WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- As the academic year rolls toward completion, college students across the U.S. are asking themselves the same question countless graduates before them did: "Is there a job waiting for me?"
Since January of 2004, the unemployment rate has dropped from 5.7 percent to 5.2 percent, according to figures released by the Department of Labor on Feb. 4.
Secretary of Labor Elaine Chao called the unemployment numbers "the lowest since Sept. 11, 2001."
More jobs translates to more job opportunities for new college grads, and according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) the outlook is promising.
In an August 2004 survey, employers told NACE they planned on hiring 13.1 percent more college grads in the 2004-05 academic year than in the 2003-04 academic year. In a follow-up survey in December, almost 90 percent of the same employers reconfirmed their original projections or raised the number of college grads they expected to hire.
Career centers at colleges and universities across the nation are seeing a rise in the number of employers coming to recruit on their campuses compared to the numbers in previous years.
Syracuse University's recruitment and employer relations assistant director, Debi Walker, said the number of employers conducting on-campus interviews was up 11 percent since last year. Walker noted that in addition to the number of employers coming to campus, there has also been a wider variety.
The better job outlook may be the reason more students are taking advantage of Syracuse's career services, Walker noted.
"I would have to say that they are more optimistic about finding jobs. I don't see the sense of tension that there has been in the past couple of years," she said.
The situation is similarly promising at Kansas State University, where employers are interviewing more students and offering more job opportunities to more candidates, said Kerri Day Keller, director of Career and Employment Services.
Keller said students in engineering, architecture and accounting were receiving the most job offers.
Keller's observations reflect the findings in a November 2004 report by NACE, showing that graduates with degrees in business, engineering or computer-related fields have the best chances of getting hired.
But students with a background in liberal arts need not despair; a January 2005 NACE survey found that "new college graduates with good communication skills have an advantage over their competitors in the job market."
The report also found that honesty and integrity ranked among the topmost qualities employers look for in a job candidate.
Jill Morrison, internship and employment relations coordinator at Azusa Pacific University, said the job market was wide open for students with a liberal arts education, and many employers want students with a variety of skills.
Job experience can't hurt, either.
"Employers are looking for evidence that a candidate has the skills, qualities, and abilities they believe are important to workplace success, and work experience--even if it's not directly related to the job at hand--can provide that evidence," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.
Although the job market for new graduates is gaining momentum, students may have to settle for jobs without perks. In its January 2005 report, NACE found that nearly 87 percent the employers surveyed don't plan to offer more perks.
"In general, employers tell us they expect more competition for new college graduates, but not enough to warrant more perks," said Mackes. "We do expect to see some increase in starting salaries, but overall, employers have said those increases will be modest."
Despite the presence of more recruiters on many campuses, other colleges and universities are creating their own opportunities off-campus.
At Rochester University, director of the career center, Burt Nadler, said employers still come to campus, but many of those employers are engineering and technical business firms, which creates a somewhat narrow offering for those in other curriculums. The university has instead focused its energy on the success of its off-campus recruitment events, started four years ago, that are held regionally, as well as in Boston, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New York City.
Nadler says that the economy has not turned around quickly enough for many employers to want to come to campus and he does not expect, in general, that active on-campus recruiting will increase.
"Companies aren't growing or blooming, they're selectively identifying students," said Nadler, mentioning that on-campus recruiting would never return to the height that it was in the past.
"Those days are gone," he said.
Nadler said the Internet changed recruitment practices, and now companies want students who find employers on their own.
In a September NACE press release, Mackes echoed Nadler's endorsement of student initiative.
"Students who will be graduating in 2004-05 need to start now to find employers and opportunities, and should avail themselves of the resources and expert advice they will find in their campus career center," she said.