College graduates still face a tough job market, though prospects and salaries are improving for those with the best skills and credentials.
Kristi Andrews, 25, moved into a full-time staff accountant job as she graduated last week because of two strong factors that make the difference for college graduates: She earned a high-demand degree, and she was a top-notch student.
“I definitely think what helped me is I picked a career that’s growing and will be around for a while,” the Jupiter resident said. “I never really worried about finding a position.”
For people in the 20 to 24 age group, the unemployment rate is still 13.1 percent, essentially the same as last year. The National Association of College and Employers surveyed employers in February and March who indicated they would hire 2.1 percent more new college graduates that last year.
That’s not much movement.
“It’s still tough for the kids coming out of college with their degrees,” said Randy McDermott, Palm Beach County manager for Robert Half International recruiting firm.
Lynn University Career Services Director Denisha Bonds said job prospects have not improved as much this year as expected. The college and employers survey last fall showed employers expected to hire 13 percent more graduates, but they revised hiring plans down sharply earlier this year.
However, the group’s salary survey showed students graduating with a bachelor’s degree can expect a 5 percent boost in salary over last year, up to $44,928.
McDermott said salaries are going up in Palm Beach County, too, about 4 percent for all positions.
“The overall economy is better than it has been and that definitely trickles down to new grads,” he said.
Key for Andrews was an internship she completed several years ago when she discovered how much she liked the accounting field. She followed it up by working the past four years with Fuoco Group, a North Palm Beach CPA and business advisory firm. That’s where she’s now employed full time.
“Meeting people face to face is much better than sending out resumes,” Andrews said.
In addition to her work experience, the Dwyer High alumnus graduated from Northwood University cum laude and received the Outstanding Academic Achievement award in Accounting/Management.
Before the recession in 2007, active job seekers in the college graduate age range faced an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent as the pomp and circumstance started. Six years later for the current April, the rate is 13.1 percent, essentially the same as last year.
That was 1.2 million unemployed in the 20- to 24-year-old age group then, compared to 2.1 million this April, according to Labor Department reports. Only those who have searched for jobs in the prior four weeks are counted so students taking the summer off aren’t in that figure.
In between it was a lot worse, with 2.6 million unemployed in April 2010.
Job prospects are much better for graduates with technology, engineering or accounting degrees, McDermott said. Add to that a good GPA and involvement in extracurricular activities like a business fraternity, and the prospects improve considerably, McDermott said.
Bonds said her office helps students identify their priorities.
Career counselors advise graduates who want to stay in Palm Beach County not to expect the exact job they want as a first job. And they help them establish their personal brand.
“We help students be very strategic about those things when we help them develop their career and job search plans,” she said.
For Ricky Armand of Port St. Lucie, persistence made the difference.
After he graduated from the Vermont Law School last May, Armand studied for the Bar exam. He started looking for a job early this year.
“It’s hard to get that entry-level job,” he said two months ago during a job fair in West Palm Beach.
Three weeks later, his hard work paid off. Armand started full-time April 1 with a law firm in Hobe Sound and does research for another part-time.
“The process really is an up-and-down process,” Armand said. “You may get ignored or rejected. It’s easy to get down. The key is to find a way to pick yourself up and start the process again.”
Employers say 70 percent of the most desired college degrees come from three fields:
1. Business - 31 percent
2. Computer and Information Sciences - 24 percent
3. Engineering - 17 percent
Source: CareerBulder and Harris Interactive survey
Unemployment rate ages 20-24
April 2013 13.1 percent
April 2012 13.2 percent
April 2011 14.9 percent
April 2010 17.2 percent
April 2009 14.4 percent
Source: U.S. Labor Department