The menacing clouds that have hung over the job market for recent college graduates are not parting completely, but a few rays of light are finally breaking through. For the first time in nearly two years, the hiring climate looks hospitable—if only slightly so—to new graduates, according to a report on the 2010 job outlook from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE. The report, based on a survey of 177 employers of various sizes nationwide, projects that 5.3 percent more new graduates will be hired this year than were last year. "The 2009 graduates were hit pretty hard," says David Leibig, associate director of career services at Villanova University. "There's the cautious optimism that things are slowly—and I think slowly is the key word there—getting better."
Cautious optimism may feel like exuberance for those about to receive their diplomas. This time last year, NACE's report indicated that hiring for 2009 grads would decrease by 21.6 percent. While those dismal figures have swung, the recessionary storm is far from passing, and experts caution that students should not wait for a job to fall in their laps as they might have done in flusher years. Nearly half of the firms that took part in the 2010 survey reported that their recruitment budgets decreased this year, meaning fewer companies are attending career fairs and sending recruiters to schools. "They do have jobs available," says Andrea Koncz, employment information manager at NACE. "They just might not come out to campus to recruit for them. They might post them online and [use] less expensive recruiting methods."
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Experts say the employers' limited reach means that students need to be more active in their job-search process and better prepared during the limited times when companies do make an appearance on campus. "If the students aren't able to take advantage of the opportunity—a career fair or symposium—they aren't going to be considered a serious candidate," says James Tarbox, San Diego State University's director of career services.
Many employers, however, have been able to ramp up recruitment efforts after more than a year of stagnation. Hitachi Consulting, a Dallas-based firm, visited fewer campuses and reduced its hiring targets during its 2008-2009 hiring cycle. This year it has increased its college graduate hiring target by 60 percent over last. Company recruiting executives are confident that the turnaround is no short-term event, "[Hiring] absolutely has increased in this last cycle," says Todd Vician, Hitachi's manager of campus recruiting. "We anticipate continued growth-probably not to that same degree-but early indicators show another increase [this fall]."
The hiring turnaround is spearheaded by several industries hoping to expand rapidly. According to NACE data, manufacturing jobs are growing the fastest—projected to expand by almost 60 percent this year for college graduates—after falling off during the recession. Officials at college career services offices across the country indicate that accounting firms are experiencing no drop-off in hiring and continue to recruit heavily on campuses. Career experts also point out the budding availability of government jobs to recent graduates, especially those with liberal arts backgrounds who possess easily transferable skills. "Government hiring continues to be strong," says Monica Wilson, associate director of employer relations at Dartmouth College. "The government is doing a better job communicating openings to college career services offices."
The outlook isn't as rosy for every career path. Many state governments find their budgets in disarray in the wake of the recession, which has put a damper on education recruitment. At San Diego State, Tarbox claims that only 15 school districts were represented at a campus career fair, down from roughly 50 in years past. Though the NACE report indicates that the healthcare field is a fertile one for new graduates, nursing students may find it barren. Before the recession, it was common for nursing students to field multiple job offers. Now, many nursing students have had to lower their expectations of finding a job soon after graduation. "Three or four years ago, our nursing students had hardly any problem getting the job they wanted," says Leibig. "They've been brought back to the rest of the pack. It's tougher for them now, especially in metropolitan areas."