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College Challenge

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Fewer recruiters with fewer jobs! That's confounding college students at campus job fairs. Recruiters who do show up are more frequently offering unpaid internships rather than employment. Even students confident in their academic skills are questioning their choice of study.

Unfortunately, that's how things are shaking out whether a student is on scholarship, working to pay for school or has parents who are paying for it. A recent advertising industry job fair aimed at minority students at New York University saw the number of recruiters reduced by almost half. The director of career development at New York City's Baruch College, Patricia Imbimbo, says, "Top students are still getting jobs, just not as many tops students and not as many jobs."

Truisms that once were true are no longer. Follow your passion and you will be successful may no longer be practical advice. On the other hand, find the need and fill it is as true today as ever. And that's the challenge facing those preparing to enter the workforce for the first time, as well as those preparing to re-enter after being forced out.

Business students hitching their star to a future in the financial sector may do well to rethink their plans to become an asset manager, investment banker or trader. Imbimbo says job seekers should keep their eyes open to new possibilities in credit risk management, green technology and needed, though lesser paying, positions in education and government.

Those who can see around the corner and direct their steps accordingly are most likely to find opportunity in chaos. One of the best ways to improve your career foresight is not only to talk to those plugged in, but to hear what they're saying. Professional development coaches advise network until it hurts. The roster of contacts should not exclude any part of your life. Your physician is just as viable a resource as a former boss or colleague.

Students already understand the concept of unpaid internships. That's because they usually receive college credit for them. However, now they are vocally not even interested in the college credit. They want the work experience and will barter their skills accordingly. This is a little tougher for mature and experienced professionals to get their arms around, but being visible in a job category you seek, even without being paid, puts you two steps ahead of everyone else.

"Not all college students get it, but they are beginning to come around, "according to Imbimbo. Those who do get it are inventing ways to separate themselves from the competition. They are not only aggressively seeking unpaid internships, but also signing up for volunteer work just experience, opportunities overseas and niche areas of study that can make them appear expert among the throngs of generalists.

No, college is not what it used to be according to students who chatted with me. "It's not the fun time my mom and dad had," frowned one junior at Baruch College. The college experience is undergoing an evolution from a quest for knowledge, wisdom, and self-awareness to the applied science of selecting a career path that won't slip out from under you in a few years.

Parents who are still inclined to let their college-age children find themselves, may do well to offer a little more informed guidance according to some career specialists. In the final analysis, ten years down the road the question, "Why didn't you tell me"? is not one the parent of a current college student really wants to hear. (for more of my stories go to