New grads are pickier

College seniors can be more demanding as companies increase entry-level jobs


If University of Maryland senior Christine Perez were to write an advertisement for her ideal job, it would read something like this:

Wanted - A challenging but fulfilling entry-level position in government intelligence or in the communications office of a political organization. Seeking professional development and advancement opportunities. Great benefits, such as tuition reimbursement, are a must.

"I started my job search a year ago," said Perez, who's set to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in government and politics. "Now, it's crunch time. It's give and take now."

Welcome to the job search frenzy, Class of 2006. With less than three months until college seniors and graduate students put on their cap and gown, they're working to secure a full-time job. They're scouring advertisements, sending out resumes and networking at job fairs.

And they have specific ideas about what they want in their workplaces. Besides a good salary and standard benefits, soon-to-be graduates like Deepti Gupta wants to "feel satisfied with my work." Career and workplace experts say the youngest generation of workers expects immediate career fulfillment because most don't expect to stay with one company for the rest of their lives.

"Wherever I go, I hope it's a good place to work," said Gupta, a graduate student at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering.

Fortunately for these young job-seekers, prospects couldn't be better, career counselors and recruiters say.

"They're graduating at a good time. The job market is very hot right now," said John A. Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a global outplacement company in Chicago. "Company profitability has been strong for two years. In fact, it's almost imperative that you invest in your pipeline of new people. I think we'll see strong hiring from employers."

With companies expecting to fill more entry-level jobs and offer higher salaries than a year ago, the National Association of Colleges and Employers is calling this year's job market the best it has seen in four years.

Employers plan to hire 14.5 percent more college graduates compared with last year, according to 250 members who responded to a survey conducted last fall by the association.

And most majors, especially in-demand fields such as engineering, accounting and business, can expect to see higher starting salaries, the association found.

Graduates in the finance and economics field saw their average salary increase 11 percent to $45,191. The average salary for accounting graduates is $45,723, a 6.2 percent increase from a year ago. And chemical engineering majors saw their salary rise 4.2 percent to $55,900, the highest-paid field for college graduates.

Marketing and computer science majors, however, saw their average salaries fall slightly.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers will update its job and salary surveys next month, but it expects similar results, said Andrea Koncz, the association's employment information manager.

David Wiles, a McDaniel College senior majoring in business administration and economics, is looking for a job in financial services, such as at T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore mutual fund company, or at the Federal Reserve. So far, Wiles said he has been encouraged by job prospects.

"I haven't run into too much, `We're not looking for anyone right now,' " said Wiles, who has had several job interviews. "The economy seems to be doing well, which is always better."

At the University of Maryland's spring career fair earlier this month, more than 150 recruiters filled five ballrooms and lounges at the Stamp Student Union.

Last year, the Boeing Co. hired 1,400 college graduates through its internship, education and full-time job programs, said Joe Frazier, a recruiting relations manager. This year, "we anticipate doing that or better," said Frazier as half a dozen students waited to speak to him and three other recruiters.

Career opportunities at the Chicago aerospace company include jobs as a geoscientist, a program analyst in business and an employee development program representative.

"We look for all students," Frazier said. "People think we only hire engineers."

Javaune Adams-Gaston, executive director of the University of Maryland Career Center, said students who have internships throughout their college career gain leadership skills desired by employers. The internships often can lead to permanent jobs and make students more marketable, Adams-Gaston said.

Erin Obermeier, 22, a senior at Hood College in Frederick, knows firsthand how good internships can help snag a full-time job. She recently accepted a position with the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, an arm of the Defense Department.

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