Back In Demand
This spring's graduates will find company recruiters eagerly seeking their services
The job market looked dismal when Casey Mullaney began attending career fairs and meeting with employers as a sophomore at the University of Georgia in 2002. Now a senior, the 21-year-old marketing major has interned, endlessly revised and tailored her resume, and even taken a for-credit class in career planning. Her preparation, combined with an uptick in hiring, helped her land the job she wanted with General Mills near Atlanta. "Now I can relax for my last few months of school while my classmates are still out looking," she says.
The job market for college graduates is rebounding after several sluggish years that forced many to flee to graduate schools or into jobs outside their chosen fields. Employers say they are planning to hire 13 percent more college grads this academic year than the previous year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers' annual survey. "It has been very slow to change, but things are moving cautiously in the right direction," says NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes.
While campus recruiting has not yet returned to pre-2001 levels, college grads are back in demand. More than 80 percent of the employers surveyed by NACE rated the job market for new college grads as good, very good, or excellent, and the outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas says the nearly 1.4 million students graduating this spring can expect the strongest entry-level job market in the past three years. "Recruiters have been coming to campus and just going through the motions, but now they actually have jobs to offer," says Larry Routh, director of career services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The number of recruiters at UNL's February job fair jumped from 139 last year to 175 this year.
Hot hands. The news is especially good for students in hot career fields like business, healthcare, engineering, and accounting. There are even some modest increases expected in average starting salaries. "We are seeing many students having to decide between multiple job offers rather than not having jobs at all," says Mary Spencer, director of the placement office at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. "It's impossible not to find a job; the options are unreal," says Toni Kunstmann, a senior in the nursing program, who landed a position at a local hospital with a $15,000 signing bonus.
Tom Reifenberg, a senior at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., received an offer from Ford in mid-December and proposed to his girlfriend a few days later. When the automaker said it would pay for his move 350 miles north to Detroit and foot the bill for an M.B.A. at the University of Michigan, Reifenberg accepted the job. "I wanted to work for a large company after going to school at a small college, and this was the perfect offer," says Reifenberg, who will begin work in the company's finance department this summer.
While private companies are hiring more entry-level workers, most public agencies are not--except for security-related jobs. The CIA and the Justice Department are looking, especially for candidates with language or criminology skills. The FBI projects adding 3,000 entry-level workers, and the National Security Agency plans to add as many as 1,000.
Starting early and being persistent are still the best strategies for landing any job, career counselors say. Job websites may have changed the number of resumes that companies themselves process, but they haven't changed the basic skills needed, such as good communication ability and work experience. Graduates with degrees in fields that are less in demand, like liberal arts, should highlight these skills in their interviews.
For some, the burgeoning entry-level job market means a second chance. Christopher Nelson, 25, graduated from the University of Maryland in 2001 with a degree in journalism but ended up working as a flight instructor in Baltimore. Now he's hoping for a new career in pharmaceutical sales. At a UM career center workshop on business etiquette, he scanned the room of soon-to-be graduates. "There seem to be more opportunities," he says. "I just hope I can land a job before these seniors get out there."
This story appears in the March 21, 2005 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.