When the Class of '97 steps off the podium, it steps into the best job market of the decade.
By graduation day, thousands more college seniors than last year will have jobs. And they command some of the highest starting salaries ever.
A persistently strong economy is sending corporate recruiters flocking to college campuses this spring after several years of modest hiring.
Many students, especially in technical fields, have multiple job offers, as the competition for their talent sends salaries and bonuses spiraling higher.
"It's a really good job market this year. All I had to do was drop my rsum at the career office and wait for the phone to ring," says Mia Liu, a senior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Ms. Liu landed a job back in February at New York investment house Merrill Lynch.
Her starting salary: $40,000 plus a $10,000 signing bonus. And it wasn't her only offer. A Merrill rival ponied up similar numbers.
She's not alone.
Hiring will be up 6.2 percent for college grads, while starting salaries have moved 3 to 4 percent higher, according to an annual survey by Michigan State University's Collegiate Employment Research Institute in East Lansing.
At MIT, a record 725 companies recruited this year.
The University of Virginia in Charlottesville actually ran out of interview rooms and asked professors to volunteer their offices.
"It's the best of the '90s for us so far," adds Wayne Wallace, director of the Career Resource Center at the University of Florida, Gainesville, where the number of companies interviewing on campus has doubled over the past two years.
And they show up with plenty of jobs to offer.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, some 70 percent of students interviewed by recruiters have job offers, says Elan Dal Ponte at UCLA's career office.
The hottest opportunities are still in high-tech - computer programmers and analysts, mechanical and chemical engineers.
"Some of these students are sitting on as many as five offers - some of which are over $45,000 or $50,000 a year," says UCLA's Ms. Dal Ponte.
And companies certainly feel the pressure.
"Multiple offers is something we did not see as often in prior years, and now it's almost the exception if you don't have" them, says David Reed, a director of recruiting for Andersen Consulting.
The Chicago-based company plans to hire 3,000 graduates this year, 40 percent with technical backgrounds.
IBM doubled its hiring goal this year to 3,000 graduates and even took its search beyond college campuses.
The computer giant sent a team of recruiters to Daytona Beach in Florida for spring break.
"We didn't bring back a lot of rsums, but we made some friends," says Dave Ferrell, IBM's manager of college recruiting.
But computer-based jobs aren't the only hot prospects. "It's truly an across-the-board, very very solid, job market," says Larry Simpson, director of UVA's Office of Career Services. "It's as good for marketing and sales as it is for finance and teaching."
"Our school teacher demand is just spiraling," says the University of Florida's Mr. Wallace. Recruiters from as far afield as California and Texas have beaten a path to the university.
But though eager, employers are still demanding. They want solid grades, extracurricular activities, good communication skills, and work experience.
More companies place increasing emphasis on the latter.
"Employers are looking more to [work] experience as a validator of potential success," UVA's Mr. Simpson says.
WHAT EMPLOYERS VALUE MOST
1. Strong written and oral communication skills.
2. Computer skills.
3. Work experience (internships, summer jobs).
4. Teamwork and leadership.
5. Analytical and problem- solving skills.
Tips From Recruiters, Career Counselors
'Be educated about your employer, because that shows an element of thoroughness that you would hopefully apply in your job.'
- David Reed, Andersen Consulting
'Graduates ... who are comfortable with change and fast-paced environments ... will really thrive in today's work force.'
- Sally Hinders, Drake University, Des Moines
'It's all a matter of contacts ... so network, network, network.'
- Larry Simpson, University of Virginia
'Students should be a little more adventuresome when considering [job] alternatives.'
- Patrick Scheetz, Michigan State University
'Go to a place that will allow [you] to contribute from Day 1.'
- Susan Stoltman-DeCroix, Microsoft Corp.
'Bring a real excitement and sense of enthusiasm ... and a lot of advanced knowledge.'
- Dave Ferrell,IBM Corp.