TOPICS > Economy

Graduates Face Tough, but Improving, Job Market

BY Carolyn O'Hara  June 4, 2010 at 12:00 AM EST

Graduates celebrate at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

The U.S. economy added 431,000 jobs in May, the fifth consecutive month the jobs rolls have risen. But economists cautioned that many of the May jobs were driven by temporary hiring for the U.S. Census, and the moderate drop in the unemployment rate from 9.9 to 9.7 percent suggests that while the economy is still in healing mode.

That means that while this year’s college graduates face slightly better prospects than last year’s graduates, the outlook is hardly bright. A study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers suggests that employers expect to hire 5 percent more new college graduates this year over 2009. But average starting salaries are lower, and more graduates are taking their first offers.

To get a more complete sense of how this year’s job market compares to last year for new graduates, we talked to university career services directors from around the country for their insights.

Susan Terry, Director, The Career Center

University of Washington – Seattle

It’s no doubt that these challenging economic times have everyone on the edge of their seat, wondering what’s next in the job market. College graduates are no exception. But that doesn’t mean all is lost. In fact, there are indicators that the hiring market for college graduates may be slightly improved.

The customary majors that always hold favor with the hiring market continue to do so, and those are: accounting, business administration, computer science and engineering. The key for all majors, including the liberal arts, is to take action. Plan and implement a well-organized job search campaign. This is not a time to “wait and see.”

Thomas Matthews, Director, Career Center

Case Western University – Cleveland, Ohio

Generally, the opportunities available to the graduating class of 2010 are slightly better than those available to their peers in the class of 2009. Manufacturing in Northeast Ohio continues to decline, as it has for the past six to eight years, with an increased trend toward opportunities in healthcare, education, start-up companies, and the federal governments.

Graduates continue to find meaningful career opportunities in Northeast Ohio, but in increasingly large numbers are choosing to relocate, namely to Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. They also continue to make values-based career decisions, with many choosing Teach for America and the Peace Corps. A recent development: the earlier start time for the search for a full-time position. Fifty-six percent of those starting their careers upon graduation began their search at least nine to twelve months prior to graduation.

Carl Martellino, Director, Career Development Office

Pomona College – Claremont, California

At Pomona College, our students pursue a wide range of fields and industries. Due to the academic rigor, it is common for our students to wait until after graduation to place the full throttle on their job search. The Class of 2010 has done extraordinarily well, with 32 percent of the class employed and an additional 20 percent with a fellowship or graduate/professional school acceptance. Another 3 percent have volunteer or travel plans.

These numbers, specifically in the employed category, are more favorable than the past five graduating classes. Salaries held steady too. While we would have liked to see an uptick in pay, we were certainly pleased to not see a decline. This also suggests that not only did the percentage of our students who are employed increase, but the quality of those jobs has been maintained.

It is widely known that the most prominent method of locating employment is through networking. Partnerships with alumni, employers, internships, and other college and university career centers can create an extraordinary network of contacts, information, and resources that could not be accomplished in a silo. Our students, collectively, benefited from this network.

Christa Downey, Director, Arts & Sciences Career Services

Cornell University – Ithaca, New York

The 2010 graduates from the College of Arts & Sciences are doing considerably better in the job market than 2009 graduates. According to the 2010 Post-Graduate Survey, A&S graduates are employed at a higher rate than last year. At about the same response rate, 40 percent of A&S seniors are now employed compared to 27.9 percent of graduates in June 2009.

Teach For America or Cornell University will most likely turn out to be the organization employing the greatest number of graduates and both have been in the top five for years. Several of the big investment banks are hiring a fair number of students. The percentage employed in the finance industry is definitely up from last year, but education is still higher, mostly because of TFA and Cornell Medical College in Qatar. Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar hires many of our graduates for research and teaching assistant positions.

Lisa Severy, Director, Career Services

University of Colorado at Boulder – Boulder, Colorado

Helping new graduates navigate the volatile job market over the last few years has certainly kept all of us in Career Services very busy. One of the many challenges we face relates to addressing misconceptions people may have as a result of seeing only a small piece of a large picture. Students must be guided through a much more intensive process of looking at specific industries, disciplines, locations, companies, and other factors that will actually give a much more realistic picture of their specific job search rather than the job market in general.

The number of job postings here at CU-Boulder has remained remarkably consistent over the past four years. Some of the large-scale recruiting such as career fairs has seen a decline, but specific job opportunities have continued to come in for both students and alumni. As our students come from across the country and around the globe and many plan to return home after graduation, we try to provide a wide-range of opportunities rather than focusing too much on the Denver job market. We try to provide a realistic outlook for students so that they have a healthy balance of hopefulness in finding a good, entry-level professional job while acknowledging that the world of work is tough right now.