College Graduates Welcomed by Job Market

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The job market looks pretty good this spring for graduating college seniors. Employers expect that college hiring will be up 13 percent over last year, with starting salaries especially strong for science, engineering and business majors.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Hiring may have been sluggish last month, but job prospects for new college graduates are really pretty good. Firms surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers expect that college hiring will be up 13 percent over last year. As NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports from Seattle, stock options and signing bonuses are back, though not at the level of the dot-com boom.

WENDY KAUFMAN reporting:

Susan Terry, director of the University of Washington's Center for Career Services, says opportunities for new graduates are the best they've been in five years.

Ms. SUSAN TERRY (Director, University of Washington's Center for Career Services): At our career fair in the spring, we had 120 companies. Last year, we had 85. The year before that, we had 70.

KAUFMAN: Terry says after the dot-com bust, which hit the Pacific Northwest especially hard, many students became disillusioned. They kept their barista jobs, applied to the Peace Corps or grad school because they didn't see many other options. But that, she says, has changed.

Ms. TERRY: Students are pulling their heads out of the sand, so to speak, and acknowledging that, yes, it's not the same as it was for my older cousins and siblings, but it's a good, strong market.

Mr. MATT BAUMAN(ph) (Business Major): I just landed a job with Accenture. And I got multiple job offers this year. So this is very exciting for me.

KAUFMAN: Matt Bauman, a business major, will be an information technology consultant. Graduates with business and accounting backgrounds are in high demand nationwide. And according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE, starting salaries for accounting graduates will average nearly $44,000 a year. Computer science and computer engineering graduates will fair even better. Their average salary: more than $51,000.

KAUFMAN: Computer science graduate Casey Huggins(ph) landed a job at Electronic Arts, the world's largest computer gaming company.

Mr. CASEY HUGGINS (Computer Science Graduate): It was just a phenomenally lucky match to my skill set, and so I had to take it.

KAUFMAN: In addition to his salary of $60,000, Huggins will get stock options, a throwback to the dot-com era. Twenty-five percent of employers who responded to the NACE survey said they plan to offer them. But Huggins, citing the already high price of Electronic Arts shares, knows his options might not be worth all that much.

Mr. HUGGINS: I talked to guys at EA who got in when the price was low, and they were riding pretty high when they were talking to me. But I won't be expecting that sort of payoff.

KAUFMAN: Microsoft, which was once `the' place to go for stock options, plans to hire 950 new graduates, but without any options. Their target hiring figure is 10 percent more than last year, 31 percent more than two years ago. But Kristin Roby, the company's director of college and MBA recruiting, says Microsoft is facing stiffer competition from other employers.

Ms. KRISTIN ROBY (Recruiting Director, Microsoft): We may have students who have two or three competitive offers. And in past years, maybe they would have one other competitive offer.

KAUFMAN: What's more, she says, students are taking longer to say yes to job offers.

Ms. ROBY: When there weren't as many employers out there, it was easier to close a candidate quickly, whereas now we're finding that it may take a little bit longer for the offer to be accepted.

KAUFMAN: Liberal art graduates are not likely to see the kinds of offers that computer experts and engineers will get, though their salaries, in the mid-$30,000 range, are up slightly from a year ago. Looking ahead to next year, Susan Terry of the University of Washington says things are looking good. Recruiters are already signing up in large numbers for on-campus interviews for the class of 2006. Wendy Kaufman, NPR News, Seattle.

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