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College job market back in boom mode


Austin-American Statesman (04/02/2006)
By Lori Hawkins

Offers and salaries are up; recruiters are seeing the best year since 2001.

Abarren job market drove Richard Valdez to the University of Texas two years ago in pursuit of an MBA.

"I went back to school simply because it was a weak job market," said Valdez, 26, who graduated from Rice University in 2001 with an engineering degree and was pursuing a career in consulting. "I was betting that it would recover by the time I got out."

It turned out to have been a good gamble. Valdez, who graduates next month, received five job offers in consulting and operations management. After weighing the jobs, locations and salaries, he accepted a consulting position at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Chicago.

"It was very tough to decide, but it was good to know I had so many options," Valdez said.

After several lean years, college recruiters are back on campus, and, better yet, they've got jobs to fill. So far this year, 36 percent of Valdez's fellow second-year students at the McCombs School of Business have multiple job offers, said Stacey Rudnick, director of the school's MBA career services department.

It's not just MBAs who are in demand. Employers plan to hire 15 percent more new college grads this year than last, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, which polled 256 of its corporate members.

"This has been the best recruitment year since 2001," said Barbara Henderson, director of career services at St. Edward's University, a liberal arts school in Austin. "The companies at our job fairs have real jobs to fill, and they're making hires."

At St. Edward's, a recent job fair attracted 91 companies, up from 80 a year ago. And unlike in years past, Henderson said, when job fairs were more of a chance to network, employers are doing one-on-one interviews and scheduling follow-ups on the spot.

It's a similar story at Texas State University-San Marcos.

"Our job fairs tell the tale," said Curt Schafer, director of Texas State's career services. "It's the first time in three years that every fair has been maxed out."

Recruiters at the fairs — which are held in the basketball arena and accommodate 100 employers — include government agencies such as the CIA, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security with large blocks of jobs to fill, Schafer said.

"I just got an e-mail from an employer working with a federal agency looking for 110 people in the tech field," he said. "If you're a computer science major, it's back to the point where there are more jobs than graduating students."

The push for college graduates is driven by employers' optimism about the U.S. economy as well as a need to fill positions that have been frozen since the high-tech downturn that began in late 2000, said Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist with Moody's Economy.com.

"Employers can't wring any more productivity out of their existing work forces," Koropeckyj said. "With business confidence strong and business spending back, it's time to start replenishing their work forces."

The rekindled interest in students is pushing up pay, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Demand is strongest in engineering, finance, accounting and management consulting, but liberal arts graduates also are being courted.

Graduates with accounting degrees can expect average starting salaries of $45,723, up 6 percent from last year, the association said. Starting salaries for economics and finance graduates are up 11 percent to $45,191, on average.

Business administration and management graduates are seeing a 4 percent increase in starting salaries, taking the average annual salary to $39,850. In contrast, marketing graduates are seeing a 3.4 percent dip in annual pay to $36,260.

Overall, engineering graduates will continue to garner top salaries in the $50,000 to $55,900 range. Liberal arts graduates can expect a starting salary of $30,828, up 6 percent from 2005.

The number of companies recruiting at UT's College of Engineering is up 25 percent — to 400 — from a year ago, and starting salaries in many areas are up about 5 percent, said Michael Powell, director of UT's Engineering Career Assistance Center.

Civil, architectural and petroleum engineers are in particular demand.

"It seems like we have as many civil engineering students as we have recruiters looking for them," Powell said.

Newly minted MBAs also will be making more this year. The average annual salary offer this year for investment bankers is $95,000, with a $30,000 signing bonus, Rudnick said. That's up from $90,000 with a $25,000 bonus in 2005.

Consulting offers have been in the $100,000 to $115,000 range, up from an average of $95,000 last year, said Rudnick of UT's McCombs School.

"When things were really tough, a company could make three offers and land three students," he said. "Companies are very aware that they are going to need to make more offers and increase their offers, and that's exactly what they're doing."

But for students, particularly undergraduates, who want to stay in Austin, it's still an employer's market, said Henderson of St. Edward's.

"If you want to stay here, you've got to be absolutely stellar," she said. "There are only so many jobs to go around and many students fighting for them."