Graduating into a recession: The hopes, fears — and job prospects — of PR students

May 18, 2009

Copyright © 2009 PRSA. All rights reserved.

By Amy Jacques

The following article appears in the May 2009 issue of PR Tactics.

The road ahead looks grim for PR students graduating in 2009.

According to a study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in February, employers expect to hire 22 percent fewer new college graduates from the class of 2009 than they hired for the class of 2008. The study also reports that this decrease was prompted by the recent economic downturn.

More than two-thirds of employers said that the state of the economy caused them to reassess their college hiring plans, and most of these same employers said that they have reduced the number of people that they intend to hire. Colleges have also been seeing this decrease firsthand, as there have been fewer employers on campus this spring — according to the survey, 66 percent of employers said that they had plans to lower or eliminate hiring.

And students throughout the country are recounting similar experiences. Tactics spoke with several PRSSA members about their impending graduation date, job prospects and fears — and advice they have for others.

Candace SooHoo
University of Washington — Seattle

Candace SooHoo, 22, of Bellevue, Wash., graduates in June. She hopes to work in Seattle, but currently does not have a job lined up.

SooHoo has participated in several informational interviews and is currently juggling two unpaid internships.

“I am hoping that after I graduate this year, I can intern with a firm full time over the summer and prove to them I will be a huge asset to their team — with hopes  of being offered a position within their firm,” she says, adding that she is willing to accept an unpaid internship while working somewhere else part time.

“I feel like the majority of us won’t be able to obtain a job right after we graduate. I’ve been searching for a prospective job at multiple companies and firms and there seem to be absolutely no openings for entry-level professionals.”

SooHoo notes that her job search has been stressful and competitive. She’s also noticed a decrease in the number of career fairs available and the number of company participants, as well as a large increase in the number of students attending these career fairs.

Though the news headlines are dire, she remains hopeful and is seeking a balanced work and social life.

“Be proactive and take any opportunity you can get,” she says. “One foot in the door into the job market is all you need to start a career.”

Jason Brownley
Fashion Institute of Technology — New York City

A native of Randallstown, Md., Jason Brownley will graduate in May. He is currently interning at Edelman New York in the corporate technology department and has interviewed at several other large firms in the city.

Brownley, 26, does not yet have a post-college job and plans to continue his freelance PR work for small businesses until he finds something more stable.

“Being as flexible as possible will give me a competitive edge and can be a win-win [situation] for both my own growth and the growth of a company,” he says of his willingness to relocate for a job.

“I am an avid watcher of the news and the picture portrayed almost makes you want to give up and apply to grad school until the recession ends,” he adds.

Instead he maintains hope, attending workshops and keeping an eye on,, PRSA’s  Jobcenter and craigslist postings. Although he says, “I have seen more empty company tables at a lot of the career fairs as compared to the past few years.”

Brownley has applied to all types of positions but says, “I have found a lot of the companies are willing to take an intern or trainee quicker than hiring someone new, since many agency budgets have been cut.” 

He suggests keeping your options open, being willing to relocate, networking and keeping an open dialogue with other graduating seniors for support and advice.

Tina Marie Sturdevant
San Diego State University — San Diego
Twenty-one-year old Tina Marie Sturdevant of Vallejo, Calif., remains practical about the current state of the economy and the job market. She currently holds two jobs and plans to graduate this May. She may continue to work in these positions, but graduate school is also a possibility for her.

“I have gone on job interviews and they can’t hire because their firms can’t afford it,” she says. “Many firms offer unpaid internships, but require 40 hours a week, and that isn’t a reasonable request of students. We have bills to pay too, and we can’t dedicate that much time to an unpaid position, in addition to school.”

Sturdevant’s family and close friends have also felt the effects of the economy.

“I think students place themselves on too high of a pedestal, thinking that now that they have a college degree, they have to start making the ‘big bucks’ immediately,” she says. “Realistically, you may have to work other jobs before you land a job in your ideal field. I have to tell people, get over yourself.”

 Eventually, Sturdevant would like to move back to the Bay Area, but is not opposed to relocating either. She encourages others to take unpaid internships if they can afford to do so and to volunteer for projects that they are interested in as well as continue too build their networks.

