Williams seniors, grads feel effects of job market downshift

The American economic slowdown and the tragedies of Sept. 11 have greatly affected the job market for both recent Williams graduates and current job-hunting seniors.

“[Prior to Sept. 11,] the economy was getting bad to begin with,” said Fatma Kassamali, director of the Office of Career Counseling (OCC). “It was really terrible because last year, students got jobs and some of them were rescinded, particularly in the consulting agencies.”

One recent alumnus affected by the economic downturn is Julian Fang ’01.

“The economic slowdown prior to the tragedies had more of an effect on my job than anything else,” said Fang. An IT consulting company hired Fang last year. However, since his graduation, Fang’s employer has continually delayed his start date.

“Finally last week, I was given the option of taking severance or waiting until May/June 2002 to hear about a possible start date,” he added. “Even then, I would not be guaranteed a place with the firm. Essentially, as the economic news got worse during the summer,the news from the firm got worse.”

Fang is not alone. Though the OCC does not have an official count of the number of recent graduates laid off, Fang estimates that between 40 and 50 of his classmates had their job offers rescinded or deferred.

“The Sept. 11 attacks did target the financial market, which is a big source of employment for Williams students,” said Lara Shore-Shepard, an assistant professor of economics and a labor economics specialist. “Jobs in that market may be somewhat more difficult to come by than in the past, and recessionary fears and stock market instability will only contribute to this problem.”

The economic slowdown has also affected the class of 2002, as many of these seniors are currently looking for jobs.

“This year, I am really sort of worried about everything,” said Kassamali. “But we do not want to discourage students. If Williams students cannot get jobs, I don’t know who else can get jobs. So what we are trying to do to students is to try to have their options a little more out there.”

The economic slowdown has caused the number of firms recruiting on campus this year to severely drop.

“We used to have 85 [businesses] . . . coming to recruit and now we are down to 28 so far,” said Kassamali. “These organizations had signed up with us in April, May, and June and by August they were canceling – before Sept. 11.”

“I think consulting has been really, really affected,” said Kassamali. We are seeing literally that consulting [companies], even major consulting companies, are saying, ‘We really cannot come to campus.’”

Kassamali attributed this decrease in recruiting to the fact that either some of these companies are not hiring or that these companies do not want to spend the money to fund on-campus recruitment.

She added that some of the consulting firms will be having resume drops at the OCC where students submit their resumes to the companies who will then select the best candidates to interview at their offices.

“I don’t think it has effected dramatically the financial institutions.” She added that many big financial companies, like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan are coming to recruit.

However, many of the companies who are still coming to recruit on campus, who used to schedule between 40 and 50 interviews during their visit are now only scheduling half that many.

Though many view the economic downturn as hurting chances of finding a job, Kassamali believes that sometimes these economic conditions can actually help Williams students.

“Sometimes, a slowdown in the economy really pays for us because what happens is that [companies] will get rid of the middle management, and they will bring in more financial analysts.”

Furthermore, Williams students historically are still able to get jobs during tough economic times.

“In Black October [of 1997], we saw that even though the economy was bad, students still got the jobs,” Kassamali said. “In 1983, the economy was terrible and we were close to recession, students still got jobs. In ’92-’93, before Bill Clinton’s era, students still got jobs.”

One way that Kassamali suggests for students to find jobs is to broaden their search to include different industries.

“I am encouraging more and more students to look at consumer industries, to look at insurance companies, that have financial analyst positions, much like investment banks,” she added.

“Many of my friends have gone into other professions that are doing well, including biotech firms and education,” said Fang.

“These layoffs have forced me to re-evaluate what industries I might be interested in working in,” he added. “My current plans include further job hunting, the possibility of working at a smaller start-up firm as well as opening up a takeout place on Spring Street called ‘Wing and Things.’ Who knows?”

Though the job market is clearly more challenging now than in the past, Kassamali is confident that students will still find jobs.

“I would really like to tell students it is a tough year and they have to make special efforts get a job. There are many jobs out there and every student from Williams College will get a job.”

A major reason for the OCC’s confidence is the College’s prestigious reputation and the academic strength of Williams graduates.

“I think that [Williams students] are highly competitive,” said Kassamali.

“In general, economic slowdowns hurt the least-educated and least well-off soonest and the most,” said Shore-Shepard. “From that perspective, Williams students are likely to be somewhat more insulated than the general population from the economic downturn.”

“I assume that a Williams degree does help in the labor market, both because of its educational value and because of Williams’ extensive network of contacts,” she continued.

“In addition, many Williams students come from backgrounds that provide them career contacts. Given these advantages, Williams students will most likely suffer less from a recession than students from other schools.”

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