Bloomberg News

Major Matters for U.S. College Graduates Seeking Jobs

May 15, 2012

Still, in an economy that has yet to recover 5 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as the result of an 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, college graduates are in a better position to be hired. Photographer: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Still, in an economy that has yet to recover 5 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as the result of an 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, college graduates are in a better position to be hired. Photographer: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Accounting student Anne Rose will already have a job waiting when she receives her degree next week. Psychology major Echo Presgraves, another member of the Class of 2012, won’t be so fortunate.

Rose, 22, credits her choice of major as paving her way. She signed a contract with PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP before she even began her senior year at Villanova University’s School of Business in Pennsylvania, after completing an internship last summer with the audit and consulting firm.

“The major obviously has a huge role in it, compared to some of my friends that are marketing majors who still are struggling to find full-time employment right now,” said Rose, who is from Dallas, Texas, in a phone interview between final exams.

As this year’s class enters the strongest job market for graduates since 2008, students with backgrounds in computer science, engineering and accounting are in high demand, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. While the group’s latest survey shows a 10.2 percent increase in hiring plans from 2011, the improvement isn’t benefiting all majors the same way, as in pre-recession years, said Edwin Koc, who heads research at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based NACE.

“It’s a much more split market,” Koc said, adding the pattern this year mirrors a survey last year of students’ job offers. Graduates “with certain skill sets are doing quite well,” while things are tougher for others, such as liberal- arts, humanities and education majors, he said.

No Luck

Presgraves, 21, who is receiving her diploma this month from St. Mary’s College of Maryland, has had no luck with her half-dozen applications, including for the Teach for America program, which recruits college graduates to serve under- resourced public schools. She said she’ll spend the summer working for a neuroscience professor.

“I’m hoping to use this summer, especially since I will still be on campus, to keep researching” job prospects, she said.

The increase in hiring for college graduates that NACE predicts is one of the signs of a slowly improving labor market, said Jesse Rothstein, associate professor of economics and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s a reasonable read of the evidence that things are improving, but not very quickly and not very much yet.”

There are more opportunities than two years ago, but not as many as five years ago, he said. “There’s still a very limited number of jobs and a lot of competition,” he said. “When the labor market recovers quite a bit more than it has, then there will be jobs for the nontechnical majors as well.”

Technical Degrees

At Virginia Tech’s career-services office, it is mainly students with technical degrees who are benefiting from a 25 percent increase in job postings this year and employers coming earlier to recruit, said Jim Henderson. These students are receiving more offers than two or three years ago and are sought after by companies, he said.

“For the nontechnical jobs, it’s much more challenging,” said Henderson, who is associate director for employer relations at the Blacksburg, Virginia, school formally known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Graduates in those majors really have to “network and have a job-search strategy on how they’re going to find and connect with that employer.”

Samantha Goldman, a 22-year-old communication major at the University of Maryland, started that strategy as early as September by sending dozens of resumes and networking in person and online. In March, she clinched a job as a marketing associate in Washington after hearing about the position through a friend.

‘Resume After Resume’

“I had this sort of lull between November and February when I was sending out resume after resume after resume, and I hadn’t heard anything,” she said on the College Park, Maryland, campus where she was interning at a research center. “The majority of communication majors do not have jobs right now. It’s a tough market.”

Thirty-seven percent of students who graduated between 2006 and 2011 wished they had been more careful when choosing their major, according to a report this month by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Only 39 percent said they thought about job opportunities when picking a field of study. Half of the 444 students in the survey were employed full time.

“I see the job market for young grads improving, albeit slowly,” said Jim John, chief operating officer of Beyond.com. While the number of jobs posted on the career-network website rose 236 percent in the year through April, entry-level jobs increased only 21 percent, he said.

College Benefits

Still, in an economy that has yet to recover 5 million of the 8.8 million jobs lost as the result of an 18-month recession that ended in June 2009, college graduates are in a better position to be hired.

Among workers ages 20 to 24, the unemployment rate was 6.4 percent in April for those who held a bachelor’s degree, compared with 12.6 percent for all workers in that age bracket, according to the Labor Department. While the jobless rate for college graduates has fallen from its peak of 7.5 percent in 2010, it remains more than double the low of 3 percent in 2008.

A report on recruiting trends by the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, shows employers are seeking engineering, computer- science, selected science, accounting and finance majors. About a third of them are committed to recruiting from all majors.

Competition Strong

“Competition will remain strong, however, because available positions for many majors fall short of the supply of graduates leaving college,” according to the report.

NACE, a source of information about the employment of college graduates, estimates 1.7 million students will get their bachelor degree this year.

Chrysler Group LLC, the Auburn Hills, Michigan-based automaker, is among the companies planning on placing more graduates in entry-level jobs.

It will take on about 400 interns this summer, half of them engineers, up from 250 last year, according to Georgette Borrego Dulworth, the company’s director of talent acquisition and diversity. With about 1,600 openings across the organization, its divisions are finding that the internship program is a great feeder for college grads into beginner-level jobs, she said. Chief Executive Officer Sergio Marchionne will address the group.

“The beauty of the intern program is that it does allow us to assess a candidate in the real-world experience prior to graduation,” Borrego Dulworth said.

Twenty-nine percent of students in the Rutgers survey said they wished they had done more internships or part-time work.

‘The New Interviews’

Employers expect that students will have done at least one, maybe two, said Carl Martellino, the executive director at the University of Southern California’s career center in Los Angeles, who says he has seen increased hiring directly out of such programs. “Internships are really now the new interviews.”

Students also are showing more interest in small companies and startups than in the past, said Katharine Brooks, director of Liberal Arts Careers Services at the University of Texas at Austin. She started teaching a class this year, called the Liberal Arts Entrepreneur, in which students craft a business plan.

Gabriel Hernandez was one of them. Passion is prevailing over job security for the 22-year-old economics major who says he’s decided to move New York in September and look for a job in fashion, with the hope of creating an online retailer in the future.

Taking a Risk

“I’m willing to take this risk because I really do believe in myself,” said Hernandez, who had internships in finance. “The city is so innovative. I could easily find something to do and make a successful career.”

For Rose, Villanova’s early emphasis on professional development, such as resume writing, networking and internships, helped put her on the path to the job offer. She got her start with PwC after she attended its leadership conference as a sophomore. PwC says it plans to hire 4,171 graduates this year, a 64 percent increase from two years ago and 279 more than in 2011.

“With the economy slowly coming back, it might not be as easy as it used to be,” said Rose, who has another major in management-information systems. “But if you’re proactive about it and you’ve put time into your studies, I think that you can find employment opportunities.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Sandrine Rastello in Washington at srastello@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Wellisz at cwellisz@bloomberg.net


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