What Do Employers Want From College Grads This Year?

Read the full analysis here.



Hey College Grads, Things Are Looking Up

With college seniors around the nation returning to their respective campuses following spring break recess, many will undoubtedly turn their attention to their impending graduation and the search for their first post-collegiate job.  A new analysis of the entry-level job market estimates that while the job market continues to strengthen for college graduates, the environment remains highly competitive, which may force some to pursue unexpected career paths.

In its annual college graduate job-market outlook, global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc. says this year’s crop of 1.8 million bachelor’s degree recipients will be able to take advantage of the 36 consecutive months of private-sector employment growth that has occurred since the jobs recovery began in earnest in March 2010.

“Job creation has been slow, but it has been steady.  Over the past 14 months, private payrolls have grown by an average of 190,000 new workers per month.  There are a growing number of opportunities for job seekers, but the search definitely requires an aggressive approach.  This is especially true for new graduates, who are likely to have less real-world experience to point to in job interviews,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

“This lack of experience would have less impact if they were only competing for jobs with their fellow graduates.  However, in this economy, it is likely that they will be vying for entry-level job opportunities with those who have been in the workforce for one to five years.  They may even be competing with seniors looking for any opportunity to continue working even it means taking a dramatic cut in pay, title and responsibility,” he added.

Despite increased competition for entry-level positions, the latest data on starting salaries suggest that demand for new graduates is on the rise.  According to a January survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.naceweb.org), the average starting salary for new college graduates earning bachelor’s degrees increased 3.4 percent over last year.  The biggest gains were achieved by those in education, whose starting salaries rose by 5.4 percent from $38,581 for the class of 2011 to $40,668 for last year’s graduating class.

While those in education saw the biggest increase, last year’s graduates with a bachelor’s degree in engineering enjoyed the highest starting salary at $62,655, up 3.8 percent from $60,344 for 2011 graduates.

Engineering and technology graduates are likely to experience some of the shortest post-graduation job search times.  In fact, the most talented students in these fields may have multiple job offers to weigh before they even collect their diplomas, according to Challenger.

Read the full report here.

Advice For Entry-Level Job Seekers


This year’s crop of college graduates are entering the best entry-level job market in three years, but the competition for positions will continue to be fierce, according to the workplace authorities at global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc., which offered some tips to help recent graduates improve their chances of job-search success.

“The key to success for graduates is to be aggressive.  Yes, the job market is improving, but they are not only competing against their fellow graduates, they are also competing with people who graduated last year and the year before and may already have some work experience under their belt.  Job seekers, regardless of age or experience, cannot afford to take a passive approach to the job search in the current environment,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

College graduates could not be entering the job market at a better time.  While the previous two spring graduating classes entered during a jobless recovery, this year’s class is entering the job market just as it finally appears to be gaining real momentum.  April marked the third consecutive month in which payrolls experienced net gains exceeding 200,000.  Since February 1, the private sector has added 760,000 new workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Further evidence of the improving college grad job market is found in a survey of employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which revealed that hiring of new graduates across all degrees and majors will increase by 21 percent.

“Despite the vastly improved conditions, college grads cannot simply send out some resumes and wait by the phone waiting for interview requests.  Many young job seekers may still have to settle for a position that pays less than expected or is not quite on the career path they envisioned,” noted Challenger.


Start job search immediately.   Some college graduates might be tempted to enjoy one last summer of freedom before embarking on their career path.  However, such a decision could be detrimental to the job search and cause prospective employers to question your commitment and work ethic.

Include volunteer work on resume, in interviews.  Young job seekers often omit volunteer work from their resumes and interviews, particularly if the volunteer work is not associated with their chosen career path.  They reason, “Volunteering at the homeless shelter has no relation to pharmaceutical sales, so why mention it.”  However, nothing could be further from the truth.  Volunteer work tells prospective employers a lot about your personality, character, work ethic and commitment, all of which are inevitably just as important in the hiring decision as the technical skills you learned in school.