Sturdevant also reminds people to pick something that they love to do, and remember that this is only the beginning of their career, so “don’t be afraid to fall down a few times,” she says.

Ben Sailer
Minnesota State University Moorhead — Moorhead, Minn.
A 24-year-old from Norwich, England, Ben Sailer also remains realistic about the economy and the current job market. He will graduate in May and has a paid summer internship secured in his college town, but does not have any permanent job prospects yet.

Like many other students, Sailer finds the news and headlines regarding the job market daunting and scary.

“I either won’t be able to find a job, or if I do, [I’m afraid] that I’ll be laid off,” he says. “I’m also worried that if I do find a job, it may require moving somewhere I don’t want to go. I’m hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst.”

He wants to find a company that he really believes in and would like to work for, but Sailer says, “given the current economic situation, I would be lucky to find any decent job at all. I would like to be choosy, but I can’t really afford to be right now.”

Sailer plans to join Americorps for a year or two and spend his time working for a good cause while waiting for the job market to bounce back — he hopes it will improve by the time he has completed his service program.

“It’s important not to let the doom and gloom of the current job market stop you from trying to get into the career you want,” he says, “but graduates should also be realistic about their job prospects and understand that they might have to wait a while for something to open up.”

Courtney Meyers
University of Memphis — Memphis, Tenn.

Courtney Meyers of Ft. Wayne, Ind., is considering post-graduate studies after she finishes her undergraduate coursework in May. Meyers, 26, has also applied for many paid summer internships because there aren’t many openings in her local job market.

“I want to stay in the Memphis area, so I’m looking at continuing my education here for at least a year,” she says. “That’s kind of my plan B: to keep going to school until I can find a job.”

Meyers is interested in the political segment of public relations. She hopes that obtaining a graduate degree in political science will complement her PR background and make her more marketable as a job candidate.

“There are certain allowances that have to be made given the state of the economy,” she says, “but at the same time, I’m more likely to continue my education rather than take a job that I don’t think I would fit in.”

She’s had several phone interviews with agencies in Chicago and New York and is working with advisers at school to help set up additional informational interviews in Memphis. Meyers has noticed that most recruiters at career fairs seem to be geared toward internships rather than entry-level positions.

“The economy is a concern, but it doesn’t faze me,” she says. “The world goes through economic crises — my grandparents went through it and my parents went through it. But it doesn’t help me to read the news and get bummed out about it. Instead, I try to have the general attitude that if I keep working and trying and exploring different options, then the right thing will come along at the right time.”

Robert Hoppey
Elon University — Elon, N.C.

With an expected May graduation date, 21-year-old Robert Hoppey and many of his friends do not yet have jobs.  A native of Setauket, N.Y., he has participated in informational phone interviews as well as career fairs, and is willing to take an unpaid internship or relocate to find steady work.

“I am willing to do what is necessary if I see future potential with an organization,” Hoppey says regarding unpaid internships.

In the meantime, he will take part in a cross-county bike ride for charity called the Journey of Hope. He intends to dedicate himself to the job search when he returns in August.

Hoppey feels prepared to enter the working world because of his education and past agency and corporate PR internships, but says, “It’s a bit discouraging at the moment because everyone seems to be scrambling.”
He continues to hear stories of layoffs and his classmates seem to be competing for the same jobs.

“The biggest fear I have is the element of the unknown in the current market,” he says. “Because it is not clear when things are going to turn around, I am not sure how exactly my plans will be affected and for how long.”

Hoppey encourages other graduates to consider any connections they may have, including contacts from past internships, school alumni and people from fellow Greek organizations.

“For years I have heard the mantra, ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,’” he says. “I can now attest to how true that is. I have found that professionals are usually happy to help and provide guidance, especially in light of today’s job market.” 

Vianey Veronica Gonzales
University of Texas-Pan American — Edinburg, Texas
Vianey Veronica Gonzales is currently taking on an unpaid internship, but has not yet been offered a full-time job. She is considering going to graduate school if she is not able to find a position soon after her August graduation.

“I’m really nervous about finding the right job and losing it within months,” says Gonzales, a Chicago native. “I believe my best bet is trying to go for my master’s at first — that way, once I’m done, I will be ready for the job market and hopefully have more experience than others.

