Signs of Life: The 2011 Job Market

Posted by Liz Seasholtz on May 3, 2011
Signs of Life: The 2011 Job Market
The past three years have been trying times for college grads. Record unemployment, mass layoffs at Fortune 500 companies, and limited job listings made it a disheartening time to enter the job market.

However, there have been some signs of life in the past year: Recruiters are returning to campus and announcing ambitious hiring goals, the economy is slowly returning to its pre-crisis activity level, and hiring seems to be following suit, especially for entry-level positions.

The mood on campus is also brightening. Career centers are reporting the sense of panic they saw last year has diminished. “This group of grads is more optimistic; they aren’t as stressed about getting a job as last year’s grads were,” says Maria Stein, career center director at Northeastern University.

It’s not all roses—seniors will still have to be tenacious if they want to land a job come May. They’ll be facing stiff competition from the rest of the 2011 class, as well as holdovers on the market since last spring. We spoke to career center reps and employment experts to get the inside scoop on what to expect from the current job market and how to be savvy in your job hunt.

We Have A Pulse
The general sentiment we gathered from university career centers is that the hiring outlook for 2011 grads looks “cautiously optimistic.” They’re reporting increased employer activity in job postings, on-campus recruiting, career fairs, and participation in workshops and networking events. Ramona Simien, assistant director of employer relations at Georgia State University, says there has been about a 25 percent increase in recruiters’ presence on campus from last school year. This kind of optimism was echoed in the words of Deloitte CEO Jim Quigley, quoted in a January Time magazine article as saying, “The thing that I’m excited about and delighted with is that our hiring plans in the U.S. are now back to the pre-crisis levels.”

Statistics from universities across the country tell a similar story. A survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) revealed employers plan to hire 13.5 percent more grads in 2011 than they did in 2010. This is a continuation of positive hiring trends: A 5.3 percent increase was also seen in 2010.

Phil Gardner, director of Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, says employers realize recruiting new grads is crucial to their bottom line. “In the past few years they’ve done pretty minimal hiring, and they’re going to start having workplace succession issues. They cannot sit on the sidelines anymore.”

We’re not out of the woods quite yet: Though the general consensus is hiring is returning to pre-recession levels, it’s still not where it was three years ago. Unemployment is still at 9 percent, compared to 5 percent in January 2008, and the Congressional Budget Office projects it will bottom out at about 5.1 percent by the end of 2014.

The Competition

A high unemployment rate tells us two things: Seniors shouldn’t expect to have jobs handed to them after graduation, and there are a lot of other entry-level fish in the job pond. Besides the competition from the collective class of 2011, this year’s grads are also going to be vying against 2010 and even 2009 grads still looking for their first full-time jobs.

Though it may seem daunting to compete with graduates who are seasoned job searchers, the fact is many recruiters specifically want the fresh perspectives and skill sets new graduates possess. “You have the opportunity to package yourself as a brand new grad, which is kind of a limited-time opportunity, so to speak,” says Rachel Brown, director of Temple University’s career center. “You’re approaching the professional world with a fresh energy, which is attractive to employers.” Unlike those who graduated in 2009 and 2010, this year’s grads won’t have the dreaded unemployment gap on their resume—and the larger this gap grows, the more leery employers become.

This year’s grads should also learn from the missteps of their predecessors. “Part of the challenge in the past two years is that students didn’t engage because they kept hearing there were no jobs,” says Stein. “They were scared to engage and that hindered students.” This year’s graduates should not be timid when it comes to job searching and should work hard to catch the attention of recruiters.

The Doctor’s Orders

There are some tried and true tactics that can help land a job in any economy. Additionally, networking—of the traditional sort as well as online social networking—seems to be particularly helpful at a time when official job postings remain relatively low.

Start Early

The earlier students start researching employers and refining their resumes, the more prepared they’ll be come graduation—perhaps even sealing the deal before turning their tassels. Ideally, this means starting to plot your career path as a freshman. Temple’s Brown says she has been surprised by how many freshmen have utilized the career center this year to get a head start on their job searches. “We had a career event for freshmen in the fall; we were expecting a turn-out of about 50 freshmen and we got 300.”

Ideally, undergrads should start researching and applying for jobs during the fall semester of their final year. If you’re graduating this spring and still haven’t started your job search, you’re a little behind the curve—just don’t wait until you have your diploma in hand to start applying.

Cast a Wide Net

The 2010 grads who are still on the market probably haven’t been flexible enough in their job search, says Georgia State’s Simien. “We are in a time where there’s no longer a luxury where you can pick and choose where you want to work.” New grads should consider boutique firms and large corporations, public sector as well as corporate finance, Cincinnati rather than just New York.

Studies consistently show interning is a great way to get your foot in the door with employers and make valuable connections. Forty-two percent of seniors who had internship experience and applied for a job received at least one job offer, according to a report by the National Association of Colleges and Employers last year. Only 30.7 percent of seniors without internship experience who applied for a job received an offer. If you’ve completed an internship or two while in school, follow up with your supervisors about full-time openings. If not, keep internships as a viable option after graduation.

Face to Face

The idea of networking can be intimidating to some, but it remains the best way to learn about unlisted job opportunities and land interviews. Besides just tapping into your network of family, friends, and former colleagues, you should make the most of the networking events hosted by your school. These events are chock-full of alumni eager to help new grads. Brown says Temple’s “networking nights” are a perfect opportunity for students to network with alums in an unintimidating environment.

Get Online
Employers are increasingly using online recruiting methods, connecting with talent through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or company websites (PwC has a Meet Your Recruiter section for quick access to HR). “A lot of companies have reduced budgets, so it’s cheaper to do [recruiting] through social networks so there’s less traveling,” says Andrea Knocz, employment information manager at NACE. This means grads will need to get comfortable using these online tools to make connections, whether communicating directly with recruiters on Facebook and Twitter, through alumni networking sites, or gathering helpful contacts on LinkedIn. Keeping your online profile professional also becomes important.

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