TAMPA — Dixie Mazutier came to the Martinez Sports Center at the University of Tampa dressed in her interview best, armed with resumes and ready to impress.
But the 21-year-old finance major, who graduates in December, worried as she traveled the aisles of the school's fall job fair that she would not find full-time employment in her field.
"I'm finding sales positions here. Not very much finance," Mazutier said. "I've been looking for over five months for jobs. . . . The economic situation makes it very hard to find one."
The numbers don't encourage much.
The University of Tampa has seen its online job postings decrease by 45 percent in a year. St. Petersburg College has just 67 active job ads, compared with a more normal 300. USF-Tampa recently had 175 employers at its job fair, down 40 from two years ago.
"There's no question that the economy is very different currently compared to even six or eight months ago," said Drema Howard, director of USF-Tampa's career center. "Our students are constantly bombarded that it's difficult. . . . At the same time, there are still jobs."
Graduates will have to change their expectations when seeking them, though.
Rather than competing solely with other college students, they increasingly find competition from career changers, laid-off workers and others with more experience.
"A lot of these people think they're going to start where their parents are now," said Tim Harding, UT career services director.
But more realistically, "that whole concept of the dream job with a lifetime career is history," said Peter Lewis, a project manager for Faircount Media Group, which was recruiting at the UT job fair.
Companies like Faircount are looking to hire "good young people" who are willing to start at the bottom, Lewis said. At the very least, the graduates can earn some money and gain some experience while waiting for the market to strengthen, he noted.
Getting even these jobs takes more than sending in a resume and waiting, said James Gonyea, St. Petersburg College career development specialist.
Job seekers must identify their strengths and talents, then research companies to find the best fits, Gonyea said.
"Ask the question, 'Who needs it and why do they need it?' " he said. "That should be the focus of their cover letter to the right type of employer."
Send it certified mail, he added, to capture the employer's attention.
In addition to branding, networking remains key, as many jobs never get advertised, Harding said.
Even with extra touches, job seekers should get used to hearing "no," Howard suggested. Remaining positive is critical, she said, as "we're going to see more time spent in job search than ever before."
Still, she said, new college graduates probably have a leg up because they have the latest training and job fairs organized just for them, among other benefits. They also don't cost as much as a more experienced worker.
Eric Bonneau, who graduated from the University of Tampa in May, hopes so.
Bonneau, 23, has a degree in sports management with a minor in business management, and he wants to work "anywhere possible." Yet as he traversed the school's job fair, he wasn't excited about the prospects.
"There's a lot of entry-level positions that really don't pay much, but you can work your way up," he said. "I have money in the bank. But if I didn't, with the economy the way it is, I'd be worried."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614.