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Caps, Gowns, and Job Offers: What You Need to Know About Recent Graduate Hiring Trends

5.12.2014

Springtime may have seemed a distant abstraction during the never-ending winter of 2014, but May has finally arrived – and with it, graduation ceremonies for some 1.6 million students. Whether relatively new to the workforce, making plans for a 50 year reunion, or celebrating with a family member, most all of us have one connection or another to the occasion.

Five years ago, we gave career advice for young college graduates seeking their first job. It is important to treat a job search as a full-time job, have an updated and polished resume, research available positions, and most importantly, build a strong professional network. Those suggestions are time-tested and will continue to be helpful for cohorts of graduates for years to come. Hiring trends for recent graduates, on the other hand, have changed significantly throughout time.

Thirty years ago, discussing the prospects for newly minted degree-holders in the 1984 NY Times article “Graduates’ Job Outlook,” the spokesperson for the College Placement Council announced that Class of ’84 graduates were “receiving salary offers that average about 2.5 percent more than their counterparts were getting a year ago.” This trend in higher offers was attributed to “strong demand” driven primarily by small businesses, “an area that has been creating more new jobs proportionately than older industries, especially the so-called ‘smokestack’ industrial companies.” This trend would continue, especially as the “smokestacks” receded from the landscape.  

Fast forward ten years to 1994 – not quite yet in the heady days of the dot-com bubble – with a May 14 editorial in the Times intoning, “College Seniors Can Get the Jobs They Want.” The author suggested that graduates “conduct a search in a targeted, businesslike way...and have realistic expectations about the employer-employee relationship, [and they] will find no shortage of the jobs and salaries they are looking for.” Positive – but grounded – predictions.

Advancing ten more years, to April 2004, we learn via the Times that “more college graduates than high school dropouts were unemployed in March, a relatively new phenomenon in the United States.” While this is a dismal note, later in the same article senior economist Jared Bernstein reminds us of the cyclical nature of these trends. He said, ''Five years ago [1999], these folks were being swept away the minute they came off the podiums with their diplomas.”

So what does the 2014 landscape look like for today’s graduating students? The short answer is that while the demand for MBAs and other advanced degrees has dropped off slightly—by some estimates, 25 percent in the past couple of years—the future looks brighter today than it did a year ago. A new survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers indicates that employers expect to hire 7.8 percent more graduates from the Class of 2014 for their US operations than they did from the Class of 2013. When you factor in international operations, the numbers improve to a 12 percent increase over 2013. Unsurprisingly, engineering and computer science rank among the most sought after disciplines (with political science and psychology topping the charts on the liberal arts side).

All well and good, you might say, but it’s not about just obtaining any old job. And it’s true that – according to CNNMoney – this past year 260,000 college graduates (with hefty student loan debt) were working in occupations paying at or below minimum wage.

That sounds like a huge number, until you compare it to the recent high water mark of 327,000 graduates in similar roles in 2010 (for comparison, prior to the financial crisis of 2007-2008, there were 127,000 graduates at or below minimum wage for both 2005 and 2006). So while we aren’t to pre-recession figures yet, we’re headed in the right direction.

And looking further ahead, CNBC reports that approximately 43 percent of employers surveyed nationally already indicate that they will hire more 2015 graduates during their 2014 fall recruiting season than last year’s class.

So all-in-all, good news at present and on the horizon for recent college graduates – and their friends, parents, and employers! 

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