job search to more industries.

Applications to government, nonprofit and retail work have boomed, and students have indicated more willingness to move to a different city than in previous years. Across all colleges, U.S. employers are expecting to hire 3.9% more graduates than they did a year ago, but that prediction is down from 14.7% in the fall, a report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found.

Meanwhile, the labor market continues to bustle. April’s 3.4% unemployment rate matches the lowest in 54 years, and the jobs report — posting a net gain of 253,000 — jolted upward from March and bucked the downward trend central bankers have been hoping for in order to curb inflation. The labor market’s continued stirring, fueled by gains in outpatient medical centers, restaurants and professional and business services, could point the Federal Reserve toward continued interest rate hikes.

But for recent grads, companies with some of the most competitive programs have already been afflicted by massive bouts of layoffs in what appears to be a pre-recession economy. Nineteen of the 25 firms with the highest-paying internships have jettisoned large portions of their workforces over the last 12 months, with some squeezing out as much as a quarter of their employees.

In the latest spate of job cuts, Amazon, Lyft, Ernst & Young, Accenture, Gap and Vice Media have all trimmed staff. Meta announced plans in mid-March to slash 10,000 jobs; McKinsey earlier this year began shedding 1,400 employees and Microsoft is cutting 10,000.

While the labor market at large remains fertile, Tufts’ graduating seniors are likely to find themselves running into a dry patch. Per the Career Center, 52% of the undergraduate Class of 2022 landed a job in technology, finance, media, consulting or real estate — industries that have all been blitzed by layoffs in the last year.

Nine Tufts graduates in 2022 went to Amazon, eight worked jobs at Microsoft, another eight at Ernst & Young, and six went to Accenture, according to a separate report from the Career Center that includes data from about 60% of the graduating class. Those companies are among the largest employers of recent alumni, but still they represent only a narrow portion of the student body’s activity after college.

Many of the job cuts stem from the tech industry, where chief executives have hinted that generous hiring in the early months of the pandemic bloated payroll obligations, becoming burdensome as interest rates climbed higher, inflation began rising and earnings stagnated.

Companies from Netflix to Google to Amazon all benefited from the burgeoning demand for tech that spawned out of initial office closures. But once the public health crisis receded and people again began to leave their homes, equity shares plummeted, strong-arming some firms into shrinking their payrolls. The tech-heavy NASDAQ ended 2022 down 33.1%, its worst performance since 2008.

“When the pandemic hit and there was this huge work from home thing, people needed more technology,” Brian Bethune, a practicing economist who lectures at Tufts, said. “But now, we’re on the opposite side, where that surging demand has dissipated.”

The Federal Reserve hiked interest rates by a quarter percentage point earlier this month, bringing the benchmark federal funds rate to a 16-year high at a range between 5–5.25%. It was the 10th consecutive rate increase but it could be the last, Fed officials indicated.

Bethune attributed some of the economy’s current woes — like inflation — to the stimulus checks Congress wrote three years ago. He said they contributed to mounting pressure on the demand side of the economy as the supply chain faced disruptions from the war in Ukraine.

“This [was] kind of like you’re going down the monetary highway in an 18-wheeler at 80 miles per hour, and then you realize that you went through not one stop sign but many stop signs,” Bethune said, referring to Congress and the Federal Reserve. “So now you’re saying, ‘Well, we’ve got to slam on the brakes.’”

The effects of a pullback in the tech sector, a gradually consolidating banking industry, and even slowed output growth may be yet to hit Tufts. Bethune said in an informal survey of his students, about 80% indicated they’d landed summer jobs or internships. Over in the Career Center, Executive Director Donna Esposito, speaking with the Daily in late April, said Tufts continues to put up “good data” with employers.

“I think students are understanding that things are taking a little bit longer these days in terms of search, but the reality is our experience is that many students don’t start their search until after graduation,” Esposito said. “That’s been the case for quite a while.”

The Career Center links students with resources for the job search, working with them to keep an open mind, identify their skills and make connections with alumni. Recorded workshops are kept on the center’s YouTube archive, and for graduating seniors, alumni career advising is available free of charge for life.

Senior Maggie Basinger has worked at the Career Center for three years as a student fellow, hosting weekly drop-in hours and occasional workshops covering job-search basics, like how to build a resume and write a cover letter. Despite a recent slowdown in some tech, banking and consultancy firms, she said she hasn’t seen much of a shift in the outcomes or attitudes of the students she works with.

“The job process is still the same — we’re still telling students to do the same processes, and students are finding success through the same processes,” Basinger said. “I wouldn’t say that at any point it’s been easy getting a job.”

Esposito recommends that students check out the skills-based learning program Udemy, which is available to Tufts students for free. For graduating seniors unsure of what their next steps are, Esposito said she would remind them to be flexible and explore an array of different industries.

“The Class of 2023 has really lived through a lot over the [last] four years,” she said. “The grit and the resilience that you have had to develop because of that is going to do nothing but help you in the job search, and I think employers value that.”

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