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College Graduation Catch 22

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In a few short weeks, approximately 1.5 million kids will graduate from American colleges and universities, the largest graduating class in history.

Call them Boomlets (children of boomers) … or Gen Y … or Millennials.

But whatever you call them, the current circumstances in the global economy will probably conspire to forge a resistance to stereotyping this crowd — after all.

They are the best educated, most tech-savvy, and most media-saturated generation ever. They are digital natives and they bring great prowess to potential employers — yet (here comes the first Catch 22) — in huge numbers they are entering the worst hiring environment since the Great Depression, which was – as they say – “like, about, like 80 years ago.” (For more on this, watch this report from the “Today Show” last week featuring an unemployed young grad, an unemployed recruiter, and yours truly.)

Vault.com recently surveyed recruiters and three of four told us they plan to reduce their hiring goals for 2009. In fact, only 7% said they were upping the goal for this year. What’s worse for the Class of ’09 (and 2010): more than 40% of company recruiters say they will go to fewer campuses this year and 25% say they will reduce on-campus spending.

This is more ironic considering just two short years ago executives and recruiting experts were wringing their hands about a pending “retirement tsunami” which would turn this into a sellers’ market on steroids. And – so the thinking went – it would be made worse because of the perception that these kids coming out of college were the most spoiled and entitled generation of all time. Pity the poor employer (buyer) right?

Wrong.

Guess what? After the sudden departures of Bear and Lehman, followed by the cratering of AIG, Fannie and Freddie, Wachovia, and seemingly dozens of major retailers, unemployment soared to almost 8% and suddenly it has become a buyers’ market after all. The Class of 2009 faces the perfect storm on the job front: a shrinking pool of available jobs, a lot of lateral competition from peers, and unexpected competition from unemployed “elders” (even, in some cases, elderly!)

The best blogs are always personal, right?

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Okay, then here’s another Catch 22 that’s hitting me right between my eyes. My daughter will graduate in May from Colgate University with a fine education … and no job. And my son will graduate a few months later from the University of Maryland. Both of them are smart, responsible, well groomed, reasonably polite and enterprising - so my fingers are crossed. But, I am concerned for them because none of us has any idea just how difficult things could become. On the other hand, as an employer, I’m delighted to sit on the buyer’s side of the table in a buyer’s market. We employers haven’t had the upper hand for several years.

But it’s small consolation in an environment when hiring will be limited by falling profits and tight credit.

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Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of Vault.com, Inc. Mr. Sorenson, 52, oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company. He is widely regarded as an expert on media strategy and industry trends, with experience spanning radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Internet. From 1998 through 2004, Mr. Sorenson served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel. He has won more than twenty Emmy awards as a writer, producer, and television executive.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com