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2015 college graduates face best job market in years

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The job market has been steadily improving over the past few years and is now better than it’s been since the Great Recession for young college-educated entrants into the workforce. This is evident in the internship- and job-search situation today’s college students face:

• Hiring of college graduates this year (2014-15) will be up by 16 percent over last year. The leading sectors are: information services (up 51 percent), finance and insurance (31 percent), business and scientific services (24 percent), government (24 percent), manufacturing (17 percent) and nonprofits (16 percent), according to a survey by Michigan State University.
• More than half of employers are offering signing bonuses for new college-graduate hires, the highest percentage in five years, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).
• Engineering graduates will earn the highest average starting salary among all graduates in 2015, at $63,000 (petroleum engineers top out among engineering bachelor’s degree recipients, at $80,600). The lowest-paid BA recipients, in humanities, will average $45,000 to start (NACE).

At a “Life After College” event for upperclassmen and their families at the University of Portland, alumni from the past decade were on stage sharing their experiences and advice. Many of them hit the job market in the Great Recession.

The alumni speakers told the soon-to-be-graduates in a packed auditorium that even as the job market improves, they will still need to keep ‘upping’ their game to succeed. Jessica Whittaker graduated in the early 2000s and has mapped out a successful career in communications and marketing at a leading sportswear company in Portland. She often sits down for information interviews with young alumni.

“That basic Times New Roman resume, it really doesn’t cut it anymore,” says Whitaker. “You really need an infographic resume, a full portfiolio, a website, and if you have one, a short video talking about who you are and what your brand statement is.”

Junior Elizabeth MacNamara is a business major, and she’s feeling reasonably confident about the job market. She’s lining up an internship for the summer at a major regional retailer. “My goal is to get into a job immediately that I’m really happy with,” MacNamara says, “and to be able to stay there and move throughout the company.”

It’s not very likely: average job tenure is declining in America, and today’s young people will likely switch jobs every three or four years on average, says Dan Finnigan at recruiting website Jobvite.

Working for multiple employers early in her career suits fellow business major Kelsea Orren, though: “I honestly think I’ll probably jump around. You usually start pretty low in a company, so building your resume and getting higher jobs in other companies is more what I’m looking for.”

Management professor Peter Cappelli, director of the Human Resources program at the Wharton School, says it’s true that employers are working harder to find qualified employees than in the past seven or eight years. That’s a clear effect of the economy improving. But Cappelli says employers are not yet doubling down on salary or benefits to land and keep the best candidates. 

“It’s cheaper and smarter,” says Cappelli, “to spend your initial efforts with greater recruiting, before you start having to raise your pay or raise your perks.”

Cappelli says the labor market is still not tight like it was in the late 1990s when unemployment fell to 4 percent and no one who could work stayed on the sidelines. Today, he says, employers remain very selective in their hiring. Many will still hold out for the perfect candidate, even if it means leaving positions vacant for a while. He says employers want to find someone who already knows the job, has meaningful experience, and won’t need a lot of training before delivering to the bottom line. And, unless the job candidate is in one of a few high-demand professions—such as engineering or computer science—they had better be willing to take the salary that’s offered.

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