The job of finding work

Prospects are looking brighter for 2010 college graduates as the economy continues its slow but steady recovery

Ronnie Cavalieri of Marlborough, a junior finance major at Boston University, interviews for internship opportunities with Sheila Frackleton, director of operations with the Massachusetts Division of Banks, at the Career Center at BU. Ronnie Cavalieri of Marlborough, a junior finance major at Boston University, interviews for internship opportunities with Sheila Frackleton, director of operations with the Massachusetts Division of Banks, at the Career Center at BU. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Marino Eccher
Globe Correspondent / May 9, 2010

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A year ago, Neha Batra watched a number of her fellow MIT students wade into the job market and come away empty-handed. She couldn’t help but wonder if she was headed for the same predicament.

She wasn’t. Batra, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student who will graduate in June, has a job offer from a New York City energy start-up in hand, and four other interviews with other companies lined up.

“I definitely feel lucky,’’ she said.

During the recession, many college grads found themselves jobless as US employers reduced their workforces. Now, companies are cautiously increasing their staffing levels in the slowly recovering economy, and 2010 college graduates are seeing some of the jobs that vanished in the downturn reappear.

Employers plan to hire about 5.3 percent more new graduates this year than they did last year, according to a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey of 177 employers released last month. It’s the first uptick in hiring projections the Bethlehem, Pa.-based group has reported since fall 2008. Last year, only 19 percent of students who were looking for a job had one by graduation, but the group expects that number to rise this year.

Of the four regions covered by the NACE survey — Northeast, Southeast, Midwest, and West — the Northeast showed the most robust job growth, with employers in the region saying that they plan to boost hiring of new graduates by more than 25 percent. Andrea Koncz, employment information manager for NACE and one of the researchers behind the report, said the Northeast’s outlook was bolstered by sectors that rebounded quickly from the recession and have “stronger predictions’’ for hiring, such as retail and technology.

But the news is not entirely good for college grads this year. After all, the national unemployment rate among people 20 to 24 years old is 15.8 percent, almost 6 percentage points higher than the 9.9 percent national jobless rate, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

And Bill Driscoll, the president of the New England district for staffing giant Robert Half, said that while the situation is improving, 2010 graduates still face “one of the toughest jobs markets in years’’ in part because it’s still “very competitive.’’ The NACE report indicates as much: More than 40 candidates applied for every job the employers surveyed posted for 2010 graduates.

“There is hiring going on, as opposed to a year ago, when there was a lot of slashing going on,’’ he said, but “employers are still cautious.’’

And there are trade-offs that new college grads will probably have to consider. While they may be more likely to get hired, college grads may not get salaries as lucrative as they have been in the past. For example, a separate NACE study last month found that starting salary offers for new graduates with bachelor’s degrees fell from $48,815 in 2009 to $47,673 in 2010.

David Ong, director of corporate and college recruiting for Maximus Inc., a professional services firm that specializes in health and human services, estimates that his company’s recruiting is up about 10 percent this year over last year. But starting salaries for hires with undergraduate degrees are about 35 percent lower than starting salaries for hires with graduate degrees, he said, in part because the latter often have several years of work experience in addition to advanced credentials.

Still, Ong says, “There are starting to be some signs of life’’ in the job market for new grads.

Many Massachusetts colleges and universities have not yet released data on how the class of 2010 fared in the job market, but career services professionals say employers definitely are more actively recruiting students than they were in 2009.

Jeff Silver, the director of career services at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, estimated that employer attendance at job fairs was up 12 to 15 percent this year. “Two years ago, at the networking night in New York, we couldn’t get financial companies to attend,’’ he said. “This year, we were turning them away.’’

Likewise, Melanie Parker, executive director for global education and career development at MIT, said her school’s electronic job posting system currently has more than 700 jobs posted from employers — more than half posted since April 8. She said the recent surge has come as employers have gotten the word that they need to hire.

“We certainly would not have seen the same number of opportunities at this point last year,’’ she said.

But some career counselors say even though more companies are hiring, some college graduates are reluctant to jump into the job market for fear of being rejected. Kimberly DelGizzo, director of career services at Boston University, said that while BU’s spring career expo yielded twice as many employers as it did last year, some 2010 graduates aren’t jumping to apply for jobs.

“Seniors think it’s a terrible market, so they’re not applying yet or they are instead considering graduate school or service opportunities,’’ she said.

Maria Stein, director of career services at Northeastern University, said she’s spoken with some students who plan on taking the summer off rather than plunging into the job market. “We certainly would not have seen the same number of opportunities at this point last year,’’ she said, but “some students are saying, ‘You know what, it’s a crappy economy, I don’t want to put myself up for rejection. I’m going to have some fun and hit the job market in the fall.’ ’’

For students who want to work right away but haven’t found a job, however, the wait is anything but fun. Aileen Hagerman, a 21-year-old Wellesley College senior who will graduate in May with a degree in political science, is looking for a job in marketing or advertising and has had three summer internships in the field — two with America Online and one with marketing firm Digitas.

Armed with this experience, Hagerman started her job search last fall, and had an interview in October with a consulting firm that didn’t pan out. She hasn’t had another one since. “It’s been frustrating,’’ she said.


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