Be aggressive; get out from behind the computer.  The internet has made the job search easier than ever.  However, too many young job seekers make the mistake of focusing all of their time and energy on combing online job sites and sending electronic resumes.  The online job boards are just one tool available to job seekers and one that should not be neglected.  However, most successful job seekers use multiple tools, and focus most of their time and energy on networking; meeting face-to-face with people who can help advance your job search.

Use your existing network.  Many recent college graduates mistakenly conclude that they are unable to build an effective network.  The assumption is that they are too young to have enough established contacts in a position to help.  However, college graduates have a much bigger network foundation than they imagine.  It starts with one’s parents and the parents of college and high school friends.  Fellow graduates may also be a source of information or connections to employers.  It is also important to utilize your school’s professors and alumni, all of whom are typically more than willing to provide guidance, connections and job leads.

Show willingness to work anywhere, anytime.  One major advantage recent college graduates have over more experienced job seekers is that they are far less likely to be tied down by a house and family.  They have the ability to go wherever the jobs are.  Let prospective employers know that you are willing to go wherever they need your skills.  With many companies experiencing faster growth in foreign markets, there is a good chance that a job with a multinational corporation could result in the opportunity to work overseas.  Embrace these opportunities, because they don’t come often.  Additionally, because of the expansion of the global economy, more jobs here involve working hours that line up with operations on the other side of the globe.  Let employers know that you can work hours that other employees may be unwilling or unable to.

Keep options open.  It is important to remember that your first job is not your job for life.  Be open to exploring occupations and industries that may diverge significantly from what you may have prepared for in school.  Every job provides foundational experience, even those that are unrelated to your desired career path.


College Grads Face Better Market, Stiff Competition

With the nation’s employers finally beginning to ramp up hiring, this year’s crop of nearly 1.7 million college graduates should enjoy the most welcoming entry-level job market in the last three years.  However, finding a position will by no means be easy and many spring graduates may have to settle for less money or for a job outside of their preferred career path, according to a new outlook from global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

“Entry-level hiring has not returned to pre-recession levels, but this year’s graduates should find markedly improved job-search conditions.  Colleges and universities around the country are reporting increased on-campus recruiting and surveys of employers indicate more graduate hiring, as companies rebuild their bench-strength after massive layoffs during the downturn,” saidJohn A. Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

After months of tepid job creation, it appears that employers are finally beginning to accelerate hiring.  The latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in 2010, private-sector payrolls averaged net gains of 98,000 new jobs per month.  In the first three months of 2011, average monthly job gains have jumped to 188,000.  In February and March alone, private-sector employers added 470,000 new jobs, the largest two-month employment gain since 2006.

The surge in hiring could not have come at a better time for college seniors, many of whom are just a few weeks away from graduation.  A survey of 170 employers by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.naceweb.org) found that they plan to increase hiring of new graduates across all degrees and majors by 21 percent.

In a broader survey of 4,600 employers, the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at MichiganStateUniversity(www.ceri.msu.edu) found that hiring for graduates with bachelor’s degrees will increase about 10 percent.  That represents the first increase in hiring for these graduates in two years, according to the Research Institute’s report.

Meanwhile, several campuses across the country are reporting increased recruiting visits by employers.  The Texas Christian University newspaper, The Daily Skiff, reported that the number of on-campus interviews at the school was up 10 percent from a year ago and that the number of employers participating in the school’s spring career expo increased from 63 in 2010 to 80 this year.  TheUniversity ofMichigan reports a 47-percent increase in on-campus recruiting since fall.  Employer participation in the annual “Just in Time” job fair at theUniversity of California -Berkeley recovered to the point that the event returned to a two-day schedule after three years of being compressed into one day.

“There definitely is pent up demand for entry-level workers.  During the recession, many companies made significant cuts to their workforce, retaining only the most talented and most experienced workers.  As companies begin to rebound, they will focus on finding and cultivating the next crop of talent,” said Challenger.

The demand for entry-level workers can be seen in Bureau of Labor Statistics data showing that 20- to 24-year-olds saw the largest employment increase over the first three months of 2011.  The number of people in this age group working grew by 308,000 or 2.4 percent.  Employment among 25- to 34-year-olds and 35- to 44-year-olds each grew by less than one percent, and employment among 45- to 54-year-olds fell by 1.1 percent.

