Want to feel stupid? Have a short conversation with some smart college students who -- despite the slowly recovering job market -- have worked, strategized and networked their way into good jobs before their mortarboards were even on order.
Take Dani Hauf, who graduated from Texas Christian University in December with a bachelor's degree in advertising and public relations. She has already switched jobs once.
A lot of Hauf's friends graduated with little practical experience in their majors to show off. Hauf wasn't one of them.
She was a resident assistant and assistant hall director, showing on her résumé that she led a team of several people. Hauf used Horned Frog alumni sites to root out a summer internship in 2008 in her home state of Colorado. Last summer, she scored an internship at Bell Helicopter, keeping it through the fall, when the company offered her a full-time job in November.
She started there in January, but jumped to a job in marketing and internal communications at Lockheed Martin Aeronautics a month ago, following "an old boss."
"I always keep my options open," she says.
What did other students do to land jobs? Here are some of their stories.
Degree: Just graduated from TCU, bachelor of business in marketing, Spanish minor.
New gig: Full-time marketing and business development coordinator, Gus Bates Co., Fort Worth, starting Monday.
Work life while in school: Sales at Victoria's Secret; marketing intern, Gus Bates Co. since February 2008; summer intern, 2009, at a Fort Worth ad agency while continuing to work at Gus Bates.
TCU résumé: Member of Neeley Fellows, a program that links business undergrads to area companies with visits, mock interviews, and consulting projects.
It's not hard to spot Addi Hall in a crowd. During one of her first mock interviews at TCU, her effusive energy reminded her reviewer of a symphony conductor. "I learned to slow down," she says.
Hall, 22, seemingly hasn't slowed much. While friends might have taken summers off to relax, she worked, taking an internship at Gus Bates, a benefits consultancy, her sophomore year and keeping it until she graduated and won a full-time job.
"I kept looking for opportunities where I could leave my mark," she says.
Hall worked her freshman year at a Victoria's Secret, "just to have a job."
"Starting from my sophomore year, everything's been pretty strategically focused," she said
Besides getting the experience, "I've really tried to pay as many of my own bills as possible," says Hall, whose mom is an English teacher in her Tennessee hometown.
For summer last year, she worked 20 to 25 hours a week as an intern at a Fort Worth ad agency while putting in the same workload at Gus Bates. Last fall, she became president of the American Marketing Association chapter at TCU.
Hall joined the Frog throngs at the Fiesta Bowl in January and put her job search into full gear after the holiday break, trolling TCU's Frog Jobs board and talking to professors and mentors. A friend put her into contact with an Arlington IT firm. Instead of leaving town during spring break, she sat down with her bosses at Gus Bates and carved out a job description. With offers from both companies in hand, she accepted Gus Bates'.
Having graduated May 8, Hall spent last week "trying to be on vacation." She moved into a new apartment on Fort Worth's south side. "Today's thank-you-writing day," she said Wednesday.
Degree: Just graduated from TCU with an MBA.
New gig: Business analyst, mortgage division, Capital One Financial, Plano.
Side gig: Statistician for a firm that collects and distributes statistics from Major League Baseball games.
Early obstacle cleared: Four years in sales and as an analyst for Ameritrade, and a good score on the Graduate Management Admission Test, got him into TCU's accelerated MBA program despite a 2.36 undergraduate GPA as a finance major at the University of Texas at Arlington.
Dean got his new job the way it's not supposed to happen.
Frustrated after not landing an interview for a job at a major investment firm he had heavily researched, he fired off "eight or nine" résumés in an hour this spring. The next day, he got a call from one the companies, his soon-to-be-employer, Capital One.
Dean, who got his MBA in one year, didn't set out to land a job by luck.
Once in the TCU program, he sought out a professor doing research on foreign investment in former Eastern Bloc nations, earning a job as a research assistant. Interested in the workings of the Federal Reserve Bank, he asked Frost Bank CEO Dick Evans a question during a TCU event and struck up a conversation afterward; Evans connected him to officials at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Dean used family connections to score a visit with executives at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport, as well as an all-day visit with a former telecom chief who's now a partner in a Little Rock investment firm.
"Dad keeps up with everybody," Dean says of his father, who's worked in fields ranging from sales to nonprofits. Dean, 28, said he's always been comfortable talking to adults, "even when I was a kid."
Once it was clear he would be offered a job at Capital One, Dean asked his contact, "when I'm ready to negotiate, who should I speak with?"
"They just rolled right with the question," he said. "I did a ton of research to understand the market rate in Dallas, and where Capital One would fit."
And he found the old headhunter who had brought him to Ameritrade. "She was able to give me a wealth of perspective."
Degree: Pursuing masters of education, University of North Texas.
New gig: Journalism teacher, student newspaper adviser, John Paul II High School, Plano.
Educational track: Earned an undergraduate degree in journalism and public relations from UNT in 2008; entered law school, but decided "this is not where I should be"; left to pursue masters of education at UNT, beginning in January.
Robinson wasn't looking to land a job this soon. She had just started her graduate degree in education, and wasn't expecting to see any openings for journalism teachers when she attended a recent career fair.
"Who needs a journalism teacher?" said Robinson, 23, who did several internships while getting her bachelor's degree in that field from UNT and then, by design, enrolled in law school. "But I'm a Christian. I have strong faith in God. All I need is one job. I don't need 10 journalism jobs. I only need one job."
As it turns out, there was one such job at the career fair, at Plano's John Paul II High School. She had overlooked the opening until a friend alerted her to it.
"The job fair was huge," she said. "I'm not a fan of job fairs. There are a lot of people, and they seem like ants."
Robinson made quick work of her job search. She met one of the school's administrators at the fair, got a quick call back, interviewed with the school's English teachers and then the principal, and was offered the job a week ago.
"Student teaching is what I would have been doing in the fall," she said. Instead, she starts her new job Aug. 1 and plans to finish her master's degree by spring 2012.
SCOTT NISHIMURA, 817-390-7808