As seniors make their way back to campus for their last classes, they can be cautiously optimistic that they may find a job when they have that diploma in their hands.
A new analysis of the entry-level job market by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, and shows the market continues to strengthen for college grads. The bad news is that it's highly competitive, and may force some of them to look at unplanned, and unexpected, career paths.
The report also notes that the 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, CEO of the firm.
"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 (www.naceweb.org), 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.