“In this hiring environment, recent graduates have two distinct advantages.  First, they presumably have the basic skills necessary to succeed in the workplace, but, as far as the employer is concerned, they are blank slates.  This is a good thing for an employer that wants the ability to mold its next generation of workers, as opposed to re-shaping someone who came from another employer with ingrained work habits, skills, and knowledge that may not fit with the company’s culture or approach to business,” said Challenger.

“Secondly, recent college graduates are extremely flexible in terms of where they work and when they work.  They are not tied down by an underwater mortgage or a family, so they can go wherever the company needs them to go.  And, because many don’t have the family commitments that many 30-something and older workers do, they are more willing to work longer and/or non-traditional hours,” he noted.

Even with the entry-level market improving, Challenger warns that finding a position will remain challenging and fiercely competitive.

“Graduates are not only competing for jobs with their fellow classmates, but they are going head-to-head with people who graduated in 2010, 2009 and even 2008.  Some of these job seekers might already have some on-the-job experience, while others have been waiting tables or working in other non-career areas until the job market improved.  Competition will also come from people who are currently employed, who see a healthier job market as an opportunity to seek greener pastures,” said Challenger.

“The competitive nature of the job market requires an aggressive approach to the job search.  Soon-to-be graduates cannot expect to hand out a few resumes at job fairs and reply to some online postings and simply wait for the offers to come pouring in.  Make no mistake, job fairs and online job boards have their place in the job search, but to be successful a well-rounded strategy is required.

“One of the most important elements of a successful job search, for both entry-level job seekers and their more-experienced counterparts, is networking and meeting face-to-face with people who can help advance the job search.  College graduates who believe they are too young to have an effective network are simply wrong.  Parents, professors, former internship supervisors and even college and former high school classmates can be valuable sources when it comes to building and expanding one’s network,” said Challenger.

“Finally, graduates should not confine their searches to a specific industry or occupation.  The job market is not robust enough to provide the ideal job situation for every individual.  It seldom is.  So, someone may come out of college with the plan to find a marketing position with a consumer products company.  There’s nothing wrong with having a specific goal like that, but don’t make the mistake of adhering to it so closely that you overlook opportunities in marketing for a chemical company or health care provider, for example,” he said.

Full report (PDF): http://www.challengergray.com/press/PressRelease.aspx?PressUid=170

Back-To-School Report: Internships Critical

As the roughly 12 million students enrolled in four-year degree-granting colleges and universities prepare to begin their fall semester over the coming days and weeks, many will attempt to supplement their classroom education with real-world lessons gained through part-time internships. Internships have never been more important, according to one workplace authority, but he warns that landing one has never been more difficult.

“The job market will continue to be tough for college students graduating next spring. Chances are good that it will still be tough in four years for those entering their freshman year this fall. Getting on-the-job experience through internships will be critical. Unfortunately, the number of internships nationwide has not returned to pre-recession levels and competition for those spots are fierce,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas, Inc.

The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the job market is beginning to make a comeback. While the government has shed tens of thousands of temporary Census workers over the last couple of months, payrolls in the private sector have seen seven consecutive months of net gains, adding a total of 630,000 new jobs to the economy.

While the employment statistics are trending in a positive direction, it could take years for the job market to fully recover. Following the relatively mild 2001 recession, it took nearly four years for the unemployment rate to fall below 5.0 percent and it never achieved its pre-recession level of 4.2 percent.

“Each new class of spring graduates should see some improvement in the job market, but it will remain extremely competitive for several years. In this environment it becomes necessary to set yourself apart from fellow classmates, not to mention their job-search competitors with a few years of experience. Internships are vital in this respect,” said Challenger.

A recent survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that 42.3 percent of graduating seniors with internship experience received at least one job offer when applying for post-college employment. Meanwhile, only 30.7 percent of seniors without internship experience who applied for a job received an offer.

“As far as employers are concerned, what you learn in the classroom is not nearly as important as what you can learn on the job. When an employer sees an internship on an applicant’s resume, it immediately signals that this person has experience working in a professional environment with deadlines, objectives, expectations and with people of varying personalities, skill sets and at different levels of an organization,” said Challenger.

As the overall job market continues to improve, the internship market should also see gains. In fact, it already has. According to the NACE internship survey, employers plan to increase the number of internships by 2.9 percent in 2010. This follows a bleak 2009 internship market, which shrank by 20 percent.

“Unfortunately, the increase in internships may not be much help for underclassmen and seniors seeking positions during the fall or spring semester. Unlike a decade ago, when internships were reserved almost exclusively for those still in school, today’s college interns are competing with candidates who recently graduated. And, in this economy, they are just as likely to compete with professionals who graduated 10 years ago,” noted Challenger.

In a survey of 2,534 employers by online job-search site CareerBuilder.com, nearly one-quarter (23 percent) said they are seeing seasoned veterans, those with more than 10 years of experience as well as mature workers, age 50 and older, apply for internships.

“College internship seekers can greatly improve their odds of success by going through their school’s career center or finding opportunities through professors. Many colleges and universities maintain close relationships with companies in their communities, so these will be natural targets for openings,” Challenger advised.

“Students seeking internships also should not hesitate to approach companies that are not officially seeking interns. Many smaller firms are so focused on day-to-day operations that establishing internship programs fall off the radar. However, if approached by an enthusiastic student about creating an internship position, many will acquiesce,” he added.

“Once an intern is on the job, it is critical to treat each day like a job interview. Internships frequently lead to full-time positions following graduation, but you must set yourself apart from your fellow interns. With the job market in recovery and employers slow to add new workers, it is critical that interns exceed expectations. Those who merely meet expectations probably will not get the full-time job offer,” said Challenger.

“Meeting the right people during your internship is also critical. It is likely that the person supervising the interns is relatively low on the corporate totem pole. In fact, he or she may be only a year or two out of college. The intern with full-time job aspirations should make a daily effort to meet the managers and executives who make the hiring decisions. The higher up the executive you impress, the greater the odds that a permanent position will be found for you,” he added.

“Students who do not receive an offer from the company where they interned can still benefit from the experience. Managers and executives in the company represent the beginning of your job-search network. Even if they cannot find a spot for you in their company, they may know executives in another company that may have openings.”

John Challenger provided the following advice for this school year’s crop of fall and spring interns to improve their chances of being offered a full-time job or the opportunity to return next summer, in the case of non-graduating college students:


Treat your internship as a real job.

The best way to prove you are qualified for a permanent position is through action. Think of your internship as a trial period or extended interview for obtaining the position you desire. Always be on time and meet deadlines. Maintain a positive attitude and show that you are eager to learn and succeed by seeking out feedback to improve your performance and develop new skills.

Take initiative and exceed expectations.

By taking initiative you can show management what you are capable of. Do not be afraid to voice your own ideas, offer solutions, and ask questions. Show interest in attending meetings and seek out extra work and new projects. When you go above and beyond the minimum, you demonstrate your commitment level and gain the attention of management.

Dress according to company dress codes.

While you want to stand out from the pack, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself for the wrong reasons. By dressing professionally you reinforce the impression that you can adapt to and fit in with the company’s culture.

Keep track of your contributions and accomplishments.

Keep track of the projects you worked on, your individual contributions, and the results achieved. Having a tangible record of your achievements with the company is a helpful tool in convincing a manager why you should be hired full time.

Network, network, network.

Developing contacts inside and outside of your department is extremely important. Schedule lunches or meetings with company managers and executives to give them a better understanding of who you are and what you plan on accomplishing. Find a mentor to teach you the ropes of the organization and offer advice on company politics. The contacts you make through your internship could prove invaluable throughout your time at the organization and throughout your career.

Ask about available entry-level positions.

Ask about what positions are available and express your interest in them. An employer will be more likely to consider you for a position if they know you are interested in it.

Stay in contact.

If you don’t get hired for a position immediately after your internship ends, stay in touch. Check-in with your contacts and provide updates on your progress. This will keep you in the forefront of the employer’s mind when a position becomes available.