Graduating seniors seeking jobs meet with company recruiters at a University of Iowa job fair on March 8, 2013.
Credit: Danielle Wilde/IowaWatch

A few weeks shy of graduating in May, Brandt Heitman is ready to take a mechanical engineering degree from Iowa State University to a job at AllSteel in Muscatine, debt free.

“Engineering is a tech field and everyone needs engineers,” a confident Heitman, 23, said about working at the office furniture manufacturing company where he did an internship three years ago.

But while job prospects have improved in some professions since previous years, this spring’s Iowa college graduates with the best chances to land jobs will be those demonstrating professional experience they gained while in college from more than place.

“In 1999, one internship was good. Now, you might need three internships to get ahead of the curve,” Angi McKie, marketing and public relations director at the University of Iowa’s Pomerantz Career Center, said.

Brandt Heitman, ISU '13

“Employers will compare apples to apples. More experience means there are more apples in one basket than the other.”

Heitman’s first internship at AllSteel, for example, was one of four he had in college.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) has found graduates who have had paid internships are more likely to land jobs sooner than those who had unpaid positions or no internship experience at all. Moreover, research from the association, which connects campus career centers and college recruiters in human resources departments, shows that students who take full advantage of career centers tend to do better in the job market.

That edge for the first job out of college is important because competition in the job market has tightened. A new survey released April 17 by NACE revealed that employers are not as gung-ho about their hiring plans as they were previously.

Employers surveyed in the NACE Job Outlook Spring Update said they expect to hire, overall, 2.1 percent more 2013 college graduates than they hired from the Class of 2012. They had been more optimistic in fall 2012 when they anticipated hiring 13 percent more, the report states.

Despite that, prospects for jobs in a wide variety of fields in Iowa are better than they were at this time last year, Kerry Koonce, communications director at Iowa Workforce Development, said.

Several industries across the board have seen growth, Koonce said, especially in high-tech and fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The largest concentration of workers reported in Iowa’s labor analysis for 2012, released in March, was in education, health care and social services.

McKie said the Pomerantz Career Center has facilitated more interviews this year than last. Some UI job fairs have had waiting lists for employer registration, she said.

Students who have plugged away at part-time unpaid internships of about 10 hours per week while holding a part-time job, all while going to school, are getting attention, McKie said. Other university activities, like clubs or sports, can help offset less work experience in some cases.

Hanna Bartholic spent her last semester at Drake University applying for advertising internships in the Twin Cities area and was nervous. “The competition for entry level jobs (at advertising agencies) is extremely competitive,” Bartholic, 22 and a Minnesota native, said.

She has worked with her academic adviser to network and find positions that fit her interests. “It’s really finding ones that fit with the things that I want to do, that I’m having the most trouble with,” she said.

Sarah Smith, ISU

Sarah Smith, 22, an ISU senior who is to graduate with a degree in graphic design, has taken internships while in college and worked through online sources like,, ISU’s career management resources, faculty emails and word-of-mouth.

“With the economy today, it’s obviously hard to tell,” Smith said about prospects for landing a job in graphic design out of college.

One consistent fact every year for college graduates seeking jobs, regardless of the economy or fluctuations in industry hiring patterns, is that flexibility helps. Mount Mercy University senior Bruce Payne is willing to relocate, even though he prefers to use his double major in criminal justice and computer science in the Cedar Rapids area.

Tech-savvy even in high school student, Payne, 22, said he wants to help people solve technology problems, as well as pursue his dream since junior high school of being in law enforcement. “I’ve always wanted to help others and serve my community, having every day be a new day,” Payne said.


Click the map to hear graduating seniors from Iowa State University (Ames), Drake University (Des Moines), the University of Iowa (Iowa City) and Mount Mercy University (Cedar Rapids) talk about their job plans. Interviews were conducted in March by student journalists at those universities.

Interactive graphic by Lauren Mills/IowaWatch


Advice a student gets in college matters when it comes to getting a job after graduation. Payne, for example, selected his double major on the advice of an academic counselor.

William Penn University has a career mentoring program that pairs students with working professionals. Any student, including those in the College for Working Adults program, may apply to have a mentor. Mentors must have been in the work force for two years and have at least a bachelor’s degree.

“We want our students to have a link to the real world and to be successful after they graduate,” Career Services Coordinator Debbie Stevens said.


Luis Islas, a junior at William Penn, is a coordinating assistant for the Career Mentoring program and has a mentor himself – Eighth Judicial District Court Judge Joel Yates, who earned his undergraduate degree at Mount Mercy in 1986 and law degree at Drake in 1994.

“There have been other programs, but none geared toward getting students exactly where they want to be in the work force,” Islas, 21, said about efforts on the William Penn campus to help students get good jobs out of college.

Tammy Stegman, career coordinator for Business Career Services at ISU, said she hears increasingly from employers that they want employees with the ability to think analytically, using data and reasoning to clearly back up their decisions. Stegman also stressed the importance of how applicants present themselves. “It is your job to tell the employer your worth,” she said.

Stephen Schulz, director of talent acquisition for Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, calls these factors “the intangibles.” Strength in areas like communication, presentation, professionalism and energy level, he said, translates to a higher likelihood of success in the workplace.

