1.8 Million 2013 Four-Year College Grads Entering Improving Job Market

Posted March 27, 2013 by
John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas

John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas

With college seniors around the nation returning to their respective campuses following spring break recess, many will undoubtedly turn their attention to their impending graduation and the search for their first post-collegiate job.  A new analysis of the entry-level job market estimates that while the job market continues to strengthen for college graduates, the environment remains highly competitive, which may force some to pursue unexpected career paths.

In its annual college graduate job-market outlook, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. says this year’s crop of 1.8 million bachelor’s degree recipients will be able to take advantage of the 36 consecutive months of private-sector employment growth that has occurred since the jobs recovery began in earnest in March 2010.

“Job creation has been slow, but it has been steady.  Over the past 14 months, private payrolls have grown by an average of 190,000 new workers per month.  There are a growing number of opportunities for job seekers, but the search definitely requires an aggressive approach.  This is especially true for new graduates, who are likely to have less real-world experience to point to in job interviews,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“This lack of experience would have less impact if they were only competing for jobs with their fellow graduates.  However, in this economy, it is likely that they will be vying for entry-level job opportunities with those who have been in the workforce for one to five years.  They may even be competing with seniors looking for any opportunity to continue working even it means taking a dramatic cut in pay, title and responsibility,” he added.

Despite increased competition for entry-level positions, the latest data on starting salaries suggest that demand for new graduates is on the rise.  According to a January survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the average starting salary for new college graduates earning bachelor’s degrees increased 3.4 percent over last year.  The biggest gains were achieved by those in education, whose starting salaries rose by 5.4 percent from $38,581 for the class of 2011 to $40,668 for last year’s graduating class.

While those in education saw the biggest increase, last year’s graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering enjoyed the highest starting salary at $62,655, up 3.8 percent from $60,344 for 2011 graduates.

Engineering and technology graduates are likely to experience some of the shortest post-graduation job search times.  In fact, the most talented students in these fields may have multiple job offers to weigh before they even collect their diplomas, according to Challenger.

Daniel Newell, a job developer and marketing specialist in the career center at the technically-oriented San Jose State University in California, told the school’s newspaper that in the past six months more than 1,000 new businesses had registered to recruit at the school.  At one recent job fair, 36 percent of attending employers were seeking computer science majors and 32 percent were looking for computer engineering majors.

“While technology graduates always seem to be in demand, we are also seeing increased demand among those with concentrations in business, health services, education, and communications.  Slower-than-ideal job creation and increased competition should not be seen as insurmountable obstacles by soon-to-be graduates,” said Challenger.

“Employers value experience, but they also need young, entry-level workers.  They represent a blank-slate and can be molded to fit the company’s needs.  It can be more difficult and costly to retrain people with several years of experience than to simply start from scratch with those fresh out of college.  Moreover, most of today’s college graduates are not entirely void of experience.  Many have participated in internships or co-ops.  Others held down jobs throughout their college experience.  Even if those jobs were not related to the graduate’s career of choice, the mere fact that he or she has on-the-job experience is valuable to employers,” said Challenger.

While starting salaries are not yet available for this year’s graduates, on-campus recruiting activity at several schools appears to be up from a year ago.  An article in the Northern Star, the campus newspaper for Northern Illinois University, reported that one recent job fair included 190 employers.  The number of employers attending the 2012 spring job fair was not provided, but Mary Myers, the school’s director of campus and employer relations, did say that not as many companies attended last year’s fair due to the economy.

Even with increased demand and on-campus recruiting, finding that first job will not be easy.  However, while it may take some time to find that first post-graduation position, there is no doubt that having a four-year degree is a significant advantage in the job market.  Since January 2012, employment among those 25 and older with a four-year degree expanded by nearly 2.3 million.  Over the same period, the number of Americans 25 and older with some college or an associate’s degree grew by just 507,000.

The college graduates who are likely to have the most success are those with the flexibility to go wherever the jobs are located.

Recent graduates may not have to move far to find the best job markets, as several of the metropolitan areas enjoying the lowest unemployment rates in the country also home to major colleges and universities.  The unemployment rate in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the main campus of the University of Nebraska is located, was 4.2 percent in January.  In Madison, the home of the University of Wisconsin, January unemployment was 5.8 percent.  Students graduating this spring from the University of Colorado in Boulder can enter a local job market with an unemployment rate of 5.5 percent.

“In January, there were 47 metropolitan areas with unemployment rates under six percent.  There were another 51 with a jobless rate between 6.0 percent and 7.0 percent, still below the national average of 7.7 percent.  These are definitely places, soon-to-be graduates should be considering when casting their job-search nets.

“Regardless of where one searches for employment, the competitive nature of the job market requires an aggressive approach to the job search.  Soon-to-be graduates cannot expect to hand out a few resumes at job fairs and reply to some online postings and simply wait for a phone call or email.  Make no mistake, job fairs and online job boards have their place in the job search, but to be successful a well-rounded strategy is required.

“One of the most important elements of a successful job search, for both entry-level job seekers and their more-experienced counterparts, is networking and meeting face-to-face with people who can help advance the job search.  College graduates who believe they are too young to have an effective network are simply wrong.  Parents, professors, former internship supervisors and even college and former high school classmates can be valuable sources when it comes to building and expanding one’s network,” said Challenger.

“Finally, graduates should not confine their searches to a specific industry or occupation.  The job market is not robust enough to provide the ideal job situation for every individual.  It seldom is.  So, someone may come out of college with the plan to find a marketing position with a consumer products company.  There’s nothing wrong with having a specific goal like that, but don’t make the mistake of adhering to it so closely that you overlook opportunities in marketing for a chemical company or health care provider, for example,” he said.

The graduates who may enjoy the most success are those seeking employment in occupations expected to experience the largest job growth over the next decade.  According to projections by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job categories where demand for workers with four-year degrees will continue to be strong through 2020 include accounting, engineering, information technology, financial services, sales and marketing, and human resources, to name just a few.

“Again, the key is to avoid setting to many limitations on your search.  Just because you studied accounting does not mean you have to work for an accounting firm.  Home health agencies and hospitals are adding hundreds of thousands of workers over the next decade, some of whom will be accountants.  These health care organizations also need information technology workers, marketing specialists, industry analysts, risk managers, grant writers, etc.  Do not hesitate to look outside of your comfort zone,” Challenger advised.

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