Class of 2008 graduates who neglected to search for and accept a job during their senior year will likely be kicking themselves as summer wears on.
"If a college grad didn’t start looking until April or May, he or she likely won’t have a job this summer," says Rich Milgram, CEO of Beyond.com, a global network of 15,000 job boards. "The smart ones started looking in the winter of 2007-2008 and did summer internships last year."
A survey of 298 students from across the U.S. conducted May 2-8 by Vault, a company that provides research and multiple-media resources on careers, supports Milgram’s observation.
"Fifty percent of the students surveyed had received no full-time job offers," says Vault CEO Erik Sorenson. "Companies may just have been slow, but that was unusual."
Other surveys and reports reinforce the current hiring pinch. Employer surveys conducted during the past three years by the National Association of Colleges and Employers show springtime hiring was up by 14.5 percent and 17.4 percent in 2006 and 2007. For 2008, it was up by only 8 percent.
In 2007, 70 percent of MBA students at Rutgers Business School had accepted job offers by the end of May; this year, preliminary numbers suggest only 65 percent had offers. Further, between the last quarter of 2007 and the first quarter of 2008, job postings for candidates with less than three years’ experience dropped by 25 percent at Beyond.com.
Hardest hit are graduates in business, finance, accounting and management. Master’s- and doctorate-level candidates in these fields aren’t faring well either.
"There’s less of a demand for higher salaries, so there’s less demand for Ph.D.’s unless they’re willing to accept a master’s degree salary," Milgram says.
Despite the gloomy statistics, the hiring picture isn’t all bad. Health care and sales are hot areas, according to Milgram. Engineering and IT may well be the brightest spots.
"For engineering, including computer science, the job market is excellent," says Ralph Mobley, director of career services at Georgia Tech. At commencement ceremonies in May, Mobley says, nearly 72 percent of Georgia Tech’s engineering grads had job offers, as did 78 percent of its computing grads.
He says 2001 was the Atlanta university’s high point, "with 80 percent of engineering and computing grads having offers. So we’re approaching that level. We pretty well reflect the national job market in engineering."
Graduates who don’t yet have jobs shouldn’t give up. They should instead adopt a strategy of flexibility.
"Students … need to expand their searches," says Wanda Mendez, assistant dean and director of the MBA office of career management at Rutgers Business School. "They need to make an effort to meet the job profiles. They should work on their skill sets through internships, projects and part-time work. They need to have a plan A/plan B for their job search."
It’s what graduates surveyed by Vault appear to be doing.
"A lot of students were expanding their search," Sorenson says.
Of those surveyed, 48 percent were looking beyond their original preferred locations, and 56 percent were looking into industries in which they weren’t initially interested.
Although bachelor’s-level graduates from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School enjoyed the same level of recruitment this year as last year, Barbara Hewitt, senior associate director of the university’s career services says, "I think we’ll see a pullback in offers in the fall [of 2008]."
Mendez sees the same possibility at Rutgers.
"This coming year might be a little more difficult," she says. "Companies are waiting for the economy to improve, so they will be very careful with their [employment] forecasts."
In fields where the supply of graduates exceeds the current demand, employers appear to have an advantage, but that’s mostly an illusion.
"[The situation] gives employers a little leverage in dealing with the Millennials," Sorenson says of the young workforce born after 1980. "But it’s still a numbers game in favor of them. There are so many more boomers, and as they retire, they leave more openings than the Millennials can fill. So it puts companies in a bind as far as recruiting."
Any employer leverage may be short-lived and limited.
"You don’t want word getting out about a company taking too much advantage of graduates this year," Sorenson says. "Word gets out on the social networking sites."