March 16, 2007
Good job prospects for grads, but search takes time and effort
Special to The Seattle Times
College graduates often joke that they can always serve up lattes if they can't get a job in their field. But that's probably not an issue this year. Nationwide, employers are showing more interest in hiring those with fresh diplomas than in years past, particularly in hot fields like high-tech, nursing or accounting.
Employers are looking to pluck about 17 percent more graduates from this year's crop than they did in 2006, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
But while the prospect of finding an entry-level job may be improving, it still takes work to land one.
Resa Roth, who graduated from Washington State University's honors track in December, applied for more than 20 jobs before getting hired at an Everett pharmaceutical company.
"I didn't think it would take too long to find a job, but I found out otherwise," said Roth, a double major in zoology and Spanish.
Chester Chan, a senior in computer engineering at the University of Washington and a former intern at Microsoft, said it's the grads searching for a job that are getting multiple offers and a starting salary of $65,000 and up.
"While the competition for certain jobs — with Google or Microsoft, for example — can be high, there're a lot of employers to choose from. It takes time and effort," Chan said.
After a two-year recession throughout the Seattle area earlier in the decade, job growth is up for the fourth year in a row.
"We have a pretty healthy metro economy, but it's not booming" like the late '90s, said Paul Sommers, an economics and public-service professor at Seattle University.
"People have to sort themselves out with what they studied in college and how that relates to careers out there," Sommers said. "The classic liberal-arts degree doesn't map out a particular set of jobs. You have to go out there and find your way."
Colleges in the Seattle area said recruiters are showing more interest in snagging graduates than in years past.
At the UW, 168 employers came to campus last year. In the first two quarters of this year, 196 employers visited, said Susan Terry, director of the university's Center for Career Services.
"It's just incrementally getting better," Terry said.
North Seattle Community College said the nursing and engineering grads are top targets of recruiters, while Central Washington University-Lynnwood said it is a particularly strong hiring year for accounting majors.
At Pacific Lutheran University, job-fair participation has been gradually increasing over the last three years.
Low unemployment rate
Employers in the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett last year added 41,200 new jobs — 7,900 of them in the business and professional-services sector, said Washington state economist Dave Wallace.
The average unemployment rate in Washington last year was 4.9 percent, the lowest annual average rate since 1999, when it was about the same.
In the most recent jobless numbers released by the state, employers in the four-county Puget Sound area (King, Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties) added 10,500 people to their payroll jobs last month.
Apex Systems, a national recruiting firm that works with IT professionals, is looking to hire 550 entry-level employees this year. The company has been to 10 job fairs; typically it would have attended two by this time in the school year.
Michele McCauley, director of human resources, said Apex Systems is stepping up advertising in college publications, but isn't offering signing bonuses or cash incentives to lure graduates in. Salaries at its Seattle office start at $32,400.
With 1,700 vacancies, registered nurses take the top spot for in-demand careers, according to the state employment office.
But the office listed high-tech jobs among five of the 10 fastest-growing occupations in the greater Seattle area. By —, engineering and computer-related jobs are predicted to account for 16,000 jobs.
Representatives of Microsoft and other high-profile tech firms told students at a conference at Bellevue Community College in February that there is a huge demand for qualified applicants in the IT sector.
"The more you augment that résumé, the better your chances of getting that first good job," said keynote presenter Joel Chaplin, chief information officer and vice president of Information Technology for Infospace. "Networking can't be overstated."
His company typically doesn't hire entry-level employees, although sometimes it does consider graduates with internship experience. A typical starting wage is $35,000 to $65,000.
No guarantee of a job
Darrel Bowman, CEO of AppTech, told attendees, "You can get your degree, and that still won't guarantee a job."
Companies are looking for those who communicate well and present themselves professionally, he said.
Sommers said a college degree leads to better lifetime earnings.
In Washington, those with a bachelor's degree or higher earned an average annual wage of nearly $69,000, while those with an associate's degree earned about $48,000, according to the 2006 Washington State Labor Market and Economic Report.
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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