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Funds Remain Tight as Companies Comb Colleges for New Hires

April 20, 2010
Related Topics: Candidate Sourcing, Workforce Planning, Featured Article
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C ollege graduates in 2010 are in a better spot than the class of 2009 as job prospects are brighter, yet salaries may be lower as companies tightly grip their recruiting purse strings.

“This is the first we’re seeing an increase in recruiting since 2008,” says Andrea Koncz, employment information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. “It was down by 22 percent in 2009. This year, employers are increasing hiring by 5.3 percent compared to 2009.” Since recruiting was up by 8 percent in 2008, however, hiring in 2010 is still down 8.7 percent compared with two years ago.

Koncz’s data comes from the 2010 spring issue of NACE’s quarterly “Job Outlook” survey of employers’ hiring plans. This spring, 177 employers participated in the survey.

Looking past the national statistics, though, recruiting is more nuanced. For example, the number of employers—companies, state and federal government and nonprofits—participating in the primary spring recruiting event for arts and sciences graduates at Ohio State University is back up to 2008 levels. The two-day career fair drew 98 employers in 2008. Only 86 showed up last year.

Employers aren’t limiting themselves to the formal career fair at Ohio State, however. “Companies are doing more casual events on campus,” says Stephanie Ford, Ohio State’s career center director for arts and science. “They’re still scheduling information sessions on campus, but we also see informal meet-and greet events off campus, including at bars or campus hangouts. Recruiters think that the students are more relaxed and show their personality more at these events because they’re comfortable.”

At the University of Pennsylvania, “We’re back at 2005-2006 and 2006-2007 levels in terms of the number of interviews,” says Barbara L. Hewitt, senior associate director of career services for Wharton School undergraduates. In both of those academic years, University of Pennsylvania undergraduates (all of them, not just Wharton grads) participated in about 12,600 interviews. For 2007-2008, they had 13,505 interviews, and for 2008-2009, they had 10,859. This year, the university’s students have participated in about 12,300 interviews. Those figures are preliminary, Hewitt notes, with only about a third of this year’s class data in.

Georgia Tech doesn’t collect graduating seniors’ hiring data until early in May, but Ralph Mobley, director of career services, has kept track informally.

“The amount of on-campus recruiting from last year is about the same,” he says, “but the mix has changed. There’s about 8 to 10 percent more recruiting for juniors to intern and about 10 percent less full-time recruiting for graduates.”

At Beyond.com, a network of 15,000 local and specialty job boards, CEO Rich Milgram says job listings are up 80 percent from 2009. Even though 2009 listings were down 50 percent from 2008, that still means 2010 listings have increased by 30 percent compared with 2008.

“It’s a complete recovery for entry-level jobs,” Milgram says. That’s good news, but Milgram cautions, “2010 grads may find they’re competing with 2009 grads who waited for job markets to pick up.”

Stats on average starting salaries are mixed. Based on “somewhat limited data,” Koncz says the spring 2010 issue of NACE’s Salary Survey of graduating students shows that “overall average salary is down by about 1.7 percent from 2009 and about 4 percent from 2008.” NACE data show that 2008’s average starting salary offer was $49,623; in 2009, it was $48,515. For 2010, it’s $47,673.

Starting salary offers at the University of Pennsylvania are up, not down. Hewitt says banks, in particular, are offering a “base salary of about $70,000. For the last five or six years, the base was around $60,000.”

Beyond.com also reports rising entry-level salary offers. In 2008, Milgram says the average starting salary offer on the network of sites was $28,000. In 2009, it was $31,000, and for 2010, it’s $36,000.

Some degrees always command better salaries, though the top majors vary from year to year. This year, Milgram says the hot fields are IT, management, accounting and finance. Both Milgram and Koncz see engineering doing decently.

“Engineering is the ‘steady Eddie’ of [degrees],” Koncz says. “The salaries don’t change much, and when they do, they creep up from year to year.” According to NACE, this year’s engineering starting salaries range from $52,443 for civil engineers to $86,220 for chemical engineers.

Whether entry-level salaries are up or down, corporate recruiting budgets seem tight. To compensate, companies are using technology to maintain strong recruiting.

“Employers are taking better advantage of technology,” says Ohio State’s Ford. “They’re doing webinars and teleconferences instead of coming to campus.”

Virtual job fairs almost seem to be replacing on-campus events.

“Virtual fairs are getting more traction now,” Mobley says. “We’re also seeing Skype interviews. Better software and budget constraints encourage employers to spend much less money on recruiting.”

In spite of tight recruiting budgets, recruiting and salary numbers seem to show one thing: The recession may not be completely over, but hiring in 2010 definitely looks better than 2009.

Workforce Management Online, April 2010 -- Register Now!

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