Industry Market Trends

Jobs Outlook for the Class of 2012

May 08, 2012

Throngs of new college graduates are entering "the real world" with one big question on their minds: Will I be able to land a job I want?

The graduating college class of 2012 is heading into a better job market than alumni from the previous three years, according to new data.

In a recent survey of more than 2,000 hiring managers across industries, and found that more than half of employers (54 percent) said they plan to hire recent college graduates this year, up from 46 percent in 2011, 44 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009.

"This is the first time since the recession that we're seeing a majority of employers planning to add recent college graduates to their employee roster," Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America, said in a statement.

Findings in a new study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) are also promising. Based on a survey of 160 NACE-member organizations that hire new college graduates, employers are expected to hire 10.2 percent more new college graduates from the college class of 2012 than they did from the class of 2011. That's up from the 9.5 percent hiring increase they projected for the class of 2012 when polled in September.

"Although employers haven't revised their earlier projections significantly, this upward movement along with other positive economic indicators show that the job market for new college graduates is improving steadily," NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes said in an announcement.

This is the second consecutive year in which employers have adjusted their hiring expectations upward, according to results of NACE's Job Outlook 2012 Spring Update survey.

Moreover, of those companies planning to hire recent college graduates, CareerBuilder and CareerRookie found that 29 percent expect to offer higher starting salaries than they did last year. While employers said they are most likely to pay between $30,000 and $40,000 to fill a position (30 percent), a significant portion (28 percent) will extend offers exceeding $50,000.

In its latest salary survey report, NACE found that the median salary for this year's college graduates is up 4.5 percent over the median posted by last year's graduating class.

"The overall median salary increase is the result of gains throughout most sectors," Mackes said in a statement. "Even in those sectors that showed decreases in median starting salaries, the dips were very slight."

According to CareerBuilder, organizations across industries are placing a strong emphasis on recruiting fresh talent for technology-related roles and positions designed to drive revenue, including: information technology (25 percent); customer service (23 percent); sales (21 percent); finance/accounting (18 percent); marketing (17 percent); and business development (17 percent).

Which college majors are most in demand? Business (39 percent) tops the list, with technical majors following closely behind: computer and information sciences (24 percent); engineering (23 percent); math and statistics (13 percent); health professions and related clinical sciences (13 percent); communications technologies (12 percent); liberal arts and sciences (9 percent).

Late last month, The Daily Beast published its list of the most useful college majors. The news site defined "useful" by majors most likely to lead to less unemployment and higher earnings, and which are in industries projected to grow in the next decade according to research from Georgetown University and data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among the top 13 most useful majors: nursing; mechanical engineering; electrical engineering; civil engineering; computer science; finance; marketing and marketing research; mathematics; accounting; and elementary education.

Of course, landing a job in today's market doesn't mean recent graduates will be working in their particular field of study. In a recent study of the latest generation of recent college graduates, Adecco Group found that almost two in five (36 percent) 22-26-year-olds with a four-year degree have a full-time job in a field they studied as an undergraduate. However, an equal number of recent grads either have a full-time job in a field they didn't study (17 percent), have a part-time job (18 percent) or are in graduate school (17 percent).

Employers have a hefty list of criteria against which they assess new college graduates for employment, and work experience that is relevant to the job is key among them, according to NACE's Job Outlook 2012 survey. Based on responses from 244 employers nationwide, NACE found that nearly three-quarters of respondents said they prefer to hire job candidates who have pertinent experience. A mere 4 percent said experience didn't factor into their decision when hiring new college graduates.