Job market for grads is best in five years

Adam Milasincic

In the lottery of economic life, 2006 college graduates are poised to hit the jobs jackpot, according to a December 2005 survey of employers nationwide. Business recruiters project that employment prospects this year will be the hottest in half a decade for holders of newly minted degrees.

Of the 250 employers polled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 46 percent called the current job market very good or excellent. That figure is up from 29 percent last year and represents the most widespread employer optimism since 2001.

Employers also said they plan to expand their new graduate workforce by 14.5 percent this year. Average starting salaries are likely to be 3.7 percent higher than those offered to 2005 graduates.

“I know there’s more competition heating up for (employers),” said Andrea Koncz, who compiled the survey data for the association. “It could mean students have more than one offer to choose from as compared to years ago when they struggled just to get one offer.”

The booming market extends to Northeast Ohio and Kent State, according to Ami Haynes Hollis, a Career Services Center assistant director. Employers boosted their presence on campus this year, with 244 registering for recruitment events.

“We saw a definite decline in 2001 because of Sept. 11. Since then, the economy has been coming back stronger and stronger,” Hollis said.

U.S. employers created 193,000 new jobs in January, leading to the lowest unemployment rate in four years, according to the Department of Labor.

This year’s graduates will dive into a growing job pool as the first round of baby boomers starts to climb out, according to Hollis. Government positions will open particularly fast because 50 percent of the current public-sector workforce is expected to retire in the next decade.

“There’s going to be many more open positions than there are people to fill them,” Hollis said. “Beyond environmental concerns like Hurricane Katrina and the war in Iraq, I would expect (the job market) to increase.”

A strong national economy has direct implications for graduates, said Brian Lake, the district manager for the Green branch of Ameriprise Financial, a company that recruits new employees at Kent State. Lake said Ameriprise boost hiring by 25 percent to 30 percent this summer after four years of expansion and increased stock values.

“We’re looking for somebody to build a long-term career with us as opposed to just getting that first job out of college,” Lake said. “We look for a lot of drive and determination as well.”

Lake is seeking students with degrees in business or finance, but the jobs boom doesn’t stop there. While specialized degrees in engineering, accounting and computer sciences remain in highest demand, other majors offer options too, according to Hollis.

“We’re shifting to a service industry,” she said. “We’ve got a lot more employers focusing on skill sets versus education. There’s a lot of companies focusing on liberal arts.”

Most employers treasure something they say most new graduates don’t have: Communication skills. In the National Association of Colleges and Employers survey, respondents ranked those skills as the most important, just ahead of honesty and teamwork.

Liberal arts students are uniquely prepared to meet changing employer demands, Hollis said. She pointed to history majors as an example of those able to trade on an in-demand skill. Rather than limiting job searches to museums and academia, history students could translate their fondness for research into corporate analysis jobs.

How to cash in

One employer surveyed had a suggestion pulled from a personal recruiting horror story: Don’t be like the real-life candidate who left the room halfway through his interview, snorted a line of cocaine in the company restroom, and then came back for more questions.

Short of that, job seekers will face favorable odds this year. Still, those who wait for unsolicited job offers to flow into their e-mail boxes will be disappointed, Hollis said. A strong economy cannot help a candidate who doesn’t take proactive measures.

“It’s important to start early. It’s going to take four to eight months to find an entry-level position,” Hollis said. “Make sure you refine your communication and networking skills. Make sure your resume and cover letter are up-to-date and have been critiqued.”

Employers especially value internships and work experience, according to Koncz, author of the jobs survey. They also respect candidates who approach interviews with a working knowledge of the company and industry at hand.

“Year after year, they say college students should research the business where they’re applying,” Koncz said. “Get any relevant experience. They rate that pretty high.”

The companies polled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers include private-sector service providers and manufacturers along with some government and non-profit organizations. Extracts of the survey are available in the Career Services Center and online at www.naceweb.org.

Contact career services reporter Adam Milasincic at [email protected]