Positive job outlook for 2011 graduates

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Ryan Clark (left) and Kristen Seda (right) are student interns at UNL Career Services, where they assist students in finding jobs.

Story and photos by Blair Euteneuer, NewsNet Nebraska

Graduation is looming for nearly 1.7 million college students. Those who haven’t found jobs may be scurrying to find one. The good news for the class of 2011 is job offers and salaries are on the rise this year.

Bruce Aken, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln senior finance and accounting major, began his job search in early February and applied for 10 to 15 jobs across the country. In late March, he landed a job as a financial analyst with Milliman, one of the world’s largest actuarial and consulting firms, in Omaha, Neb.

“It was actually the first job I interviewed with, I got the position,” he said. “I was excited and pretty relieved because of the economy this past year. A lot of people can’t find jobs so it was nice having one two months before I graduate.”

Employers expect to hire 21 percent more new college grads this year than they did last year, according to preliminary results of the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) “Job Outlook Spring Update” survey.

Kelli Smith, assistant director at UNL’s Career Services said the positive outlook is “extremely welcome news.”

The survey also indicates that for the first time since 2008, the average starting salary offer is on the rise. This year, the average salary offer is $50,462, up 5.9 percent from last year’s average graduation salary offer of $47,673.

“One of the things challenging in economic downturns is sometimes students do everything possible and go the extra mile [but can’t land a job],” she said. “Other students lose hope and delay the job search because they don’t want to deal with the reality that it will be more challenging. Hopefully this news will encourage students to job search and do everything they possibly can to apply for jobs.”

According to the NACE survey, the “hot” jobs for the class of 2011 are in accounting, consulting, finance and sales. Some fields, such as teaching and construction, still lag because of the slowly recovering economy.

For those students who haven’t secured jobs yet, Smith said it’s “definitely not too late.” Employers from many fields are still seeking job candidates.

“We’re going through a large expansion right now,” said Terry Hansen, district sales manager for Weatherbill, a technology-driven company that offers weather insurance and risk management for farmers. “We’re hiring quite a few more this year than last year.”

The San Francisco-based company seeks to hire 45 to 50 graduates for sales positions alone in the next three to six months.

“The sky is the limit,” Hansen said. “We’re rapidly growing. We need quite a few more salespersons, mathematicians and engineers.”

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Terry Hansen (right), of Weatherbill, talks with UNL Career Services representative, Julie Obermeyer (left). Recently Hansen held a career information session for students on campus, but students didn’t show. “We know we’re late in the game this year,” he said. “But I’m sure some students are as well.”

National Research Corporation (NRC), a Lincoln, Neb.-based healthcare research and quality improvement firm, is also seeking to fill positions.

“We are hiring about the same as last year,” said Krisit Oltman, human resources manager of NRC. “We have six jobs currently open in sales for those coming out of school.”

While the firm mostly seeks to fill sales positions, it also has openings in finance, accounting and other fields.

With a U.S. economy still recovering, what will set candidates apart in a competitive environment?

“The big thing we look for is experience,” Hansen said. “To have an education is nice, but experience is key, through internships and afterschool jobs.”

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Oltman said NRC seeks students with a “solid work history,” along with campus involvement and leadership.

“In general, NRC looks for high potential students that we believe could move up within our organization,” she said. “If a student can prove they have gone above and beyond throughout high school and college, we believe they will do the same in an internship or full-time role with us.”

The survey indicates employers want candidates with communication skills.

The “perfect candidate” also possesses a strong work ethic, teamwork skills and initiative.

Smith said the qualities employers seek in candidates varies from job to job.

“Above all, students need a well-organized resume, a clear cut set of skills, a record of reasonable academic achievement, and some type of tangible experience in the workforce that indicates proof of skills and the ability to work well,” she said.

Smith encourages students to search for jobs through Husker Hire Link and to visit UNL’s Career Services, which serves both current students and alumni, to help with resumes, interviews and the job search.

“Students can even come in [to Career Services] the Monday after graduation,” she said. “It’s definitely not too late. It still isn’t the best economic time we’ve ever had, so as a result you need to be sure you’re focused, and do all you can. But don’t lose hope and give up.”

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