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It’s not easy adjusting to life after graduation. There’s the stress of suddenly becoming a working adult, not to mention the trauma of leaving friends and trying to get rid of all that low-quality furniture and those slightly offensive posters that you and your roommates considered art.

The lousy job market has contributed to the stress, yet according to statistics from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), conditions are improving, and some fields are actually flourishing.

The single most important information for college graduates can be whittled down to one question: Are employers hiring entry-level workers?

According to a survey by Phil Gardner, director of research at the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, the short answer is yes. He has been supervising the study for 15 years, and in his closing thoughts in Recruiting Trends 2011-2012, Gardner notes that companies can no longer worry about economic uncertainty when they’re making hiring plans for the year ahead. They simply have to hire.

About 3,231 employers took part in the survey, representing about 106,000 job opportunities. Overall, their responses reflected the highest rate of optimism about employment of college grads since 2007.

Bright spots in hiring outlook 

Forty-two percent of the employers surveyed said they had definite plans to hire college graduates during the 2011-2012 academic year – a figure just five percentage points shy of the pre-recession study in 2007. Recruiting of bachelor’s degree holders is expected to increase by about 7 percent, and this group represents about three-fourths of employers’ total estimated hires.

Hiring of MBA holders follows closely, with a projected increase of 6.4 percent, but for other master’s degrees, a slight decrease in hiring was reflected.

Thirty-four percent of respondents to the survey were fast-growth or second-stage companies, with anywhere from 9 to 100 employees. Though smaller companies are not as stable, they have consistently provided strong job opportunities over the last 10 years. Second-stage companies are expecting to collectively hire 35 percent more people than last year. Large companies will increase hiring by 6 percent, and small and mid-size firms will see relatively little change.

As was also reflected in the NACE data, accounting, finance, computer science and electrical engineering are highly desired degrees. Gardner’s data adds marketing into the top, as well as human resources – better news for graduates with language-based majors. In addition, more than one-third of employers surveyed said they’d be seeking entry-level employees from all majors.

Employers emphasize a candidate’s “fit” with the company in their hiring decisions, as well as the candidate’s flexibility.

“Companies need cross-disciplinary people, people who are ‘t-shaped,’ “ Gardner says. “No matter what your degree is, you need to be computer system-literate, and your scientists and engineers need to be able to communicate.”

Recruiting emphasizes relationships

Despite some improvement in the job market for college graduates, competition will be stiff. You’ll get frustrated and angry. At times, you’ll feel like giving up. Don’t. One thing that’s not always obvious to recent graduates is that they don’t have to go through the job search alone. Remember, recruiters and human resource professionals need people like you. They’re entrusted to hire the right personnel at the right time, and the good ones are always on the lookout for new talent.

There are many ways to take advantage of their services, based on your short- and long-term needs and goals. And, lucky for you, recruitment options for college graduates are increasing.

One notable trend is that “campus-oriented” internships, or university internship programs, have become a key recruiting focus for the companies surveyed. Internships are now more popular than career fairs to connect with potential employees. This reflects companies’ need to find employees who are the right fit and the expectation that college graduates arrive with some experience in the field.

Buy "Calling All Grads" Kindle eBook. Job tips for college gradsThis article was excerpted from the new eBook “Calling All Grads! Turn a Degree into a Job,” edited by careers writer and editor Marco Buscaglia and published by Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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