Interviews act as a make-it or break-it moment for employers. Schulz lists his top tips for the interview process: be on time, do your research, be professional, act the part and ask high quality questions. His biggest advice to job applicants is to plan how to market or differentiate themselves enough to make an impact on employers.

Young job applicants also are susceptible to interview killers. Schulz’s interview “no-no’s” are poor grammar, lack of knowledge about the business and the market it functions in and failure to follow up after the interview.

“You really have to dot the “I”s and cross the “T”s,” said Mimi Collins, director of communications for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Despite efforts to arm students with resources for the highest success, both Collins and Stegman agreed that students must be realistic and practical about their post-college opportunities. Knowing the appropriate entry point into a company and where that can lead in the long run, they said, is highly valuable.


Not surprisingly, college debt plays a key role in motivating graduating seniors to land jobs. Zach Sunderland, 21, on track to graduate in May with a degree in architecture from ISU, put it this way: “I figure, survive for now, graduate and work full time to start paying it off.”

Sunderland, who figures his debt when graduating will be $25,000 to $27,000, has a job lined up with an architecture and engineering firm where he did an internship last summer, and more work during the fall semester and winter break.


State economic development officials say they want students graduating from Iowa colleges and universities to stay in the state, but they know many will not.

The Iowa Economic Development Authority offers incentives to businesses to create jobs, or to compete with other states to host expansion projects for companies, Tina Hoffman, the EDA’s communications and marketing director, said.

“It’s not like a light switch, where we can create jobs and stop them. There are life cycles with business and companies,” Hoffman said. “It’s important for us to always remain competitive and compete for these projects and businesses change, and companies ebb and flow.”

(Above) University of Iowa elementary education major Alyssa Makropoulos talks with Lucas Ptacek, the associate principal of Northwest Junior High School of Coralville, at a March 8, 2013, University of Iowa job fair. (Below) A student meets with the Waterloo Community School District’s director of support services, Larry Martin (left), and Expo Alternative Learning Center high school principal, Brenton Shavers, in a mock interview at the job fair.
Credit: Danielle Wilde/IowaWatch

One industry that always has a lot of ebb and flow in Iowa is teaching. Alyssa Makropoulos, a 21-year-old UI senior from Naperville, Ill., who is to graduate in May with an elementary education major and a Spanish minor, would like to teach in the Iowa City or Des Moines area.

Nervous about graduation and how competitive she hears the teaching market is, she hopes opportunities exist. “Most of my friends who recently graduated in education are not currently working in education,” she said, although one friend has a job teaching kindergarten.

Makropoulos said she will graduate with about $20,000 in student loan debt.

UI Job Fair_Waterloo
Credit: Danielle Wilde/IowaWatch

The minimum pay for teachers in Iowa is $28,000 for beginners and $30,000 for career teachers. The average teacher salary in Iowa was $50,116 last fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2012.

Allison Millea, a senior at Drake, is student teaching at a high school in the Des Moines area this semester and has gone through several mock interviews with Des Moines superintendents. “That’s been really helpful and it’s easing a lot of my nerves about the actual interview and application process,” Millea, 21, said.

Millea has focused her search for jobs in the Des Moines area and around the Twin Cities. She puts items on her job application that she hopes show her personality in a favorable light. It’s all about standing out in a crowd.

“Even if it’s just a short question … I’ll try and put something funny in there or share an experience, just so that they (a school) can know that I’m a real person and not just an application,” she said.For all the students lining up jobs, however, others were going deep into their last semester, clinging to optimism

John Altendahl, 23, a fifth-year senior at ISU on track to graduate with a degree in marketing, said he was optimistic about finding a job because, based on his online search of the area in which he wants to live after graduating, the job market “seems pretty open.”

“Marketing is a very broad major and I think I can get a lot of business jobs with that so I’m not too worried,” Altendahl said.

Altendahl has been what he says is an on-campus “brand ambassador” for Coca-Cola, helping promote the brand to students. “Just having the Coca-Cola name behind me gives me a lot more credibility for what I want to do. So hopefully that will turn in to something else.”

Even so, and are on his list of places to search for a job or internship opportunity.

Sara Kurt

RELATED STORY: Personal Experiences Drive Career Choice for Mount Mercy Graduate

ALSO: Student Debt for Iowa’s New College Graduates Remains High, by IowaWatch

Additional Information:
Link to “Marketing Recruiters Weigh in on Hiring Trends, Provide Insights for 2013”

This report is part of a project by IowaWatch and participating college journalism programs. Students in the project were: Emily Drees, Iowa State University/Iowa State Daily; Lauren Horsch, Drake University; Taylor Grangaard, Mount Mercy University; Christopher Emery, Mount Mercy University; Kate Hayden, Simpson College; Melanie Mackey, William Penn University; and Nora Heaton, Sarah Hadley, Danielle Wilde and Kathryn Susik, University of Iowa and IowaWatch. Melanie Mackey’s contribution has appeared in William Penn’s The Chronicle.

This IowaWatch story was published in The Courier (Waterloo-Cedar Falls, IA),, Mount Mercy Times, The Telegraph Herald (Dubuque, IA) and The Gazette (Cedar Rapids, IA), and was the main source for stories by KCRG-TV (Cedar Rapids, IA) and the Business Record (Des Moines, IA).

Type of work:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *