Almost two million college graduates, bachelor degrees in hand, will enter the job market this month. Like their predecessors from the last two years, they will be looking for jobs in a languishing economy, with a national unemployment rate hovering at 8.1 percent. And they will be competing with 1.5 million other recent college grads still looking for work in their field of study.
Finding a job seems like an almost impossible task. But despite the slumping economy and the doom and gloom stories broadcast daily on the evening news, graduates have reason for cautious optimism.
Although they might not be able to find the kind of job they want right away, most college students find work after graduation. In fact, the unemployment rate among recent graduates with a bachelor degree is lower than the national average. And analysts expect more employers to post job openings this year, helping to ease the job hunting bottleneck.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for numbers not seasonally adjusted, the unemployment rate for graduates over age 25 was just 3.7percent in April. Among those with a bachelor's degree who are between 20 and 24 years old, the unemployment rate was slightly higher-5.5 percent in March. But that rate dropped 3 percent during the last year, from 8.5 percent in March 2011. And an employment analysis from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) predicts job offers to this year's graduates will increase 10.2 percent over last year.
Like other economic indicators, the unemployment rate among recent graduates fluctuates. Although the rate for graduates between 20 and 24 years old decreased in March, it averaged 7.3 percent during the first quarter of this year, a sign of ongoing volatility in the job market. But graduates' success finding work depends largely on where they live.
Almost all graduates in North Dakota, which has the nation's lowest unemployment rate, report having jobs shortly after graduation. In Nevada, where the economy staggers under the nation's highest unemployment rate, only slightly more than half of recent graduates reported finding jobs. But despite the disparity in their prospects, career counselors in both states say graduates share a similar disillusionment about the kinds of jobs they'll find after graduation.
Students have to realize they probably won't get their dream job right away, no matter where they are, said Mark Thompson, Career Services director at the University of North Dakota.
"You're going to start in an entry level job," Thompson bluntly tells UND graduates.
Of all the nation's graduates, those leaving UND have the most reason for optimism. Thanks to oil reserves that some industry experts say could rival those in Saudi Arabia, North Dakota unemployment rate is just 3 percent. Even so, some students still need a reality check about what lies ahead. Many have unrealistic expectations about the salary potential after graduation, Thompson said.
At the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, Wendell Staszkow, interim director for Career Services, has a similar problem convincing some students to be realistic: "They think the college degree is going to open the door so wide the money is going to start pouring in," he said.
Although UNLV graduates have similar expectations as their counterparts in North Dakota, they face very different job prospects. The imploding housing market walloped the state harder than most, and today, Nevada struggles under a 12 percent unemployment rate. More people are leaving the state than are coming in, but Staszkow remains hopeful that UNLV graduates will be able to find work in a reasonable amount of time.
Both UNLV and UND track the employment rates of their graduates through voluntary surveys. Despite the career counselors' shared optimism, the results tell a tale of two very different job markets.
Just slightly more than half-55 percent-of UNLV's 2011 graduates reported they had jobs or had accepted job offers. That's down from 65 percent in 2010. Of those employed, 83 percent reported working in their field of study.
The most recent survey available from UND tracks the employment of graduates from 2008, 2009 and 2010. Of those, 97 percent reported being employed or continuing their education. The study did not differentiate between employment and continuing education, but based on the national average for graduate school enrollment, about one-fourth of those students not looking for work have gone back to school. Of the 97 percent, 84 percent said their current position was "directly related" or "somewhat related" to their studies at UND.
Despite the job market disparity facing their students, both Thompson and Staszkow give the same advice to graduating seniors-be professional; practice interviewing; spruce up your resume; and work your network of friends in order to land that first job.
Mimi Collins, director of communications for the National Association of Colleges and Employers also urged graduates to take advantage of the services offered at their career centers. NACE connects college career service professionals and human resource professionals and tracks employment trends of college graduates.
Potential employers look for the same things-requisite knowledge in a specific degree; courses studied in that field; and the student's grade point average, Collins said. Beyond what can be quantified in a fine-tuned resume, Collins said employers seek students who have demonstrated leadership, teamwork, and a strong work ethic.
Good communication skills are essential, she added. Students who take advantage of career center practice interviews fare much better when they're face-to-face with an employer. Collins also recommended students have a fundamental knowledge of the company they are interviewing with. Hiring managers consistently tell NACE that students lack any kind of knowledge about the business: "It's very apparent [the students] haven't bothered to research the company. In this day and age there's no excuse for that," Collins said.