College Students' Most Wanted Employers, But Are They Hiring?

College students at a job fair in CaliforniaThere are many polls published each year that rank the companies college students want to work for most. For the most part, they have similar results: everyone wants to work for Google, followed by major accounting and consulting firms, with Wall Street banking firms sliding down the list.Take this recent survey from Universum Group, a corporate branding consultant, which ranked the top 50 "most attractive employers" for 2010. Based on responses from 130,000 college students worldwide, Universum ranked the Top 50 employers for business-focused majors: The Top 10, in descending order are:

  1. Google
  2. KPMG
  3. Ernst & Young
  4. PricewaterhouseCoopers
  5. Deloitte
  6. Proctor & Gamble
  7. Microsoft
  8. Coca-Cola
  9. JPMorgan Chase
  10. Goldman Sachs

But if you're dreaming of working for Google or Facebook when you graduate next year, have a backup plan. "Everyone wants to work there, but they're not hiring much, so be realistic," says Philip D. Gardner, director of research for the Collegiate Employment Research Institute (CERI) at Michigan State University.

But plenty of large companies are hiring for entry-level positions, and those desirable accounting/consulting firms are indeed filling slots. According to, here are the top 10, entry-level employers this year, and the number of new employees they intend to hire:
  1. Verizon Wireless (10,500)
  2. Enterprise Rent-A-Car (8,000)
  3. Teach for America (4,500)
  4. Peace Corps (4,150)
  5. Hertz Car Rental (3,500)
  6. Ernst & Young (1,977)
  7. KPMG (1,750)
  8. Target (1,700)
  9. General Electric (1,600)
  10. PricewaterhouseCoopers (1,440)
But that was for this year, which is nearly over. What's in store for 2011? Two organizations that track hiring trends among college graduates just came out with their forecasts and the future looks better -- somewhat -- for the Class of 2011.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which releases its report this month, said employers responding to its survey reported plans to hire 13.5% more new bachelor's graduates next year than it did in 2010. CERI's Gardner, who just released his report on college recruiting trends, said the hiring of new graduates is expected to increase by 10%. "This step is the first out of a deep hole, but the recovery in the college market does not run deep at this time," he said.

So who's hiring?
Edwin Koc, research director for NACE, says hiring will be up across the board. "There's virtually no industry where hiring is not expected to increase," Koc said. "Even small companies have higher expectations. One exception is government, which was the bright spot for the past few years but is now hiring less."

Gardner says there are two types of companies that are hiring most often: large companies filling slots that have gone unfilled because of long-time hiring freezes, and small, fast-growing companies creating new positions. He says nearly 40% of employers are seeking candidates from all majors; they're focusing more on the skills and abilities they need from employees rather than academic major. However, business majors will be the most wanted, because of a rebound in accounting hires. Engineering hires will be sluggish, with the exception of computer science and IT students, whose market is exploding. Majors that will see fewer job opportunities are construction, law, publishing, nursing, social services and health sciences.

Where are the jobs?
Koc says a hiring rebound is happening across the country. "There's not a single region where hiring is declining. The Southeast has the slowest growth rate, because so many federal government agencies are in or near Washington D.C., but even so, it will see an 8% increase."

The CERI report also agrees that the job market for college grads is recovering nationwide. Gardner predicts the biggest rebound in the Great Lakes states like Michigan, Illinois and Ohio, which were hit hardest by the recession, with a 13% increase in hiring. The Mid-Atlantic states and the South-Central region (Texas) are also showing strong growth, but Gardner says employers in the Northeast, Southwest and Northwest are not as positive. In short, you may have better opportunities for jobs in states like Texas, Virginia and Maryland, but not as much in New York, Massachusetts, California, Arizona or Washington.

What's the pay?
Although your chances of getting a job next year are better, you may not be happy with the pay. According to CERI, starting salaries for bachelors have dropped deeply, from $46,500 in 2008-09 to $36,866 this year.

If you are thinking of skipping the job hunt after graduation and going on to graduate school instead, think twice about getting an MBA. They're not as much in demand as before, says Gardner. "Some employers are increasing their hiring of them, while an equal amount of companies are decreasing them. And the supply of graduating MBA students is high right now, so the numbers of them on the job market will be backed up next year and the year after that," he said.

Gardner recommends that MBAs who went straight from college to graduate school are the weakest links. "If you're an MBA without a lot of work experience, you'll be getting a bachelor's degree-level salary in exchange for that costly degree you earned."
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