Staffing Management

Job Market Slowly Easing as College Grads Trade Books for Briefcases

By Heather O'Neill

Jun. 21, 2011

Google needs help—lots of it.

With its Android mobile phone platform booming, Google Inc. is on a hiring binge like never before in the company’s decade-plus history. More than 6,000 people will find jobs with Google in various capacities by the end of 2011—a record number of new hires for the Mountain View, California-based technology juggernaut.

“Android has 350,000 new activations every 24 hours. Our display network has a $2.5 billion run rate,” says Google spokesman Jordan Newman says of Android’s future earning potential for the company. “Our business is growing, and we are looking for great people to come and join the team.”

Google, like thousands of companies both large and small, is finding its “great people” on college campuses nationwide in bigger numbers than in the past two years, career counselors say. Certainly the recession hit hard across all campuses but the uptick in hiring this year has been noticeable, they add.

Consulting firm Deloitte, like Google, relies heavily on college graduates to fill jobs. Deloitte reported late last year that it plans to hire more than 18,000 people in fiscal 2011 and anticipates that the number will increase in 2012, a number exceeding the company’s pre-recession hiring, according to Diane Borhani, national director of campus recruiting for Deloitte.

About one-third of the hires will be recent graduates, she adds.

It is happening slowly, but it is happening: The job market is gradually gaining steam, much to the relief of both students and career counselors on college campuses.

“Things are still slowly getting better,” says Kathy Williams, director of the Center for Career Development at Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) College, a private liberal arts institution. “It is better than it has been over the last several years, but the economic recovery is not happening as fast as we would like and certainly not as fast as the students would like.”

Gettysburg’s graduating class of 569 students has accepted more full-time jobs before graduation than 2010 or 2009, Williams says. This year 18.5 percent of students have full-time jobs in their chosen field compared with16.2 percent of the graduates in 2010. In 2009, only 14.5 percent had accepted a job after graduation.

“More students have accepted full-time positions prior to graduation this year. The types of positions they have accepted are more career-oriented jobs than what we were seeing in 2009,” Williams says. “The students that graduated in 2009 had a particularly rough time, and some are still having a rough time finding that first career-oriented job.”

Williams points to another clue that the economy is improving for college students: The number of Gettysburg students attending graduate school immediately following college dropped this year. In 2010, 25.8 percent of students immediately went into a graduate program; this year only 18.5 percent have similar plans.

“In down times, graduate school is the default plan, so you can see that there is a huge drop this year,” she says. “It says that more people are finding that the employment prospects are looking better this year.”

The job market for graduates is markedly better this year than it was in 2009 and 2010, says Edwin Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE. A survey of member employers indicates that this year hiring has increased by 19 percent over 2010. Koc says a double-digit hiring increase is an indication of a positive job market.

“The number of full-time positions available to students has increased overall this year,” Koc says. “College students should have a reasonable expectation of finding full-time work because there are opportunities out there.”

While there are more jobs across the board, Koc says graduates with majors in computer science, accounting, engineering and economics are doing particularly well.

“This is a year where technical abilities are really being emphasized,” he said.

Additionally, employers are seeking graduates who are capable of working with quantitative data and who have strong communication skills.

While the job market may be improving, Koc says, students are not expecting higher salaries. In its annual earnings survey, NACE found that recent graduates with a liberal arts degree are looking for starting salaries of around $35,000, business and accounting majors are seeking roughly $40,000 and engineering and computer science majors are hoping to earn around $50,000. The expectations are similar to those found during the past several years.

“This year the salary expectations are fairly consistent with the offers that they actually get,” Koc says. “As a matter of fact, this year the offers may be slightly higher than their expectations, which is different than the last couple of years where the actual offers were slightly lower than the expectation.”

Regardless of the school’s size or affiliation, colleges and universities are seeing improvement. Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the University of Virginia reported a higher number of graduates with full-time jobs, according to a study by media relations firm Morrison & Tyson Communications.

At the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the numbers are especially encouraging. Anne Scholl-Fiedler, director of career services, says 60 percent of students graduating UMBC are employed in entry-level positions in fields such as government; education; intelligence and security; biotechnology; and science.

Vassar College, a small liberal arts school Poughkeepsie, New York, reflects a similar hiring trend. About 18 percent of its 660 graduating seniors left campus with a job this year.

“I am cautious but it seems like things seem a bit better,” says Mary Raymond, Vassar’s director of Career Development. “It feels like there are more opportunities at this stage of the game. In April we began sensing that firms may have underhired in the fall and that more opportunities were coming our way.”

For those students who aren’t employed by graduation, graduate school and gap-year programs are a popular alternative to the 40-hour workweek.

“We call them gap-year programs because they are one- or two-year explorations,” Raymond says. “It’s an immersion program without a long-term commitment.” Raymond names the Japanese Exchange and Teaching program, Teach for America, City Hall Fellows and the Peace Corps as popular choices.”

Counselors warn that, despite some movement in the job market, competition for jobs is still fierce. They counsel recent graduates not to lose heart if they have not found their dream job by the time they don their cap and gown.

“The economy isn’t always going to be the way that it is now and that if they give in to negative thinking, it is not going to get them anywhere,” Raymond says. “In this economy, it is about making your own luck and using what you’ve got. I sometimes have to remind them that they aren’t entitled to anything.

“They think, ‘Well I’ve worked hard. I did everything everyone told me to do, so where is my job,’ ” she says. “It isn’t that type of entitlement system. It is about what you are going to do with the privileges you’ve had. How are you going to make a contribution back to society?”

Workforce Management Online, June 2011Register Now!

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