For the first time since the 2000-2001 academic year, hiring of new college graduates is expected to increase by about 13 percent. However, there will be fiercer competition than ever for those jobs.
According to outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc, the 1.3 million grads looking for work will be outnumbered by 3.2 million jobless 20- to 24-year-olds, 9 million stay-at-home parents who could reenter the labor force at any time, and millions of 65- to 69-year-old retirees forced back to work by lack of health insurance and high credit card debt.
The most promising sign for improved entry-level hiring comes from a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which found that, on average, employers plan to hire nearly 13 percent more new college graduates in 2004 than they hired last spring.
"However, by no means does this signal a return to the type of entry-level hiring activity we saw in the late 1990s, when many graduates were able to pick and choose among several suitors and often negotiate generous signing bonuses," adds CEO John Challenger.
The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that there were 1.5 million 20- to 24-year-olds actively seeking employment in January, which precludes them from being full-time students, since they must be available to work at the time of the survey. In addition, the government counted another 1.7 million 20- to 24-year-olds who had not actively sought work in January and therefore were not counted among the unemployed, but who want to work and who are available to work.
Further competition could come from the nation's stay-at-home parents, who could decide at any given moment to return to the workforce. In 2002, the latest year for which BLS data is available, there were 4.9 million married couples with children under six that had just one working parent.
"Once children reach six and become full-time students, the odds of the stay-at-home parent reentering the job market - even if seeking only part-time employment - greatly increase," Challenger claims.
Older jobseekers may prove to be among the toughest competition for this year's crop of graduates. Most of the hiring that has occurred over the last three years has been among jobseekers 55 and over.
Challenger advises soon-to-be graduates to begin a vigorous job-search effort, without delay.
"Many graduates do not have the first idea on how to approach a real-life job search," Challenger declares. "They may have received bits and pieces of advice from parents and/or college career counselors, but very few have a comprehensive understanding of the hard work it takes to find a job."
The first thing graduates must realize, according to Challenger, is that they may not find a job in the field for which they just finished four years of study. However, this should not discourage them, as the first job typically serves as a stepping stone and often is not related to the career in which people end up.
Be Wise About the Web
Challenger strongly encourages new graduates to avoid over-dependence on the Internet. "This is perhaps the most difficult concept for many young people to grasp. After growing up with the Internet and coming to the conclusion that all the answers in the world can be found there, it can come as quite a shock to learn that a very small percentage of Internet job searches ends in success.
"The best job search tool is the one that has always been the most successful - that is reaching out to people. Start with your parents and your parents' friends. Call extended family members wherever they may be. Tell every new person you meet that you are seeking employment. The more people who know you are looking for a job, the more opportunities that will come to light," Challenger counsels.
He offers this additional advice on how recent graduates can gain a competitive advantage:
Promote your job search. Begin with friends, family and neighbors. Talk to professors and former employers. Also utilize your school's alumni directories.
Ask your parents for assistance. In an effort to prove their adult independence, many college graduates avoid seeking the help of their parents. However, by doing so, graduates are eliminating a potential gold mine of job leads.
Contact the hiring authority, not HR. Human Resources rarely makes the final hiring decision, unless the job opening is in that department.
Seek interviews when others are not. Often, the key to obtaining an interview is having the flexibility to fit into the interviewer1s busy schedule. Suggest an interview before or after business hours, on Saturday, or even at a convenient restaurant location.
Be aggressive and unconventional. Some jobseekers are afraid to employ more aggressive or unconventional techniques to obtain interviews. However, these are often the methods that stand out in an interviewer's mind and can lead to a job.
Global marketing: The global economy has fueled the need for people who understand foreign markets and cultures. Those who can read and write a second language will be particularly valuable to employers. Entry-level salaries for marketing majors are expected to average $36,000 in 2004. The median annual salary for all workers in this field was $58,600 in 2003, while the top 10 percent of experienced marketing professionals earned more than $135,000.
Human resources management: As companies prepare to expand payrolls in 2004, the first place workers could be added is in the human resources department. Starting salaries range from $32,000 for entry-level human resource generalists, training coordinators and assistants, up to $48,000 for entry-level benefits and compensation analysts. Experienced directors and managers earn between $69,000 and $119,000.
Accountants/auditors: Constantly changing tax codes ensure that demand for accounting professionals will remain high. Additionally, increased scrutiny over corporate finances will keep internal and external auditors busy for years to come. Graduates in accounting can expect starting salaries to range between $29,500 and $42,500, depending on the size of the employer. Those who rise to the director level can earn six-figure salaries.
Financial advisors/analysts: In addition to growing demand for retirement planning among baby boomers, many younger people are taking a much more proactive and personal approach to financial planning. This, combined with increased institutional investment, is quickly escalating demand for financial analysts. Starting salaries can range between $37,000 and $42,000, not including annual bonuses commonly awarded by firms in these areas.
Nurses, physical therapists: These professions will benefit from the aging population of baby boomers. Demand is already growing for in-home nurses. Meanwhile, baby boomers' desire to stay active will increase demand for physical therapists, whose entry-level salaries averaged $46,000 in 2002, a 10 percent increase from 1999. Nurses earn an average of $40,706 in their first year on the job. The average increases to $53,414 for nurses with one to five years experience.
IT consultants: The technology industry may be struggling, but there is enough technology out there to keep these specialists busy for a lifetime. IT professionals need to expand their searches to healthcare, government, and other Old Economy institutions, all of which need people to manage their computer, information and network systems. Starting salaries for new graduates range from about $29,000 to more than $50,000.