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College grads face tougher job market

Entry-level pay rises, but offers are less plentiful.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 5, 2008

Meet 'n' greet: Boston College's students mingled with recruiters at its career night April 16.

Tom A. Peter

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Chestnut Hill, Mass.

Unlike most of the underclassmen who've come to Science Career Night at Boston College dressed in jeans, some even in backward baseball caps, Timothy Harrington arrived better dressed than some of the recruiters. As a graduating senior, Mr. Harrington is only months away from the real world. Now all he needs is a full-time job to match his snappy suit.

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Unfortunately, finding one has proven more difficult than expected.

All of his friends who graduated last year found work and "none of them have had to go through the same amount of grief that I have," says Harrington, a biology major who hopes to go into sales. "The closest I can get to [employers] is usually through their website, and then all you do is plug your résumé into a database and I don't even know how they look at those."

Harrington is one of 1.5 million college grads expected to have a harder time landing a job this year as the United States slides deeper into recession. Although the job market continues to expand, its growth rate has slowed to the lowest in five years as employers gauge how the economy will take shape in the months ahead. If current trends persist, some workplace experts say, college graduates will continue to face an increasingly shrinking job market.

"Between what's going on in the housing market, and with the gas prices, and everything increasing, I think [companies] are just being a lot more cautious … because they're not sure what's going to happen," says Andrea Koncz, an employment information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). "It's just starting to hit the college market," adds Mrs. Koncz, who believes the outlook for next year may be even worse.

While the number of jobs available for college graduates this year increased by 8 percent and average salary offers rose by 5.3 percent, the signs of contraction are clear, reports NACE. The class of 2007 saw a 17.4 percent increase in job openings – one of the best markets since the late 1990s. This fall it appeared that the situation would remain relatively similar for the class of 2008, with a projected 16 percent increase. But by early spring that number had dropped by half.

Unlike previous dry spells in which every industry tightened their belt, this year's slowdown appears focused on the industries hit hardest by the nation's economic woes: finance and construction. New positions in those fields decreased by 7.5 percent and 2.8 percent respectively, NACE reports. Meanwhile other sectors continue to flourish. Entry-level positions in the utility industry saw a 49.3 percent increase while jobs for grads in the government sector rose 32.5 percent.

"There's definitely still some positive news for recent college graduates," says Tanya Flynn, a career adviser at CareerBuilder.com, a Chicago-based website that connects applicants with employers. "I think they just need to put in a little more effort communicating with employers."

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