An unemployment rate of 7.3% may not seem particularly good. But for millions of the country’s college seniors, 2014 data recently released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics represent the first sign that the major upturn in the employment market for bachelor’s degree grads that started in 2012, was not an anomaly.The last year students faced an unemployment rate below 7% was 2008. The following five years proved more challenging to those looking for work than any period in decades. Between 2009 and 2013, the percentage of bachelor’s degree graduates aged 20-24 who were unemployed hovered between 8% and 9%, thwarting well-considered plans for careers, and—for many—putting marriages and mortgages on hold.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Table 10 (unpublished)
Before the Class of 2015 breathes a collective sigh of relief and drinks to their greater fortune, consider this: employed graduates from recent years may also be on the look out for new opportunity. They have jobs, and that’s good. But, in a 2014 survey conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, 46% of recent grads said their jobs do not require a college degree—a 20-year high. You can bet these under-employed grads are already snapping up higher-paying jobs as the economy improves.
Here’s the bottom line: despite better employment prospects, it will still be difficult for new college grads to find the kind of work they want at the salaries they expect, unless they major in engineering, computer science, or certain areas of business. The 2013-2014 Recruiting Trends survey conducted by Michigan State University shows that, of the top twelve majors requested by employers, six of them were related to technology.
In an improving employment environment, today’s college seniors—particularly those majoring in a subject that doesn’t lead to a particular career—need to be clear on what they want to do, and the value they bring to an employer. But most of all, they need to identify what sets them apart from the competition. The employer still has the upper hand in this market, and plenty of choice in candidates. But at least, for the Class of 2015, there may be an opportunity to get a foot in the door.