Welcome to reality: Tough competition for college grads

The average college grad can expect a lot of competition for that first job. But there are some nice opportunities out there.

By Christina Rexrode, Times Staff Writer
Published April 15, 2007

For college seniors everywhere, it's crunch time.

The real world, where there is no more spring break, is banging at the door.

"My goal in going to school was to get a degree, and now that I'm there, I'm like, 'Now what?' " said Katie Griffin, a 21-year-old senior at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. She'll graduate in December with a degree in interdisciplinary social science.

So here's the 411 on what's happening in the entry-level job market, where no one groans sympathetically because you have an 8 a.m. obligation:

There's a lot of competition

Sure, college grads are an elite group - but not that elite. Challenger, Gray & Christmas estimates that there will be 1.3-million college graduates in the Class of 2007. Employers expect to receive 73 applications for each available entry-level position, according to Monster.com.

But there are a lot of jobs

Companies expect to hire 17.4 percent more new college graduates this year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

"I think that this has been the best year for (attracting) recruiters that I have seen in so many years," said Jane Colson, director of the Office of Career Resources at Eckerd College. The college drew 46 companies to its spring career fair, up from 35 last year.

That recruiter might not be from Wall Street

Yes, the service industry needs college graduates, too, so don't turn up your nose at its job offers. Service employers project the biggest increase in hiring of new graduates - 19.8 percent, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Other notable increases: Manufacturers predict a 9.5 percent hike in college hiring, and government and nonprofit employers predict an increase of 9 percent.

It's not all about the Benjamins

Colson said she runs into plenty of seniors who are disappointed - not because they can't find jobs, but because they "have these high dollar signs in their heads."

The average salary for a new graduate with a bachelor's degree is between $30,000 and $35,000, Colson said. And that's kind of a shock for students nourished on The Apprentice, who forget that they've got to start at the bottom of the corporate ladder. About two-thirds of employers don't expect entry-level earnings to increase over last year, according to Monster.

Cut the ties that bind

"Helicopter parents" is what Tim Harding calls those moms and dads who are overly involved in their child's job search. Harding, the director of the Office of Career Services at the University of Tampa, has noticed a lot more of those parents in the past year.

"Fortunately, we didn't have any college students bring their parents to the (most recent) job fair," Harding said.

But he has seen it happen. He has seen more than that, actually: "Even parents calling and saying, 'Why didn't you hire my son or daughter?' "

Bring your game face, not your MySpace address, to recruiters

Colson said she has noticed that recruiters this year are more likely to want a conversation with students, not just a copy of their resume. "In the past, they (recruiters) have been almost robotic," Colson said, "where they come to job fairs, stand at the table, and tell students to go online."

Christina Rexrode can be reached at crexrode@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8318.

Top jobs for 2006-07 grads

Job and average salary offer

Accounting private: $46,614

Accounting (public): $46,290

Management trainee: $41,955

Consulting: $49,979

Project engineering: $51,076

Design/construction engineering: $49,039

Financial/treasury analysis: $49,500

Sales: $38,497

Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers. All data are for bachelor's degree candidates.