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Job search tougher

(U-WIRE)/ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- In recent months, trends of slowing manufacturing output, faltering stock prices and rising unemployment have been cause for anxiety among job-seekers.

For some students, especially those entering the job market in the coming year, the signs of a cyclical slowdown are beginning to hit home.

"The hiring will slow, there's no question about that," said University of Michigan economics Prof. George Johnson. "People looking for work around June won't do as well as they did last June."

The effects of the slowing economy have, in fact, already begun to take their toll on post-graduate employment. Waning confidence among employers has led to shrinking interview schedules, fewer campus visits and a reduced number of job offers.

In the most drastic cases seen at U. Michigan, employers have withdrawn offers that were made to students earlier in the recruiting season.

"I've heard of that happening," admitted Cynthia Redwine, director of the University's Engineering Career Resource Center.

"In times like this, (employers) just start to slow down in what they're doing. Sometimes they're trying to see if their needs are as much as was anticipated. We're starting to see that," Redwine said.

Such sentiment has been echoed by the University's other principal career centers.

"We have seen a general contraction in the number of interviews and schedules across the board," said Kathryn Rado, associate director of the Business School's Office of Career Development. "They're just looking at fewer students."

Rado also noted that business failures in the technology sector has started to affect overall employment.

"With dot-coms falling, people going back to industry are often at high-level positions, and it tends to trickle down," Rado said. "There are alumni coming back, asking what resources are available and looking at the alumni network."

The automotive industry, which traditionally hires a large number of University students, has felt the acute effects of slowing consumer confidence and spending. The impact has translated to falling employment; while the national rate of unemployment hit 4.2 percent in January, unemployment in Michigan jumped to 4.5 percent.

"We're assessing and reassessing our needs, but we're honoring all offers" said Mike Farrere, communications manager for Ford Global Recruiting.

"It's important to maintain our relationships with universities who have supported us," Farrere said.

The outlook for employment remains relatively positive, however, as recent declines follow years of expansion.

"We've had record-breaking numbers," said Terri LaMarco, associate director of Career Planning and Placement. "The job market has been strong for two to three years now, so it wouldn't be surprising to see a slowdown in terms of organizations reassessing (employment). I think that's what we're seeing now."

The Index of Leading Economic Indicators, a measurement used to gauge and forecast the national economy, has recently shown signs of moderation.

After successive monthly declines of 0.4 percent, 0.3 percent and 0.5 percent, the index rose 0.8 percent in January. An official economic downturn, defined as a fall of 3.5 percent annualized over a six-month period, is now unlikely.

Despite such encouraging signs, the forecast for next year's fall recruiting season remains uncertain. While few expect a drastic decline in campus recruiting, the potential for reduced activity remains.

"I would hedge your bets," Rado suggested for students interviewing this fall, "and do more of an off-campus search."

(c) 2001 Michigan Daily via U-WIRE

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