Looking for a job, not a handout. Recent graduates reach out at rush hour

Posted: July 23, 2009

Taking their job search to the street, literally, recent college graduates Sean Christman, 21, and Andrew O'Malley, 22, passed out copies of their resums to commuters taking the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Center City yesterday morning.

Dressed in dark suits and ties despite the hot, muggy air, Christman and O'Malley - longtime friends from Haddon Township - paced along the raised median near Eighth and Vine Streets, trying to catch the attention of drivers and passengers stopped at a red light.

Those who rolled down a window were given a smile and the two job-seekers' resums. The reaction from drivers was mixed, O'Malley said, between supportive thank-yous and obscene hand gestures.

Christman and O'Malley are among the 15.2 percent of Americans between the ages of 20 and 24 who were unemployed as of June, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. The unemployment rate for this age group last June was 10.2 percent. The national unemployment rate for June was 9.5 percent.

Christman, who graduated in May with a degree in finance and management from La Salle University, estimated that he had sent out at least 250 job applications to companies, mostly up and down the East Coast, since December.

"I'm not going to stop until I find a job," he said.

O'Malley also graduated in May, with a business management degree from Rutgers University. Both graduated cum laude and have several summers' worth of experience at local investment and money management companies.

Christman dreams of working in a finance job related to the sports industry. He's been living at home since graduating, spending countless hours on the computer seeking and applying for jobs.

He came up with the idea to network with rush-hour commuters in Center City about a month ago and easily recruited O'Malley, with whom he graduated from Haddon Township High School. They first tried it two weeks ago, but when no offers came in, they decided they would try again.

They positioned themselves on the median at 6:30 a.m. and stayed until around 10:30. Police drove by several times to order them onto the sidewalk, but they returned to their central perch several minutes later each time.

Both wore signs around their necks to explain their pitch to drivers: "Rutgers and La Salle Graduates, Need Work, Take Resum."

Although the duo deserve "creativity points," handing out personal information to strangers is dangerous, said Louis Lamorte, director of La Salle's career services center.

Lamorte said that for unemployed recent graduates like Christman and O'Malley, their first stop should be the career services office of their alma mater, not a busy street.

A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) - which tracks employment data on college graduates - agreed, finding that recent graduates are slightly more likely to find a job if they use career services resources.

Both O'Malley and Christman said they had used their schools' career services offices to network with alumni and get feedback on their resums.

Christman said that despite knowing the economy was bad, he was surprised at how difficult it has been to find a job. It's a feeling NACE research director Edwin Koc said is common among this year's graduating class.

"Students hadn't quite realized the depth of their situation," Koc said, adding that of the 40 percent of graduating seniors this year who had job offers by April, many turned them down in the hope of finding something better.

Several hours after leaving the median, Christman was back in the city to interview for a client services job at Merrill Lynch. He said that he networked for months, using La Salle career services resources to reach alumni, to get his foot in the door.

The interview "went pretty well," he said, though he will not find out if he is hired for at least another week.

"If nothing works out," Christman said, "I'll definitely go back out."

Contact staff writer Zoe Tillman at 215-854-2917 or ztillman@phillynews.com.

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