Employment: Job market brighter for new college graduates

By Kathleen Lynn
The Record

WAYNE, N.J. (AP) - The job outlook for college graduates keeps getting better.

The Class of 2016 is entering into the best job market since the recession, continuing a trend. As the unemployment rate has fallen to 5 percent nationwide, employers have crowded into on-campus job fairs and posted more openings on campus websites. The National Association of Colleges and Employers recently said that employers expect to hire 5.2 percent more new graduates than last year.

That's down from last year's nearly 10 percent increase, but a much better outlook than during the recession, when employers slashed their hiring of new grads.

At the same time, the higher demand hasn't translated into significantly higher salaries for this year's 1.9 million college grads, reflecting another trend: flat incomes. NACE says that salaries are up this year for high-demand graduates such as computer engineers, but down for those in communications and social sciences.

"I haven't really seen salaries increase by much at all - and certainly not enough for me to say that employers are swaying kids to their companies with more money," Victoria Nauta, associate director of the career development center at William Paterson University in Wayne, told The Record (http://bit.ly/1q7dta0 ).

As in past years, the best job prospects are for nurses, accountants and computer engineers- graduates with high-demand skills. Many of those students received job offers months ago.

Brooke Miller, 21, is an accounting graduate at Ramapo College in Mahwah who's already got a job lined up. After a summer internship with KPMG, she was offered a full-time job to begin after graduation.

"It was really great knowing I had a job lined up and I didn't need to do anything else when I started school last fall," said Miller, of Bayonne. Most of her friends studying accounting have also gotten offers. "It's definitely a field that's in high demand," she said.

Employers' demand for entry-level workers appears to be up across the board. Nauta said that the number of job openings posted on William Paterson's career website is up 35 to 40 percent over two years ago.

"There's a high demand for (computer) coders, for accountants, but not everybody is going to be a coder or an accountant. There are way more jobs than those," said Janet Jones, director of employer relations at Rutgers University Career Services in New Brunswick. "There's a place for everyone in the job market."

Several North Jersey colleges reported a jump in the number of employers attending campus job fairs during the past school year.

A recent business job fair at Ramapo College attracted a record 67 employers, with 20 more on the waiting list. Employers included publisher Simon & Schuster, Liberty Travel and the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. A buzz of conversation filled the room that day as students in dark business suits, clutching portfolios that held their résumés, pinballed among the recruiters' tables.

One recruiter was overheard pitching a student: "That's the beauty of sales and marketing; if you're good, you move up very quickly."

Career advisers say employers aren't just looking for a specific skill set. They're also looking for workers who can communicate well and "work on teams and problem-solve- not just on computers, but with actual humans," said Donna Robertson, director of career development at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

Possibly as a result, liberal arts majors, who traditionally face more challenges than science, business and tech grads, are finding easier paths into the professional workforce this year.

Emily Bruno, for example, graduated in December from William Paterson as an English major. She started work in January, writing marketing materials for a New York City company that sells financial software.

She declined to reveal her exact salary but said it's in the $40,000 to $45,000 range.

Bruno believes she got the job in part because of her experience at two internships during college, including one as a technical writer at Hewlett-Packard. At Hewlett-Packard, her liberal arts background was a plus.

"I figured they'd want somebody with experience in the (technology) field, but the supervisor wanted to have someone with no tech experience, to make the writing easier for everybody to understand," said Bruno, 21.

Ramapo student Lauren Schmidt of Emerson also credits an internship for her job offer. Schmidt, a 21-year-old biology major, has been hired to teach high school science at a charter school in Newark after teaching summer school there last year. She'll be making about $55,000 a year.

The summer internship sparked a deep interest in urban education in Schmidt, who said she was responsible for lesson plans, communicating with parents and assigning homework during the summer session.

"I absolutely loved it," she said.

Steve LeSeur, an accounting major at William Paterson, has a job lined up with Deloitte after interning with another company. He got the offer during the fall semester.

"The best part was getting it done six months before graduation," he said.

These students' stories underscore a point that college career offices hammer home: the importance of internships. Companies like to hire their former interns- "Recruit once and hire twice," in the words of Rutgers' Jones.

The students who are the most successful are the ones who have a "well thought out plan of action" for their eventual move into the workplace, Jones said. And if they can't get internships, career counselors say, students should pursue volunteer work or lead campus groups.

Bruno said she got the message about internships loud and clear at William Paterson.

"When I first declared the English major, I was interested in magazine publishing," she said. "All my professors kept emphasizing the importance of internships. That stuck in my mind- that if I wanted to get a job, I needed to get experience."

Published: Wed, May 11, 2016