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Hunts deferred, opportunities lost

For some 1990s grads who took time off to plot paths, stark job picture is a shock

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When Anna Wilking graduated from Barnard College in 1999 with a degree in sociology, the jobs appeared to be hers for the picking.

But employers would have to wait.

Ms. Wilking decided to go abroad to teach English and learn Spanish. Young, bright, and energetic, she figured she could afford to take her time. And it couldn't hurt to layer her résumé with experiences that would show her to be inquisitive and open to new situations.

By the time she wrapped up a Fulbright scholarship in Madrid last summer - setting her up to work on a future doctorate in Latin American studies - Wilking was ready for a day job.

She expected to find a job with the city council working on behalf of New York's Latino communities. But she was told there were no openings.

"It's been a real stumble for me," says Wilking, who has spent the past year balancing four or five part-time jobs - from working in a video store to waitressing. "After college I thought I could get any job.... Not being able to find full-time employment has been a slap in the face."

For many of those who graduated from college in the go-go atmosphere of the late 1990s, professional goals seemed as attainable as gym memberships. But for those who took time off to loaf, travel, or even attend graduate school, the employment picture has changed. Many opportunities dried up as the economy slid.

"There are a lot of levels of frustration out there," says Michael Cahill, director of Syracuse University's Center for Career Services. "[I tell job seekers] to try and erase the memory of two or three years ago. It is a different world now."

Those just leaving graduate schools are among the most disillusioned.

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