Job Market for Recent College Graduates: A Tale of Two Cities

The Job market for college graduatesThe job market for recent college graduates is increasingly looking like A Tale of Two Cities – one where a select group of grads thrive even as large numbers of their peers flounder.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, an estimated 1.7 million students will graduate with bachelor's degrees in the 2011 winter-spring graduation season.

And on the one hand, the 2011 job outlook is far brighter than it was a year ago, with companies planning to hire more people and pay on the upswing.

On the other hand, hiring is still tremendously competitive, more graduates than ever are struggling financially, and the best-paying jobs are highly concentrated among a handful college majors.The Haves and the Have-Nots

Recent data illustrate the complexity of the current job market for those who've recently earned college degrees.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), companies plan to hire 19.3% more recent graduates this year than they did in 2010. But which college majors are the most sought after? NACE reports that employers are most interested in hiring those with engineering, computer science and accounting/business degrees.

With more employers adding headcount, the current crop of college grads will face less competition for jobs. In 2011, the typical employer will have half as many people vying for a job than was the case last year: 21.1 applicants this year compared with 40.5 applicants in 2010, NACE data show.

Moreover, NACE's quarterly Salary Survey shows that the average salary offer to all class of 2011 graduates now stands at a respectable $50,462, up 5.9% over the overall average of $47,673 to the class of 2010 graduates.

That all sounds positive -- until you realize that other data is far more sobering.

For example, of the recent college grads who are unemployed, 53% of them have never received even a single, full-time job offer, according to Adecco Staffing US, which recently commissioned a survey of 500 young professionals who graduated between 2006 and 2010.

Among the Adecco survey's other findings:

  • Only 57% of recent college graduates are working full time.
  • Nearly half (43%) of recent graduates who do have a full-time job are working in positions that don't require a four-year degree.
  • Roughly one out of five (19%) of all undergraduates could land only temporary work within six months of graduation.

So even though the economy is picking up steam and hiring is improving, that's little consolation for the one out of three graduates who live at home Mom and Dad, or the two-thirds of grads who leave school with student loans averaging $23,000.

The Lost Generation?

If recent college graduates only had to tough it out and contend with a few rough years surrounding the recession, that would be one thing.

What's most alarming, however, is how being unemployed or underemployed during an economic downturn can impact a person's long-term financial well-being.

Statistics indicate that young adults who are unemployed or underemployed typically lag behind colleagues who are consistently employed -- in both earnings and career status -- and most never make up the lost ground.

So the bigger problem for the hundreds of thousands of struggling graduates from the class of 2011 is that their predicament could have negative lingering effects for decades to come.

And young adults are already apparently feeling the sting. Perhaps that's why 71% of recent college graduates polled by Adecco said they regretted not doing something differently to better prepare for the challenging job market.

Career Advice

So what are some career tips and job advice for college grads? Experts say to get more aggressive now about your job search, network more, apply for more jobs, and start job hunting sooner rather than later.

"Regardless of how the economy is fairing, graduates who proactively pound the pavement well before they finish their studies are more successful in landing a full-time job after graduation," says Joyce Russell, president of Adecco Staffing US.

"The best piece of advice for the graduating class of 2011 is to treat their job search as if it were a full-time job," says Russell. "The students who succeed are those who proactively put themselves out there and build relationships by networking with professors, working closely with university career centers, actively connecting with alumni, and capitalizing on real-world job experience through internships and temporary work."
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