Hot Jobs: New Grad's Employment Outlook

By Joel Berg
The Patriot-News

May 7, 2006

College seniors graduating this spring will enter what could be one of the best job markets of this decade.

But even though more doors could be open, new grads might want to ditch the flip-flops and try on sturdier footwear: Students still might have to hustle to find the jobs they want.

"I would consider it a very competitive environment," said Dan Hylton, director of the Career Development Center at Shippensburg University.

Although companies are hiring more, they also are advertising more, potentially increasing the number of people striving for each job, Hylton said.

"We don't know how many applicants employers are getting for their positions. We have to assume there's a lot," he said.

Elyse Turr will graduate from Lebanon Valley College this month. In March, she landed a job as a marketing associate for Oxford University Press in New York City, thanks largely to her internship with the company last summer. Internships give students experience and contacts.

Turr, of Stockholm, N.J., said all of her other job applications had gone unanswered. She said she would have followed up on the applications more aggressively if she hadn't accepted the job offer at Oxford.

"Honestly, I think the people who did internships are finding it a little bit easier," Turr said.

The job search also has been easier for accounting majors, who are in demand.

Jessica Porterfield of Middleburg, Snyder County, a senior at Messiah College in Grantham, found a job in November with an accounting firm in Tennessee. Some of her friends hadn't found jobs as of late April.

"If I was in their situation, I think I would be a lot more stressed," Porterfield said.

There still is hope for students who take time to look professional, can explain why they want to work for a company and aren't shy about their accomplishments, said Joe Schatt, executive vice president of Career Management Consultants Inc. in Susquehanna Twp.

Every summer, the firm gets calls from parents concerned about their children's employment prospects. Schatt and his colleagues work to put new graduates on the right path.

"They still have to be able to be up to the challenge to sell themselves," Schatt said.

More companies seem open to the pitch.

More than 60 percent of businesses surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a trade group in Bethlehem, Pa., planned to increase hiring of grads this spring.

Penn State University had more than 400 employers at its spring career fair in March, its highest count ever, said Jack Rayman, PSU's career services director.

"Generally, employers don't come to these things if they don't have positions," Rayman said. "So we believe that the economy is stronger across the board. That's our general sense."

Another sign of economic strength is the timing of on-campus interviews, Rayman said. Companies usually stop coming by spring break. This year, they continued scheduling interviews after the break ended.

At Shippensburg, companies still were conducting on-campus interviews in late April, Hylton said. They usually wrap up their work a few weeks earlier, he said.

The strongest fields for recruitment include teaching, engineering and accounting, Rayman said. Government agencies with roles in fighting terrorism -- the Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency are among them -- are increasingly popular, he said.

"There used to be a stigma associated with working for the CIA and the NSA," Rayman said. "I think that's largely gone."

More students also appear interested in working for nonprofits and social service agencies, Rayman said. Students see the sector as less stressful and less time-consuming.

"I think people are increasingly concerned about what kind of a lifestyle they can have and a concern that if you work for a consulting firm or something like that you might have to work 60 or 80 hours a week," Rayman said.

The economic reality could be different, he said.

"I think that there are probably a lot of people who wouldn't mind having the traditional lifestyle of one wage-earner," Rayman said. "But they also want a certain lifestyle, and they can't afford it if both people don't work."

Recruitment is off in areas such as retailing and consulting, Rayman said.

In retail, the decline might have to do with industry consolidation. Last year, for example, two of the largest retailers -- Federated Department Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co. -- merged. Federated operated Bloomingdale's and Macy's stores; May operated Hecht's and Lord & Taylor stores.

Consulting careers were hot in the late 1990s, particularly as alarm grew over what could happen when computers switched over to the year 2000, Rayman said.

"I wouldn't characterize it as weak," he said of the consulting field. "But, the glory days that we had back then are definitely not here. I don't think it's quite as glamorous to people as it once was."