I recently interviewed Edwin Koc, research director at the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which connects colleges and universities with recruiting professionals, to discuss the job market for new grads.
Q: With the unemployment rate at historic lows, how difficult will it be for new graduates to find a job?
A: This year's graduates will have an easier time finding work than at any time in the past decade. We expect U.S. employers to increase hiring of new college graduates by 11 percent compared with last year. Many companies are trying to fill the talent pipeline as baby boomers retire.
Accounting, engineering, management consulting and advertising, as well as motor vehicle manufacturing and high-tech electronics manufacturing, will lead the way. But the labor market is strong across the board, and graduates may receive multiple job offers.
Q: Will graduates have more bargaining power when it comes to pay?
A: The strength of the economy hasn't translated to salary growth yet. Usually, you would see higher salaries as employers compete to attract and retain the best talent. But on average, pay is increasing at about 2 percent a year.
Workers with advanced degrees, as well as engineers, computer scientists and some people working in fields that rely heavily on foreign workers who need a visa will have more room to negotiate salary and benefits than other workers.
Q: Which skills are most sought after across industries?
Employers are usually satisfied with young workers' technical skills. But they complain about the soft skills — communication, critical thinking and project management — that new graduates bring to the workplace.
Job seekers who emphasize their written and oral communication skills have an advantage. Some companies are even dropping the idea of hiring by academic major. Rather, they're hiring workers with strong soft skills and plan to teach them role-specific skills on the job.
Q: How is the hiring process changing?
A: New grads won't have as many opportunities to meet recruiters in person and will need to find job openings directly on company websites, LinkedIn and other online sources.
Fewer companies are recruiting on campus, and those that visit campus do most of their work in the fall to lock in the best candidates as early as possible. Students need to get serious about their job search early in their senior year instead of waiting until closer to graduation.