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Laura Edwards thought she was starting her job search too soon. After all, it was January and she wasn't set to graduate until July. She soon discovered she might have started too late.
"It's discouraging," said Edwards, who received her degree in business administration from Campbellsville University.
"There are not that many opportunities around here. Everything I've applied for, they either had someone in mind or someone's [family member] was taking the job."
Edwards and many other recent college graduates are finding jobs few and far between in an economy where many are being laid off.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,512 mass layoffs in July, down 131 from June. The July layoffs resulted in 151,171 unemployment insurance claims.
"There has been a weak market for the last few months," said Justine Detzel, chief labor market analyst of the Kentucky Office of Employment and Training.
A weak economy, lay offs and the housing crisis have all led to more people competing for fewer jobs, Detzel said.
Teresa Elmore, director of career services at Campbellsville University, said she knows of several highly qualified students who can't find jobs in their chosen field, the result of a struggling economy.
"I've had quite a few who will come back and ask for assistance," she said.
Career services helps freshmen and sophomores find a career that interests them, while helping juniors and seniors with resume and job interview skills. The office also posts job and internship opportunities and hosts a job fair each spring.
Elmore stays in contact with recent graduates searching for a job and keeps them updated on any job openings they may be interested in.
One of the students she's staying in touch with is Joe Sexton, who graduated in May with a master's degree in business administration. The Campbellsville native has sent out about 50 resumes since graduating and has posted his information on several job search Web sites. He's looking for human resources or manufacturing supervisor jobs.
"I've had very little interest," Sexton said. "Some have told me I'm overqualified. You can't even get interviews. The most interest I've had has come from China."
Sexton said his only choice may be to seek a job outside of Kentucky. With the recent state budget crunch offering no new money for education, Sexton doesn't believe Kentucky's economic status is going to change.
"Top-notch companies don't want to come where the education system is not top notch."
On average, Elmore said, 15 million Americans are looking for a job. Of those, one million are looking for their first job.
"The job market is competitive and they need to be ready for that," she said.
Detzel said those searching for their first job need to showcase their strengths.
"They will be competing with people who have been laid off, who have experience," Detzel said.
Though Edwards would like to find work near her Greensburg home, she has applied for jobs throughout the region and as far away as Paducah, Ashland and Nashville. She has applied for a variety of jobs, though her primary interest is community education.
Edwards said she must start paying her student loans in January.
"I'm hopeful, but it is discouraging. I have $50,000 in student loans and I can't find a job."
In the meantime, Edwards has been working as a substitute teacher at Green County Middle School. Since the current school year began, she has worked every day.
Sexton, however, also farms 30 acres at his home. He has horses, hay and some cattle.
"I do have some income," he said. "That's better than a lot of people."
A key to the job search, Elmore said, is starting early and extending the search beyond one's hometown.
"A lot of them just don't want to move."
Elmore suggests starting a job search at least three to six months before graduation and using various methods of searching including online services. Seniors should also visit career centers for advice and help, participate in job search workshops and attend job fairs.
It's never too early to begin networking, Elmore said. She encourages students to talk to people they know and those working in the fields they are interested in and seek out experience through internships.
Considering her experience, Edwards believes a job search should begin at the start of a college student's senior year.
"Get out there and network. Let people know that you will graduate soon."