As economy improves, so do job prospects for new graduates

It’s college graduation season, meaning throngs of young workers with freshly minted diplomas are hustling to land their first jobs. As the economy continues to slowly improve, it appears the Class of 2014 is facing a sunnier job market for entry-level workers than was seen last year, with demand especially concentrated in the business and information technology areas.

A study conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that employers plan to hire 8.6 percent more graduates from the Class of 2014 than they did from last year’s graduating class. The same survey found that 48.4 percent of companies plan to increase their new-graduate hires this year.

According to NACE research, the average starting salary for 2014 college graduates with bachelor’s degrees has increased 1.2 percent over 2013.

“It’s just a slow turnaround from where we were during the recession,” said Andrea Koncz, NACE’s employment information manager.

Colleges across the region say they have noticed signs of this planned uptick in recruitment and hiring. At George Washington University, career services director Rachel Brown said she has seen a 15 percent increase in employer engagement on campus this spring.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” Brown said. “Students still have to be on their ‘A’ game and be very well-prepared. There’s still a lot of competition and it’s still tight.”

Eric Myren, the director of student employment services at Montgomery College, said the school’s online job board has 11 percent more postings this year. Myren said the school’s graduates in health-care-related fields are among the most in demand, along with business students who have earned degrees in majors such as finance, accounting, management and marketing.

That Montgomery has seen particular demand for students with business degrees is consistent with trends nationwide. In the NACE survey, the majors that employers are most looking to hire include business, engineering and accounting.

Professional services giant Ernst & Young says it’s ramping up its hiring of new graduates this year, both nationwide and in the Washington region. The firm is looking to hire 7,200 new graduates for fiscal 2014, a 20 percent increase from last year. In the Washington area, the company projects a 25 percent increase in its hiring of college graduates.

Dan Black, Ernst & Young’s director of recruiting, said the company’s bump in hiring is a result of broader economic growth and growth in several of its business units.

To engage the tech-savvy millennial generation, Ernst & Young is experimenting with new tactics to bring more of the recruitment and application process to those workers’ gadgets.

At college career fairs, the company has a pilot program in which candidates can text a phone number and they will receive an immediate text message reply that includes a link to a custom career site optimized for mobile devices. The site includes an interactive feature that shows career paths by major and areas of interest. The idea is that they won’t have to leave the fair with piles of brochures — the info they need is right on their smartphones.

This fall, Ernst & Young plans to introduce technology from a company called Recsolu that will allow the professional services firm’s recruiters to easily scan in student contact information and upload it to a central database. That way, they won’t have to collect piles of paper résumés from prospective job candidates.

The company is also aiming to lure new graduates by using geotargeted ads on mobile devices.

“If you want to be effective at targeting and recruiting the best talent, you need to be where that talent is,” Black said.

By the numbers

8.6
Percent increase in new graduates employers plan to hire compared to last year

48.4
Percentage of companies that plan to increase their new-graduate hires this year

1.2
Percent increase in starting salary for grads with bachelor’s degrees

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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