Graduates face job market realities

Queen’s remains a favourite in postgraduate hiring despite national media spotlight on partying

A Queen’s exit poll found that the number of students heading into the job market after graduation dropped two per cent last year.
A Queen’s exit poll found that the number of students heading into the job market after graduation dropped two per cent last year.
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Janghan Hong and Corey LaBlans
After a four-year dip in participants due to the economic recession, the Queen’s career fair brought 86 organizations to Grant Hall for information sessions with students.
After a four-year dip in participants due to the economic recession, the Queen’s career fair brought 86 organizations to Grant Hall for information sessions with students.
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The owner of a human resources consulting firm in Toronto says Queen’s students are still a favourite for hiring, despite national media attention for alcohol-related incidents in the past few years.

“Obviously Queen’s has a reputation for Frosh Week antics but it’s still an A-school,” Consultant Deborah Nanton said.

“If any clients were looking at schools, we’d look at A-schools before anyone else.”

Nanton said her A-school list includes Queen’s, Waterloo, Western and the University of Toronto.

She said Queen’s is best known for its Commerce and Engineering programs, while Waterloo gets attention for its Nanotechnology Engineering program and U of T gets looks for its Medical and Engineering programs.

“They’re difficult to get into and require very good marks,” Nanton said, adding that working in the technology sector has encouraged her to hire mostly Waterloo graduates.

A party school reputation isn’t enough to deter HR departments from hiring graduates, she said.

“An employer wouldn’t avoid a school unless they did something really terrible,” she said.

“If you get a whole bunch of young people together with a whole lot of beer, you’re going to have problems ... but this happens at all of the schools.”

“[Queen’s students] party while at school but they still get the grades,” she said.

Queen’s good reputation has endured in the business world, Nanton said, despite lesser-known B-schools gaining a high profile among employers.

“[Queen’s students have] got determination, adaptation and ability,” Nanton said.

A letter from Principal Daniel Woolf disclosing his concerns about Queen’s deteriorating reputation was leaked online this summer.

“It would have been unthinkable 20 years ago that the quality reputation of undergraduate education at Queen’s would be challenged by Waterloo and McMaster (schools that have long been our equal in research), to say nothing of Guelph — but it is clearly happening,” he wrote in the letter addressed to Chair of the Board of Trustees, William (Bill) Young.

Last weekend a gathering on Aberdeen Street attracted only 500 people at its peak — a large decrease compared to previous years that saw attendances of over 1,500 people.

“Very subtly these things start to seep into the unconscious,” School of Business professor Kenneth Wong said. “When [employers] look at us now, what they see more often than not is the Aberdeen thing and the party attitudes and of course the students passing last year.”

Seven students died at Queen’s last year. The University’s attempts to quell the Aberdeen Street party have garnered national media attention since Homecoming was cancelled in 2008.

“I believe that [these events] do have an effect on how the University is seen, and to a certain extent how its graduates are seen,” Wong said.

Applicants’ alma mater can affect how they are perceived in the job market, Wong said.

“When you say I’m from Queen’s, you’re saying I’m smart enough to get in and smart enough to pass my courses and graduate,” he said, “Now, does that make me a good employee?”

Wong graduated from Queen’s in 1975. Since then, focus on campus has shifted.

Issues in the Queen’s community affect alumni’s perception of the students, Wong said, adding that connections with alumni are important in pursuing a professional career.

“This is one of the reasons why, I think, alumni get so upset about Aberdeen,” Wong said, “When the University’s name is tarnished in that regard, I don’t think a lot of people realize the true consequences of those actions. They are profound.”

Queen’s Career Services has put on an annual career fair for over 30 years.

A two-day fair ending today is hosting 86 companies and organizations in Grant Hall.

He said campus recruiting events can make or break an applicant’s chances after graduation.

“There are companies I know of that only visit three or four campuses across Canada, and Queen’s happens to be one of them,” Wong said.

Turnout at the Queen’s career fair dropped substantially in 2008, but has picked up since. Career Services financial clerk Barbara Russell said the economic crisis brought only 45 organizations to a one day fair, though traditionally twice that amount have come for a two-day event

“Fewer people were hiring at that time,” she said. “They weren’t interested in recruiting students during the recession.”

This year’s career fair was the first time in four years that the turnout surpassed 50.

When Lindsay Kline graduated Queen’s political studies in the spring, she hoped her undergraduate education would land her a job quickly.

“You just got your degree and you’re ready to take the next step,” Kline, ArtSci ’11, said. “The next step turns out to be a lot more difficult than a lot of people imagined.”

Though Kline went to Career Services before graduating, she said she felt unprepared heading into the job market.

“Thing that disappointed me with Queen’s is that the only ones who receive any help in looking for work are the Commerce students,” she said, “And a lot of them have jobs before graduation.

“The rest of us are just left fending for ourselves.”

A 2005 Ontario government review made several recommendations for Ontario’s higher education system, including an increase in the number of graduate student spaces.

“I think that’s what’s driving it, is that there are more spots coming up, especially in the master’s programs,” Career Services interim director Cathy Keates said.

According to an exit poll conducted by the Queen’s Department of Institutional Research and Planning, the amount of undergraduate students planning to pursue jobs after graduation dropped by two per cent last year. The number of graduates interested in postgraduate education went up two per cent.

Hermann Leiningen, Managing Director at Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), said the banking world still likes Queen’s graduates manning their desks.

“The competition has clearly become greater and a postgraduate degree all the more important,” he told the Journal via email. “But students with an undergrad from Queen’s Commerce are given a very close look.”

Leiningen said he couldn’t estimate how many Queen’s graduates work with him at RBC.

“I wouldn’t want there to be a perception that we hire so many from any particular school,” he said. “The best candidate wins regardless of school.”

— With files from Terra-Ann Arnone

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