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Magna Cum Unemployed

By Donald Finley
April 28, 2003 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - When I changed my college major from mechanical engineering to computer science in 1998, I had few reservations about making the switch. After all, the salaries of the two professions were comparable, and IT seemed to be thriving.
Unfortunately, my graduation in December 2000 roughly coincided with the crash of the dot-coms and a dip in the economy, which made job searching much more difficult.
No fear, I thought, I have an academic record that will impress employers and help me stand out among job candidates. I had graduated magna cum laude, made the dean's list multiple times, won awards for academic excellence -- and no one seemed to care. The liability of my inexperience seemed to outweigh any advantage that a solid academic background provided.
The slowing of the economy has left many experienced IT professionals looking for jobs, and companies have their choice of workers with proven track records. This means decreased opportunities for entry-level programmers with resumes heavy on skills and education and light on job history.
Illustrating this fact are the employers and headhunters who call to express interest in the skills I have listed on my resume online. One of their first questions is, "How much experience do you have?" Answering this potentially damning question with honesty usually ensures no future correspondence.
The lack of opportunities made me increasingly worried, and in September 2001, I committed an act of desperation. I had been job searching by myself and through employment agencies for almost eight months when I accepted a knowledge management position at a government agency in Washington, where living expenses are high and the pay is low. The job was part intern/part employee and kept me on the periphery of working with IT (checking e-mail was my sole interaction with computers). After six months in the program, I decided to return home and earnestly look for opportunities in software development, the area of most interest to me.
Searching online job sites yielded few possibilities for someone with my level of experience; I fared better by contacting hiring managers directly. After three months of research and many phone calls to managers, I landed a job as a Web developer at a struggling e-learning company. But after being told almost every week for six months that the office might not be open the following week, I was searching for another job by December 2002.
During this time, I had also enrolled in a graduate program, thinking that another degree might help me find a job. However, since starting the program, I have considered

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