There were no last-minute companies signing up this week for a statewide job fair at the University of Central Florida.
But it wasn’t for lack of interest. With 241 companies already scheduled to attend, there wasn’t enough room for more.
"The market looks really, really good for students today," said Bill Blank, associate director of career services and experiential learning at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. "Better than it’s been in a number of years."
Employers are planning to hire 19.2 percent more fresh-from-campus graduates this school year compared with a year earlier, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Corporate growth – including global expansion – is one reason for the optimistic outlook, said Andrea Koncz, employment-information manager for NACE. "They’re also anticipating a lot of retirement of the baby boomers," she added.
Nearly 1.5 million grads are expected to pour out of the nation’s colleges this year, and for those in search of a paycheck, the heightened interest from employers is good news.
Jobs in accounting – which carry an average salary offer of $47,975 – are tops for this year’s grads, followed by consulting and entry-level management, according to a Spring 2007 Salary Survey by NACE.
Ben Abraham, who just turned his tassel at the University of South Florida, graduated with an accounting degree. He came to Thursday’s job fair at UCF armed with 30 resumes, saying he had already had one offer. "They’re definitely interested," he said of employers. "Basically, I’m going to compare all the offers and see what’s best for me."
But while prospects in the area look good for recent grads, they aren’t as hot as expected. Employers in the South were overall less optimistic when polled in the spring about hiring than they were in the fall, surveys by NACE found.
Still, colleges here say employers seem eager.
At Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., there has been an increase in interest from employers this year, especially in the finance industry. The liberal-arts school also had to turn away employers at its March 30 career fair, said Ray Rogers, director of career services.
"Students who are applying themselves and trying are finding a good number of job opportunities," he said. But he noted that it’s not the best year of his nine-year career at Rollins-that was 1999, when the job market was so hot some students could essentially write their own ticket. Still, the market is strong for entry-level jobs, he said.
Rollins student Jaimee Owens had already landed a position with the commercial-banking division of Regions Bank by the start of the spring semester.
After applying for several jobs, she said she thinks the market is "very competitive."
"You just have to be on top of your game," she said. "You have to apply yourself, and you have to prove yourself."
Employers are looking for characteristics such as communication skills, integrity and an ability to relate well to others, according to an NACE survey.
Recent Florida State grad Francis Santos said he has had several interviews in the past couple of months. Employers have valued strong communication skills, he said, adding, "They expect people to be able to bring up relevant experiences from college."
For some, prior work experience – through an internship or other experiential learning – is a must.
"You can no longer just walk on a set and find a job," said Jay Noble, director of alumni relations at Full Sail Real World Education, which has 36 counselors who help graduates land jobs in industries such as entertainment and digital arts. "You have to prove to them that you have experience."
And while jobs are plentiful – there were 1,481 full-time positions listed on UCF’s career Web site this week – the most desirable jobs can become very competitive. Internships and professional experience have become a high priority at the UCF Career Services department.
"We start preparing students literally from the very first day on campus," Blank said. "We do want them to be fully prepared."
And while multiple job offers can up the ante in some cases, one thing that can help students who are looking for a first job is a pragmatic outlook.
"The biggest mistake that I find is they’re just overshooting their first job," said Noble of Full Sail. "They just have to be realistic."
© 2007, The Orlando Sentinel (Fla.).
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