Gonzales, 23, believes that she and her fellow PR students are well prepared to go into the working world, but have also noticed that there are very few paying job openings in the PR market.

“I’m ready for anything that comes my way,” Gonzales says. “I know what I’m getting myself into and being part of PRSSA and being co-chair has given me the chance to get my feet wet.”

She is willing to accept another unpaid internship and wants to gain as much experience as possible, but says, “It’s hard to work and not get paid for it.”
Gonzales suggests being open to relocation and adds that she will likely move to a big city for employment. She adds that the job market is tough right now and says, “Make sure you’re ready and know what you want from your career.”

Jenna Hamel
Kent State University — Kent, Ohio

Jenna Hamel believes that her undergraduate PR classes at Kent State have prepared her well for the working world. She also gained valuable experience by interning for a boutique entertainment PR firm in Los Angeles last summer and on her spring break in March.

This summer, the 22-year-old Hamel will be interning at the same firm, and after her graduation in December 2009, the job will become a full-time paid position as an assistant to a senior publicist.

“I was really lucky to find an internship so early and continue to work with that same company,” she says. “I also keep in touch with my boss on a daily basis and try to help her out as much as possible while I am still in Ohio.”

A native of  Toledo, Ohio, Hamel appreciates that she has had the opportunity to gain experience in the working world before graduation.
“I know people who have recently lost their jobs and I am sure eight months ago they hadn’t even given one thought to the idea,” she says, adding that she is worried about the economic uncertainty.  “Anything can happen — I just try to stay positive and work my hardest.”

Hamel realizes that most people cannot be too picky when seeking employment now, but she stresses the importance of interviewing with various companies to find the best fit. She says that you will find out a lot about yourself and the job market.

“Don’t be afraid to chase your dreams,” Hamel says, “and with hard work and determination you can only go forward.”

Amy Jacques is the associate editor of Tactics. She is a 2006 graduate of the University of Georgia. She holds a master’s in journalism from Syracuse University, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. E-mail:


Amy Jacques

Amy Jacques is the managing editor of publications for PRSA. A native of Greenville, S.C., she holds a master’s degree in arts journalism from Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in advertising from the University of Georgia’s Grady College and a certificate in magazine and website publishing from New York University.


Mechico says:

Re: Robert Hoppey I am a 2008 graduate and I thought I did everything correctly. I did the internship in promotions for broadcast company, received the degree, and moved to Dallas, TX. I chose Dallas because it had a low unemployment rate as well as the numerous posted opportunities. Unfortunately, the new class of 2009 has completed their course of study and I am still looking for employment. I have did the networking thing, the job fair, calls, rehearsal of possible interview questions, read numerous publication with advice but unfortunately the same replies or responses I have encountered the famous "not hiring" or "need someone with more experience". I have applied for even administrative jobs, leasing jobs, marketing jobs but no calls or receive the same general emails. I have receive job offers but make sure you research company because numerous fraudulent companies prey on new graduates or desperate job seekers. My goal is not trying to discourage anyone from trying, or maybe there is a better way. My advice is this be aggressive, professional, and continue education. I wish the best for anyone graduating in the job market and hope that soon there will be some kind of breakthrough.

May 18, 2009

Dave Hogan says:

It's a brutal job market for young graduates and veteran PR practitioners alike, but here are some suggestions I offer to my PR students at the university where I teach: (1) Be geographically flexible. Too many students I counsel with aren't willing to leave their hometown or state. That's not realistic in today's job market. (2) The job market will improve, eventually. In the meanwhile, why not be an entrepreneur? You can earn some spending money and get great resume experience by offering your services to small businesses. Set up your own consulting business, develop a marketing plan and start prospecting. Most small businesses need promotional help but cannot afford to hire full-time staff or use an established PR agency. (3) Consider jobs with nonprofits. Most students want to work in higher-paying agency or corporate jobs, but nonprofits can provide you with great experience and a lot of personal satisfaction. To all of you young graduates who are looking for work, hang in there. Keep your skills sharp and your attitude positive. Recessions don't last forever. Things will get better.

May 20, 2009

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