Keep your eyes on the prize. College students have long been encouraged to focus on the end goal of employment while studying. Don’t get a degree in philosophy. Work an internship. Network. Getting a good job in San Antonio, a large city with a competitive labor pool, requires all of the above. In short: post-grad employment begins pre-grad.
Picking something that just sounds like fun is no longer — if it ever was — the right way to pick a field of study and a career. It’s essential to find something that is a good fit for making a living.
“It’s sad to see when people enter into jobs that they’re not particularly interested in and they don’t find it fulfilling, and then you see behaviors come out of that where they start that job-hopping behavior,” said Audrey Magnuson, director of UTSA’s career services office. “So that’s not really what you want to do. You want to do a little exploration.”
Students today tend to graduate with more than just their degree on their resume. Practical experience is valuable in nearly every field. “The one’s who are doing internships are usually finding better connections, because they can usually get opportunities with the organization that they worked with previously,” said Twyla Hough, assistant director at Trinity University’s career services office. “Or a competition or someone else will see that they’ve done an internship doing the type of work they need to do, and they’ll be more willing to hire them than someone who hasn’t,”
Another major benefit of these internships is that they can help keep students from heading down the wrong path. Both Hough and Magnuson said that they have seen students come back from internships only to decide they had no interest in working in the field they had planned on pursuing.
While finding a good fit is important, not all majors are equal. Many of the majors that translate well into careers in San Antonio are the predictable sort. “Engineering, accounting, information systems, computer science; those are the ones that I would tell you are the top recruiting areas,” Magnuson said. “The ones that are having the most trouble can be the ones that are usually liberal art or don’t have any direct application.”
That doesn’t mean graduates can’t get a job immediately, it just means they have to find the fit.
Three fields are booming right now in the Alamo City: energy, cyber-technology, and healthcare.
San Antonio’s economy has been bolstered by oilfield development across South Texas' Eagle Ford shale formation, a benefit to job seekers across the board. A study earlier this year found that the development in the oil patch increased revenues in the state by over $350 million in its first year and the 10-year forecast shows more economic prosperity to come. San Antonio is also home to the headquarters of Valero and Tesoro, two major players in the energy game.
Clean energy is also starting to flourish and is expected to grow. UTSA’s Texas Sustainable Research Initiative is training engineering students to be a part of the San Antonio’s shift toward cleaner power sources like wind and solar. Green energy is also one of Mayor Castro’s focuses, so it won’t be surprising to see this industry expand here.
San Antonio’s growth in cyber technology has been aided greatly by the military's sizable SA footprint, as the armed forces’ interest in cyber security extends beyond enlisted servicemembers. “The Air Force hires a lot of new graduates. Which is interesting because they do hire private sector students. In fact, the reason that the cyber command for the Air Force, which you’ve heard it referred to as the ‘24th Air Force,’ they are the group that does all of the cyber security for the Air Force. And the [National Security Administration] is also located here, they were here first. They hire college graduates who come out of our local cyber programs,” Becky Bridges of the San Antonio Chamber of Commerce said.
Bridges said that these initial government jobs helped the cyber technology grow, and now there are private companies that offer recent San Antonio grads employment opportunities, too. One of these firms is The Denim Group. Headed by a group with close ties to Trinity, Denim specializes in cyber security.
“Most of the folk we hire are coming out of school with computer science degrees, just because that’s what we do,” Dan Cornell, the chief technology officer of The Denim Group, said. “Computer science or computer engineering.” Cornell said that while the degree is essential, more is needed in the cyber technology field.
“When we’re hiring people coming straight out of college, what we’re looking for from them is the ability to learn,” Cornell said. “Really what we are looking for from any hire, but especially hires that are coming from college, is their ability to learn new technologies and learn new things, because that’s really critical to the type of work that we do. The world’s always changing, technology is changing, so we need folk that are going to be able to keep current.”
San Antonio also continues to offer opportunities in medical related fields.
“The other sector that always has steady growth, that is steady and growing, is our health care industry. We add a lot of jobs to health care every year. That’s everything from not just the hospital systems, but also bioscience, research, devices, home healthcare, anything affiliated with medical manufacturing, is all growing and continues to see growth in San Antonio,” Bridges said.
The wheels of all of this employment searching, no matter what kind of job a student is looking for, can always be greased by networking. Businesses often maintain ties with universities to aid in their recruiting process.
“We have relationships with professors at some of the universities, and that can also be helpful for us in the hiring process, to be able to reach out to professors to be able to learn more about the students, because, you know, everybody’s resume is pretty much very similar for new folks,” Cornell said. “For candidates that can come in and say, ‘I come highly recommended from professor XYZ,’ if they’ve built that kind of relationship with professors or other folks at the university, that can translate to us, ‘Hey, I’m talking to a person, and someone is willing to stand up for them. That can be a strong indicator as well.”
Much of what getting a job comes down to is leg work. It is the sort of thing that not only help you open doors, but also makes people remember you.
“Students, they need to understand a little bit better that the responsibility of finding a job is gonna fall on them,” Cornell said. “So they need to be more proactive. We’re in the situation where I’ll speak to a class of students, I’ll hand them a card of mine, and they’ll never bother to call.”