SIOUX CITY | Meredith Davies-Vogt has a four-year college degree, graduated with honors and has internship experience to boot – but 45 applications later she's still looking for a job.

The 27-year-old mother of six says the stress is mounting as she continues to search for an elementary-school teaching position. Her search comes as districts struggle through budget cuts and layoffs, the announcement that her husband will be laid off this summer and as the start of a new school year nears.

“I’m looking anywhere within a 20-mile radius,” said Davies-Vogt, who graduated from Wayne State College in Nebraska on May 4. “I’m still having trouble getting interviews and getting my foot in the door. It’s a tough field to get into.”

Davies-Vogt, of Sioux City, is not alone in her experience. Students across Iowa and the nation are still having a tough time getting a foot into the job market after picking up their diploma, but things are getting better.

Overall unemployment for those with a four-year degree peaked at 4.7 percent in 2010, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Data for April 2013 show that rate has dropped to 3.6 percent.

Unemployment was at 2 percent in 2007, before the worst of the so-called Great Recession hit.

But unemployment rates get far worse when looking at recent college graduates, or those who are counted as unemployed the same year they graduate.

Unemployment for recent grads peaked at 17.6 percent in 2009 and dropped to 13.5 percent by 2011, according to the bureau. The rate was 9 percent in 2007.

Data for 2012 are not available yet.

Kerry Koonce, a spokeswoman for Iowa Workforce Development, said that while unemployment rates never got that bad here, young adults still struggled the most.

Iowa’s unemployment rate for those ages 20 to 24 peaked at 11.4 percent in 2011 before decreasing to 8.4 percent by 2012. Unemployment was at 5.9 percent for that age backet in 2007.

Those statistics do not consider whether a person has a degree.

Koonce said it may be another two years before Iowa’s unemployment rates finally return to pre-recession levels.

“You have graduates of all age levels with a lack of experience competing with people who have 10 years of experience,” Koonce said. “If you are an employer, who are you going to pick? Probably the person with more experience.”

GETTING A LEG UP

Northeast Community College graduate Waylon Goodwin plans to skip the job market for now in order to pursue a four-year degree. The journalism student, who graduated with an associate degree Saturday, said no one will look at him if he is competing against candidates with bachelor's degrees, internship experience or professional experience.

Goodwin, of Sioux City, is considering Morningside College, Briar Cliff University and Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kan.

“The economy is tough on everyone right now,” he said. “Instead of feeling like a dummy and getting turned down, I want to build my resume and experience.”

Goodwin is not alone is his quest for experience in order to stand out in a competitive job market.

Alissa VanMeeteren has not received a job offer yet, but the University of South Dakota political science and economics major said she is not worried.

VanMeeteren, of Yankton, S.D., said she has interviewed for jobs with the university’s foundation and in state government. She is looking to build her professional experience before applying to law school.

Although the economy has been tough on young adults just entering the work force, it may have helped them become better job candidates, VanMeeteren said. Students are seeing they need to pursue career-related activities outside the classroom such as clubs and internships in order to get a competitive edge.

VanMeeteren’s experience includes serving as the Student Government Association’s president and as an intern for the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means.

“I think some of the classes before us just were not as actively engaged,” she said. “They had an entitlement mentality, or thought finding a job after graduation would be no big deal. I think the difference now is, we know it’s not easy to find a job.”

IMPROVED PROSPECTS

Despite challenges still facing the economy, things are not all doom and gloom for graduates, especially those in highly sought-after fields.

AIB College of Business graduate Rheanne Haws, of Sioux City, said she did not start looking for a job until after graduation. Haws graduated in December with a bachelor's degree in court reporting. She started working at the Woodbury County Courthouse about a month ago.

“Was I ever concerned? No, not really,” Haws said about her job prospects. “My teachers were telling me people are always looking for court reporters. They said, ‘You will never have difficulty finding a job.’”

Chris Balliet, of Sioux City, lined up a job even before he graduates from Morningside College on Saturday with a business administration degree.

Balliet said he started his search early in the spring semester and was persistent in sending out applications. It was not uncommon for Balliet to go through 20 emails a week detailing job openings.

That persistence paid off when he got an interview with K&B Transportation in South Sioux City. He got the job and starts Monday.

“It was a little stressful,” Balliet said of his search. “You’re always focused on getting that job right out of college.”

Morningside College career counselor Stacie Hays said she is seeing students in specialized fields do the best at securing employment before graduation, compared with peers in liberal arts programs.

Highly sought-after fields include technology, business and nursing.

Students who use modern job-search techniques have also been faring well. That includes using social media such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to network with potential employers.

The school has even done away with traditional job fairs.

“Networking is the best way to get a job,” Hays said. “Do you engage people on tools liked LinkedIn or Twitter? It helps you be seen.”

Davies-Vogt has had her resume reviewed four times to make sure she was not making a mistake. No problems were found.

Davies-Vogt said she will start hand-delivering applications to schools. She hopes that will mean the difference in landing a job in large districts that may receive several hundred applications.

“I’m trying to stand out,” she said.

Inside

Summer jobs can play an important part in preparing students for a career. LIVING C1