This year’s college grads have something else to celebrate besides their diploma: Employers plan to hire 13% more new grads this year than last, says the National Association of Colleges and Employers. This marks the fourth straight year of growth, thanks mostly to a recovering economy. Better yet, businesses plan to bump up starting salaries by 5.3% for new-grad hires.
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Employers say the business climate is rebounding and their companies are growing. Big banks are recruiting again, and engineering majors—typically among the most employable—are seeing their prospects continue to improve. The need to replace retiring baby-boomers also means more hiring.
“We’re clawing our way back from the bottom,” says Phil Gardner, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University. Last fall, uncertainty about the November election and the “fiscal cliff” kept employers’ hiring plans conservative, says Gardner. He believes companies have been boosting hiring projections recently, but “the floodgate hasn’t opened yet,” he says. The 8.8% unemployment rate for young grads is well above pre-recession levels of 5.7%, says a recent report from the Economic Policy Institute.
This year’s most sought-after majors are the usual winners. At the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels, those are business, engineering and computer science, says NACE. There’s good news for liberal arts graduates, too. Hiring is up in sales-related fields, such as public relations, communications and marketing.
The city in which you apply may be just as important as your major. For example, hiring in the San Francisco Bay Area looks particularly positive this year, says Scott Anderson, chief economist of Bank of the West, thanks to plentiful science and technology jobs and increased recruiting in leisure and health care fields.
Graduates should still expect to hustle. Competition remains fierce, and hiring managers are picky, leaving positions unfilled when they can’t find a suitable candidate. To get in the door, you’re going to need to prove that you have relevant professional experience. Grades count, but internships, work experience and participation in co-op work-study programs count just as much. So-called soft skills, such as leadership and effective communication, are also in demand.
Recruiters still attend job fairs and partner with college career offices, but many employers say they plan to rely more on social media this year. That next hot job tip might pop up in your Twitter feed or on LinkedIn, so remember to clean up your online footprint (see Polish Your Online Image).