Grads look for connections as they enter shaky job market

  • By Peter Sachs
  • Staff Writer
  • May 15, 2009 @ 12:00 PM

It’s no secret that students graduating from universities across the nation are facing grim prospects in a job market where few employers can offer entry-level jobs, or even internships.

What’s a graduate to do?

Network, network and network. That was the theme at Industry Night, the neo-career fair held at Columbia College last night.

“Any possible thing that can come out of it, I’ll take what I can get,” says Mike Huebner, who is graduating and focusing on fiction writing.

Industry Night drew about 700 students and had almost as many working professionals sign up. But rather than set up booths for each company to issue its standard pitch and hand out pens like at a typical career fair, Columbia turned things around.

The event was split up in a dozen different places, mainly by specialty: photographers in one room, advertising creative majors on another floor, graphic designers somewhere else, and so on. Students in many of those majors had a table to themselves to set up their portfolios and spread out business cards.

“If you’re going to be a member of the creative industry, whatever that might mean … you have to network,” says David Lewis, who works in Columbia’s Portfolio Center helping students refine and show off their work. “You have to go to cocktail parties and rock shows and gallery openings.”

Leonard Bukowski, a fashion major, snagged a table at the front of the room on the second floor of one of Columbia’s Michigan Avenue buildings. With one of his dresses on a mannequin form nearby, he showed off his glossy book of designs, complete with suggested prices and fabric swatches. He’d already gotten to talk to several buyers in the industry, who he says gave him tips on how to refine his portfolio.

“I need to work for a designer, intern for somebody, learn the ropes,” Bukowski says.

While a dozen people from advertising firms circulated around the 45 tables with students who majored in ad creative – that’s the graphics and design work that goes into advertising – few had jobs to offer.

“I hate to say it, but there’s probably never been this much talent coming into the market with so little opportunity,” says Ryan Arnold, the president of the four-person Arnold Creative, a boutique firm.

Even still, he was buoyed by seeing so many graduates with such strong portfolios, said he hoped they stayed upbeat as they head into the dour job market.

“There’s tremendous opportunity out of chaos and out of this kind of disorder. It’s a great time for entrepreneurial-minded marketers,” Arnold says.

Downstairs in the room for web designers and programmers, Digitas’ Ryan Ore made the rounds, scoping out possible candidates for an internship opening at the online marketing company he works for.

“You’re competing with everyone else in the room, but they (industry professionals) come to you,” he says.

Anyone who wasn’t there to show off their portfolios was missing out. “After tonight, (students) have to seek it out,” Ore says.

But even the students who were there acknowledged that networking might not be enough to land a job.

“I’m fine with writing for a newspaper or an online publication for free for a while until the market gets better,” says journalism major John Lendman.

Daily News Staff Writer Peter Sachs covers higher education. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 18, or peter [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.