Workzone: Graduates may fare better this time around

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Fresh from graduation ceremonies, the members of the Class of 2011 should find their prospects somewhat better than graduates who entered the job market during the worst of the economic downturn.

Career counselors and placement experts say there's been an uptick in recruiting as many businesses bump up production and add employees after cutbacks that occurred in the wake of the 2008 global market crash and economic recession.

A recent report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers said businesses expect to hire 13.5 percent more new graduates this year, the first double-digit increase in the organization's spring hiring forecast since 2007.

"The job market is still tight and competitive, but it has come back since the 2010 class," said Jennifer Vasicek, director for the Pittsburgh OfficeTeam division of Robert Half International.

With more businesses hiring, graduates apparently can afford to be a bit more choosy.

In a survey of 50,000 college seniors conducted between February and April, NACE reported 41 percent who applied for a job said they had received an offer, up from 38 percent a year ago.

While they reported more offers, the percentage who said they had a job to go to after graduation was the same as last year: 24 percent. The fact the percentage did not change reflected more seniors applying for jobs and more turning down offers, a NACE official said.

"This year's graduates are a little more willing to hold out for a different job offer," said Marilyn Mackes, executive director of the association.

While Ms. Vasicek said there was activity among manufacturers and distributors who had begun ramping up production in recent months, most of the job opportunities for new graduates are in credit collections, accounting, information technology, Web design and customer service.

In the health care sector, she has seen demand for medical records clerks, medical secretaries and patient registration clerks.

Some clerical positions may not require a college degree "but it's beneficial," she said. "Among most of our [medical] clients in the Pittsburgh area, physicians require a bachelor's degree for their assistants."

More employers turned out in March than they did last year for the Western Pennsylvania Career Services Association spring job and internship fair, said Debra Saffer, career counselor at Duquesne University.

Among businesses seeking college graduates, she said, the most marketable degrees right now are engineering, finance, accounting and physical sciences.

But don't discount the liberal arts, Ms. Saffer said. Those degrees often appeal to employers who want to fill sales and marketing positions and who want applicants with strong verbal skills.

"Sometimes the presence or absence of verbal and communication skills can determine which people are hired," she said. "Often it's not the major; it's dependent on the skill."

What hiring managers are seeking as they consider new graduates, OfficeTeam's Ms. Vasicek said, are "really proactive candidates taking the initiative to gain experience however they can."

Those with volunteer experience, temporary job experience or solid internships stand to fare better, she said.

She counsels those who land an interview to show up prepared with a resume, letters of reference and all contact information.

Even though some businesses are boosting hiring, new graduates need to remain flexible about salary and positions, Ms. Vasicek said.

"Companies are hiring more but being selective about who they take. Many candidates are more experienced and willing to accept jobs and a lower pay rate. New college grads are sometimes aggressive about salary but have far less experience."


Joyce Gannon: jgannon@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1580.


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