Sunny Job Front for 2005 Graduates by Jeremy Thacker

It’s not 1999, and employers aren’t lurking outside universities to snatch up fresh IT grads, but the job outlook for new graduates is certainly brighter than it’s been in the past few years.

According to a new study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), companies plan to increase their hiring of recent college graduates by 13 percent from that of 2003-04. The study also shows that the majority of employers are experiencing increased competition when it comes to hiring entry-level graduates. In order to remain competitive, employers are improving their starting offers. Salaries in a number of fields including finance, marketing and engineering have increased their average starting rates by about five percent from 2004. Even graduates with typically less lucrative degrees, such as liberal arts, have seen an increase in starting salaries.

But employers will need to offer more than just a decent starting salary to entice new grads. Medical benefits are on the top of graduates’ wish lists since most will no longer be covered under their parents’ health insurance once they complete school. Beyond the traditional benefits package of medical, vacation and 401(k), graduates are seeking companies that offer opportunities for growth and advancement. Companies with a business-casual dress code and the latest software and gadgets will also score points with the twenty-something age bracket.

However, before graduates stroll in to prospective employers’ offices with a long list of demands, they should be warned that the job market is still competitive. Impressing employers with polished résumés and professional interviews has not lost its value. Remembering the basics is important – résumé typos or showing up late for the interview can squash a candidate’s chance at a job offer.

One struggle many new graduates have is convincing employers that they have enough experience to do the job. This is particularly difficult because most college classes only focus on the academic principles of future professions and not the daily tasks that will be required after graduation. It can be frustrating for graduates who have spent the last four years pouring over books and cramming for exams only to find that most employers are looking for candidates with hands-on experience in addition to a degree.

So, how does a recent graduate get a foot in the door? The answer lies in transferable job skills. If a job description states candidates should have two years of experience in customer service and sales, the freshly graduated may think they don’t have a shot. That isn’t necessarily true. Recent graduates need to review the skills and experience they’ve gained during their collegiate days as volunteers, students and part-time employees. Those skills are the key to showing prospective employers they have what it takes to do the job.

For instance, college students often work as restaurant servers. The sales and customer services skills required to be a successful server are also necessary to succeed in other fields. College jobs can be great résumé builders if applicants are able to identify the skills they’ve acquired that will be useful in future jobs. Customer service representatives, servers and retail clerks all have extensive experience in multitasking, dealing with difficult customers, creative problem solving and sales. It is important for new graduates to examine past work and volunteer experience and pinpoint the skills that can help them get their first professional job.

Internships and apprenticeships during college can also help candidates land their first professional job. While internships usually don’t pay much, they should be viewed as an investment that will pay off when graduates prepare to enter the workforce. In fact, internships are so valuable that in some fields employers won’t consider hiring a graduate who hasn’t interned. Internships also provide a way for students to determine whether their field of study is really the right career path for them.

Temporary staffing companies provide another way for new grads to enter the professional workforce. Staffing companies can give graduates an “in” at companies that would have otherwise been closed to them. Temporary positions can easily turn into permanent jobs when employees show their professionalism, dedication and enthusiasm. 

Historically, the majority of graduates will find jobs within six months of graduating, and a smaller percentage will opt to return to school for continuing education. New graduates should move toward the working world with optimism and professionalism. The job market is better than it’s been in a number of years, and entry-level salaries are on the rise. Graduates can help shorten the length of their job search and improve the odds of landing the jobs they want by showing employers the value of transferable job skills in addition to having a great résumé and interview.