This post is for our readers who will graduate in Spring 2009…Apples_in_snow

Fall generally finds me in the thick of two different seasons: the on-campus recruiting season for full-time jobs and the “apple season” (my cousins have an orchard where they grow and sell over 85 different kinds of apples). In many ways, the seasons are similar: both generally run from late August to early November, with a peak in mid-September to October. By November, the apples are generally off the trees and offers are “on the table” as many companies complete the majority of their entry-level hiring decisions for the year.

This year, I feel that I am reaching the end of not just a season, but perhaps an era: Wall Street banks will never be quite the same post-reorganization and my cousins have decided that it is time—after almost 70 years—to sell the farm. I’m reminded of a piece Barbara Ehrenreich wrote back in 1985 entitled “How You Can Save Wall Street”:

A free-enterprise economy depends only on markets, and according to the most advanced mathematical macroeconomic theory, markets depend only on moods: specifically, the mood of the men in the pinstripes, also known as the Boys on the Street. When the Boys are in a good mood, the market thrives; when they get scared or sullen, it is time for each one of us to look into the retail apple business.

I am not an economist, and I won’t prognosticate about what this particular season means for the “pinstripe set,” but here are a few observations on the similarities between recruiting and the retail apple business:

Crop condition, valuation, and supply are dependent on climate, market demand, and assessed value—as well as the ability to make projections.
Purchasers of large numbers of apples and companies who make a significant number of hires do so in good faith that supplies (or services) that are purchased will be needed later on—and will keep in the interim provided that proper storage conditions are provided. (Like apples, job offers received for on-campus interviews frequently have an expiration date.)

Demand is dependent on the ability to make projections; when there’s less perceived need—there are fewer opportunities to be picked. As can be expected, the number of overall recruiting opportunities is down slightly this year. The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently reported that many employers have scaled back on hiring expectations:

The decreased expectation for college hiring that occurred between August and October was broadly felt across industries. Only government as a sector saw a significant increase in hiring expectations, while manufacturing and professional services remain essentially flat. All other industry categories decreased their hiring expectations for the Class of 2009.

Regardless of what's available, the conditions have to be right for the picking: apple picking and on-campus recruiting are both processes of mutual selection. Just as the over-aggressive job seeker turns off an otherwise willing employer; twisting an apple stem will result in a selection of an under-ripened piece of fruit. The proper technique to pick an apple is to cup your hand beneath the fruit, roll it up gently towards the sky and see if it lands in your hand. If it’s ready, it will come. The same holds true for full-time positions—your chances of a fit increase when you and your prospective employer are both fully prepared to consider working together. If a company can’t hire you now, don’t give up: they may be able to make it happen later on.

This year, expect harvest times to be staggered—hiring will take place on more of an as-needed basis than a calendar-based one, and competition for the prime fruit will be fierce. If you’ve been passed over, assess your skills, enhance your strengths and polish your resume and online presence so that you can be picked when an opportunity becomes available. Once it does, choose what is offered to you carefully: take the time to make sure that the position you are selected to fill meets your needs—and that you can continue to grow with it. (There’s no need to look into the retail apple business just yet, though I do know of an opportunity…)

If there are any lessons to be learned this fall, it is that timing is sometimes beyond our control. If you are in the market for a new position, the best way to get started is to keep growing and to prepare for opportunity when it does come. How will you get ready?

Cross-posted at the Career Hub.