Among tons of statistics and broad statements about whether or not the economy is improving, the important information for college graduates can be whittled down to one question: Are employers hiring entry-level workers?
According to a survey by Phil Gardner, director of research at the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, the short answer is yes. He’s been supervising the study for 15 years, and in his closing thoughts of Recruiting Trends 2011-2012, Gardner notes that companies can no longer worry about economic uncertainty when they’re making hiring plans for the year ahead. They simply have to hire.
About 3,231 employers took part in the survey, representing about 106,000 job opportunities. Overall, their responses reflected the highest rate of optimism about employment of college grads since 2007.
Forty-two percent of the employers surveyed said they had definite plans to hire college graduates during the 2010-2011 academic year – a figure just five percentage points shy of the pre-recession study in 2007. Recruiting of bachelor’s degree holders is expected to increase by about 7 percent, and this group represents about three-fourths of employers’ total estimated hires.
Hiring of MBA holders follows closely, with a projected increase of 6.4 percent, but for other master’s degrees a slight decrease in hiring was reflected.
Among substantial media coverage of whether a four-year university is worth the money, jobs that require two-year associate’s degrees have come to the forefront. The data in Recruiting Trends 2011-2012 indicates that hiring of associate’s degree holders will remain flat, but Gardner says this can be attributed in part to a hole in the sample.
“The community college labor market is very vibrant, we just don’t know enough about it,” he says, adding that because hiring for associate’s degree holders is more local, it’s not easily reflected in a large data sample
Thirty-four percent of respondents to the survey were fast-growth or second-stage companies, with anywhere from 9 to 100 employees. Though smaller companies are not as stable, they’ve consistently provided strong job opportunities over the last 10 years. Second-stage companies are expecting to collectively hire 35 percent more people than last year. Large companies will increase hiring by 6 percent, and small and mid-size firms will see relatively little change.
As was also reflected in data from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), accounting, finance, computer science and electrical engineering are highly desired degrees.
However, Gardner’s data adds marketing into the top, as well as human resources – better news for graduates with language-based majors. In addition, more than one-third of employers surveyed said they’d be seeking entry-level employees from all majors.
Employers emphasize a candidate’s “fit” with the company in their hiring decisions, as well as the candidate’s flexibility.
“Companies need cross-disciplinary people, people who are ‘t-shaped,'” Gardner says. “No matter what your degree is, you need to be computer system-literate, and your scientists and engineers need to be able to communicate.”
<h2>Relationships count</h2>Despite the improvement in the job market for college graduates, competition will likely be stiff. One notable recruitment trend is that “campus-oriented” internships, or university internship programs, are a key strategy for the companies surveyed.
Internships are now more popular than career fairs when it comes to connecting with potential employees, which reflects companies’ need to find employees who are the right fit, and the fact that college graduates are expected to come in with some experience in the field.
Alumni referrals topped the list of internal recruiting strategies, and social media use is up 10 percent from last year, now a top recruiting strategy for 36 percent of employers. Gardner says he thinks companies are “still unsophisticated about what social media can do,” but the report notes that we’re out of the “early adopter” phase of social media recruiting.
He also notes that companies’ top recruiting strategies, such as alumni referrals, internships and social media, are all based on connections and relationships.
Beyond a specific skill set or area of expertise, employers are looking for certain “soft skills” or workplace aptitudes. According to data from the NACE, communication skills, ability to work in a team and leadership ability top the list of what employers seek in job candidates.
Andrea Koncz, employment information manager for the NACE, says one of the best ways to demonstrate leadership skills is by describing successes in extracurricular activities or industry-related organizations.
This translates to an aptitude for teamwork as well. In addition, she says that having a grammatically correct cover letter and resume helps demonstrate communication skills to potential employers without a face-to-face connection.
Gardner says half the battle is learning how to translate the skills and competencies learned in school into a set of skills an employer can use, and spinning them as such on a resume or in an interview.
“We’re not training young people for a job, we’re training them to be professionals,” he says.