College Grads Facing Tough Job Market

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The bleak economy is putting a damper on graduation day for many college seniors across the country as they face the most daunting job market in recent history. Add the influx of new college grads to the ranks of unemployed workers and soon 9 million people will be competing for 3 million jobs.

In addition to fewer available jobs, starting salaries are lower this year, with technical job offers down nearly 8 percent over what last year's graduates were offered, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. And, most seniors report plans to hold on to that precious first job rather than move on to the next good offer as fast as possible like recent grads were doing just two years ago.

The National Association of Colleges and Employers reports that 42.4 percent of employers surveyed plan to hire fewer new graduates than they did last year, with the association speculating on a 3.6 percent decline in job opportunities for this year's class. As if that weren't bad enough, most companies are placing more stock on experience over freshly minted college graduates.

Graduates are definitely aware of their predicament. In a recent poll by MonsterTRAK, 53 percent said they do not expect to graduate with an offer letter in hand, as opposed to 21 percent in 2001.

Some are deciding to forego a fruitless job search this year by staying in school. Potential graduate students are taking the required Graduate Record Exam in record numbers and the Association of American Medical Colleges reports an increase in medical school applications for the first time in seven years. Law schools are also popular this year, with applications up 10 percent this year after an 18 percent increase in 2002.

The accounting profession, which had suffered a significant loss of incoming students in recent years, is actually benefitting from the current economy in a couple of ways. First, more students are willing to add that fifth year required for accounting degrees because alternative offers are fewer. And second, the job outlook is stronger in the accounting profession than many other finance or technology options.

So where are the jobs? Job seekers should set their sites on sales, health care, administrative and support, food service, customer service, retail, accounting, education and consulting. is sending entry-level grads to Disney, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, GEICO Direct, the Peace Corps and Boeing.

Times are particularly tough for engineers and technically trained graduates, especially in computer science since the technology and manufacturing industries have been hard-hit by the economic downturn. The School of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that 50 percent of its 2003 graduates are still job hunting.

Can't find a job in your area? Consider relocating to one of's hot areas, which include California (15.6 percent of all entry-level jobs nationwide), Texas (7 percent), Florida (6.2 percent), New York (6 percent) and Illinois (5.7 percent). The best cities for job seekers include Los Angeles (4.1 percent of all entry-level jobs), Chicago (2.8 percent), Orange County (2.6 percent), Philadelphia (2.5 percent) and New York (2.5 percent).

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