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Colleges Report Increased Job Recruitment for ’05

By Diane E. Lewis

THE BOSTON GLOBE

Employers are back on campus.

Companies that were skittish about college recruiting last year are making a comeback, but competition for jobs is expected to remain keen for the Class of 2005.

Still, college career officials are upbeat. Many report that the number of companies registered for upcoming campus career fairs has increased over last year as accounting, financial services, healthcare, and some technology firms prepare to expand services or fill vacancies.

“There are more employers coming this year than we have seen since 2000,” said Elizabeth A. Reed, director of the career office at MIT. “Last year, we had 150 companies. This year, we have 204 registered and we are still hearing from them in the 11th hour.”

Reed said she saw increased interest from all sectors, from management consultancies and environmental firms to financial service and software firms. MIT held its career fair on Thursday.

James Greeley, director of career services and cooperative education at Merrimack College in North Andover, is making plans for an Oct. 13 campus fair. He said he is encouraged by a 40 percent increase in job postings since March 2003, a sign of increased interest from corporate recruiters.

“We are just dancing right now,” said Greeley. “We are extremely encouraged. This bodes well for the Class of 2005.”

Carol Lyons, dean of the Department of Career Services at Northeastern University, was also upbeat. The university will be holding its career fair on Oct. 6 for business engineering and technology grads.

“Last year, we had 66 organizations and we were disappointed,” said Lyons. “I have 81 coming so far and when the fair gets here, we will have more.”

Lyons said NU is also experiencing an uptick in the number of employers who plan to schedule recruiting sessions with members of the senior class. In all, 47 companies will be on campus, up from 20 to 30 last fall, she said. The companies are expected to have 77 jobs to fill in a variety of fields, but most will focus on business and technology graduates. Recruiting days for pharmacy and healthcare grads will be held a later in the year.

While most seniors are just beginning to look for work, a few have been lucky: They’ve already landed a job.

Take Deidre-Ann Nelson, 21, a senior at Brandeis University who majored in economics and minored in Spanish. She got an offer from a New York investment bank last week. Nelson, who credits a summer internship with helping her land the position, said she will be part of the company’s operations division.

“I definitely think the economy is improving and things are a lot more stabilized,” said Nelson. “People are looking to invest and they are looking for more options. So, we are seeing a recommitment to the stock market, to the economy, and to the students who are coming out of college.”

College career specialists believe more students will be reporting positive job hunting experiences like Nelson’s as the year progresses. According to new data compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, U.S. companies will hire 13.1 percent more college graduates in 2004-2005 than they hired last year.

Another 23 percent said their hiring levels would remain the same as last year, and just under 16 percent expect to reduce campus recruiting or new graduate hiring.

The survey of 199 US employers was conducted in August. Of those polled, 42.7 percent were service sector employers, 43.7 percent were manufacturers, and 13.1 percent were government or nonprofit employers. An additional 0.5 percent could not be classified by sector, the organization said.

The association also found that members of the Class of 2004 received higher starting salaries than the Class of 2003, another indication that employers are less skittish about expanding payrolls these days.

“Our final report shows continued positive movement in the job market for new college graduates,” says Marilyn Mackes, the association’s executive director. “A number of disciplines are posting salary increases, and many are regaining ground that was lost over the past few years in their salaries.”

The organization reported that starting salaries for computer science grads rose 4.1 percent over last year, increasing the average offer to those grads to $49,036. Information sciences and systems grads saw their average starting salary climb to $42,375, up from $38,282 in 2003. Computer engineering graduates saw little change in their salaries, however. They received, on average, $51,297, just 0.1 percent more than last year.

The association reported that business administration graduates received a 6.2 percent increase for an average starting salary of $38,254. By contrast, accounting grads saw just a 1 percent increase in starting salaries to an average of $41,058.

English majors saw an 8.1 percent rise in their average start offer, up to $31,113. History majors, however, saw their average starting salary fall 4.8 percent to $30,344, according to the organization.

When the organization looked at the sectors that will do the most hiring of college grads this year, it found 12.1 percent of service sector employers will boost hiring. Manufacturers are expected to increase college hiring by 12.9 percent, up from just 3.4 percent last year.

Pharmaceutical companies are also expected to woo new college graduates. Jeff Harvey, US recruitment director at AstraZeneca’s national headquarters in Wilmington, Del., said the drug company will step up its campus recruiting this year. “We are impacted more so by internal pressures such as mergers and the cost of research than the overall economy,” Harvey said. “So, we did not stop hiring college graduates. We are actually picking up more this year.”

The company, which employs 13,000 people in the United States, will be looking for graduates to work as bench chemists, in sales, or to assist with clinical trials, he said.

The reason behind the hiring boost by employers? Attrition, expanded services or an increased demand for their goods and services, the association said. The organization said companies in the Midwest will lead the way.

“By region, the Midwest leads with an expected 26.4 percent increase in college hiring, but all of the regions report a positive outlook for 2004-05 college graduates,” the association said. “Employers in the Northeast and West both predict a 14.9 percent increase, and employers in the South expect to increase their number of college hires by 5.9 percent.”

Overall, economists agree with the association’s forecast. However, they caution that the job climate remains highly competitive and employers will still be in control when it comes to hiring.

“The job market is improving and should be better by graduation day,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Economy.com. “It will still be an employers’ market, though. By June, the market will gain some traction, but employers will have the upper hand in any discussion they have with graduates because employers still have a fair share of resumes.”

Kemi Aladesanmi, 21, a senior in criminal justice at NU, isn’t too worried but remains somewhat cautious about the economic climate. She said her brother graduated from college last year and has only recently landed work in finance and accounting, his chosen field.

Aladesanmi said she has gained more confidence in her ability to job hunt from a life and career planning class at Northeastern designed to ease seniors’ concerns. The class teaches them how to prepare for an interview, develop a resume, and sell themselves when they meet employers on or off the campus. Aladesanmi, who held a co-op position at the state corrections department, believes the experience will look good on her resume.

“I think co-op students have a better chance than people who have not had experience in their field,” said Aladesanmi, whose ultimate goal is to become a lawyer. “I think I have an advantage over someone who has had no prior experience and has not yet been in the workforce.”

She might have a point. Eliot Winer, chief economist at the state Division of Unemployment Assistance, said those seniors with the best skills and experience will be more likely to land jobs after commencement. At the same time, Winer cautions that students should not expect a hiring boom.

“Things will be stronger than they have been in recent years,” Winer said. “But we should not expect the unbelievable hiring we had in the 1990s. We will see, however, that areas that were hard-hit such as high technology and computer systems will show signs of life.”