THIS spring, college seniors are entering a better job market than the class of 2009 faced. Unfortunately, that is not saying much because 2009 was one of the worst years in the history of hiring.
Still, hiring of this year’s crop of graduates is up 5 percent over the previous year, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
To employers the most desirable majors include accounting, engineering, computing and mathematics, according to Edwin Koc, research director of the association. Companies are also seeking evidence of communication and writing skills, analytical ability and teamwork, Mr. Koc said.
Whatever your strengths and weaknesses, you will need to “bring your A game” to this job market, said Katharine Brooks, director of liberal arts career services at the University of Texas at Austin and author of a career guide called “You Majored in What?”
Dr. Brooks has seen some evidence of an upturn. For example, Facebook just opened an office in Austin with many positions that would be appropriate for new college graduates. But over all, “we’re just talking a glimmer of hope in an otherwise bleak picture,” she said.
That means you can’t be casual about your job search, she said, and your résumé, cover letter and interviewing skills must be top notch.
Above all, “you need to be able to articulate the value of your degree,” she said, especially if you are in the liberal arts, and there isn’t a linear connection between what you majored in and the job you are seeking.
Take philosophy majors. There aren’t a lot of jobs for philosophers. But people use logic to formulate and weigh ideas and to reach conclusions, which can make training in philosophy very effective in the business world, Dr. Brooks said. Being able to spell that out concretely, with specific examples, could be crucial to being hired.
English majors face similar hurdles. But in most fields, it is important to write and speak clearly and to see things from different perspectives. A graduate with an English degree who tailors those strengths to a particular job description can make a strong case for being hired.
An understanding of the human condition gained through great literature can be helpful in professions like social work, Dr. Brooks said.
Beyond your major, have stories to tell about how your experiences would make you a good employee, suggested Nathan Bennett, co-author of “Your Career Game” and a professor at the Georgia Tech College of Management. And it doesn’t have to be work experience. For example, someone who has been a camp counselor will have leadership stories to tell, he said.
In this market, graduates need to be flexible about geographic location, job title and salary, Dr. Bennett said. And they should be willing to consider a smaller company rather than a marquee name.
Take full advantage of your school’s placement office and alumni network, Dr. Bennett said. But “the trick is not to aim too high.” If you are applying for a job at a bank, talk to a 25- or 26-year-old alumnus there rather than a 45-year-old, he said, because that person will have a better idea of how to get hired at the entry level.
Many new graduates are not sure what they want to do and are worried about taking the wrong job, Dr. Brooks said. Remember that no job needs to be permanent.
She uses the metaphor of chaos theory to explain the job search process. “It’s a complex world, and you can’t predict everything, so don’t try to,” she said. When you are starting in the work force, “Look for opportunities to learn, take a risk, try things out, see what you like, and always be open to the next opportunity,” she said.
If you don’t like your first job, at least you have learned what you don’t like, and you can carry that knowledge to your next job, she said.
Graduates can fall victim to a sense of paralysis if they aren’t sure what direction to take, Dr. Bennett said. People in their early 20s have plenty of time to take chances. After all, their working life is probably going to last at least twice as long as their current age, he said.
Some graduates with little or no work experience may wonder what they have to offer over an applicant with more experience. But recent college graduates are less expensive than more seasoned workers, and that can be an advantage (to the employer, if not the graduate’s wallet) in a tougher economy.
But mainly, businesses hire new graduates as an investment, said Dan Black, Americas director for campus recruiting at Ernst & Young.
For one thing, younger people tend to have a stronger grasp of the latest technology, Mr. Black said. In addition, this generation of students has been exposed to greater cultural diversity, he said, and they are using the Web and other technology to connect globally.
Add the energy and enthusiasm that new graduates tend to possess and their value is clear. As Dr. Brooks put it, “They may not have the experience, but what they have is potential.”
Nothing new but, as someone who'll graduate in '12, I hope the trend continues upward. :>