The following blog post is a companion to the March 21, 2012, webinar, “Job Outlook: Class of 2012,” led by Edwin Koc, Director of Strategic and Foundation Research, National Association of Colleges and Employers.

If you plan to hire new college graduates this year, expect to face more competition than in the recent past. There has been steady improvement in both the overall economy and job market and in the job market specifically for new college graduates, creating more competition for new grads in a variety of fields.

In fact, overall, employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2012 survey anticipate hiring approximately 10 percent more new college graduates at the bachelor’s degree level this year than they did last year. Some industries—notably retail trade, energy, engineering services, and consulting—have especially aggressive plans to hire Class of 2012 graduates, projecting hiring increases that exceed 18 percent.

Employers taking part in the survey were most likely to cite finance, accounting, computer science, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering graduates as their target hires. Beyond major, employers are also looking at the diversity of their new hires; and nearly three-quarters have formal diversity recruiting efforts in place.

Employers have a healthy list of requirements for their new college hires—the right major, of course, but also a high GPA (3.0 is the standard cutoff), relevant experience (most likely gained through an internship), and a variety of skills, including teamwork, verbal communication, and decision-making and problem-solving skills.

At the same time, however, new college grads have their own expectations, and organizations that want to compete successfully for top college talent need to be prepared to meet those.

Student Expectations and Preferences

NACE research indicates that new grads seek opportunity for personal growth and development, job security, good benefits, friendly co-workers, a high starting salary, and an opportunity to improve the community.

In terms of benefits, student expectations have changed little since NACE began tracking this 20+ years ago: 100 percent employer-paid medical insurance, annual salary increases, and an employer-matched 401(k) program are consistently at or near the top of students’ wish list.

Salary-wise, employers can expect to ante up more this year. More than half of employers taking part in NACE’s Job Outlook 2012 survey expect to raise starting salaries; overall, the average anticipated increase is 3.7 percent. For the most sought-after disciplines, starting salaries can be steep (computer science grads, for example, average nearly $61,000 as a starting salary), and NACE research shows that students are fairly savvy about what they can command. In fact, salary is a key reason why they reject job offers.

Positioning Your Organization to Compete

The first step to positioning your organization to compete effectively for new college grads is identifying target schools—schools that will provide you with the best matches for your opportunities.

Employers invested in college recruiting and relations select their target schools based on majors offered, perceived quality of the schools’ programs, previous experience recruiting at the school; diversity of the student body, and location. Look for quantity and quality, and verse yourself in the student demographics so you have a handle on who you are targeting.

Building your efforts around the right schools for your organization is a critical first step to success, but college relations and recruitment is a long-term strategy for developing a high-quality work force. For those willing to make the commitment, the return on investment can be enormous.

Learn more: NACE offers a variety of resources for college recruiting, including salary information, benchmarks, best practices, custom research, and more. Sample some of these resources at

Mimi Collins is director of communications for the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

A special thank you to Mimi and NACE for providing such great content for our blog! If you liked this post, you might consider reading Best Practices for College Recruiting.

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