CareerBuilder’s Bullish Outlook for Grads: This is the Strongest Job Market in a Decade

CareerBuilder’s annual college graduate job forecast doesn’t beat around the bush this year. Its latest research gets right to the point:

“It is a good time to be a graduate, as employers say they are planning to hire more recent college graduates this year than they have in more than a decade.”

The top-line survey findings are extremely bullish and pretty encouraging for 2018 grads getting ready to hit the job market. For example:

  • Four out of five employers (80 percent) say they plan to hire college graduates this year, up from 74 percent last year, and just 58 percent 10 years ago.
  • Nearly half of employers plan to increase the starting salaries they offer to recent graduates.
  • The most sought-after majors include business, engineering, and computer and information sciences.
  • Those who aren’t hiring college grads this year say it’s because their organization isn’t expanding their headcount (57 percent), or, that they need more experienced workers (26 percent).

Salaries for Grads: 55 Percent Say They’ll Offer $40k or More

Starting salaries are always a critical issue, and the CareerBuilder survey has this additional piece of good news for the Class of 2018: Nearly half (47 percent) of employers say they will offer recent graduates higher pay than last year, with a third of employers saying they are willing to start graduates at a starting salary of $50,000 or more.

However, a nearly equal number (45 percent) say they anticipate no change in salary compared to last year, and 8 percent actually plan to decrease their starting pay for new graduates.

The expected starting salaries for recent college graduates, according to CareerBuilder, break down as follows:

  • 21 percentunder $30,000 annually;
  • 23 percent — $30,000 to less than $40,000;
  • 22 percent$40,000 to less than $50,000;
  • 33 percent $50,000 or higher.

The survey offers this piece of advice as it pertains to starting salaries:

College graduates may not feel they can negotiate salary, but that thinking may mean they are leaving money on the table, (because) 74 percent of employers say they are willing to negotiate salary offers when extending a job offer to a recent college graduate.

What Employers Say They’re Looking for

The problem with a survey like this is in getting too enthused by the broad, top-line research. That’s because all college graduates are not created equal.

As CareerBuilder points out, “Employers are seeking a handful of significant skills and backgrounds from new college grads. More specifically, employers hiring recent college graduates in 2018 say they’re looking to fill roles in these areas.” They are:

  • Information technology — 31 percent;
  • Customer service — 26 percent;
  • Business development — 20 percent;
  • Sales — 18 percent;
  • Finance/accounting — 18 percent;
  • Human resources —  15 percent;
  • Production — 14 percent;
  • Marketing/public relations — 10 percent;
  • Clinical — 9 percent; and,
  • Legal — 5 percent.

And, These Majors Are in the Most Demand

CareerBuilder also asked employers what college majors are most in demand, and although it’s a pretty broad question, it  follows what college students have been hearing for years about what majors are the best to get into.

According to the research, the best majors employers are looking for today are:

  1. Business — 35 percent;
  2. Engineering — 22 percent;
  3. Computer and information sciences — 18 percent;
  4. Engineering technologies — 13 percent;
  5. Communications technologies — 11 percent;
  6. Health professions and related clinical sciences — 11 percent;
  7. Math and statistics — 9 percent;
  8. Science technologies — 7 percent;
  9. Mechanic and repair technologies — 6 percent;
  10. Public administration and social services — 6 percent;
  11. Construction trades — 6 percent;
  12. Communication and journalism — 5 percent;
  13. Education — 5 percent;
  14. Transportation and materials moving — 5 percent;
  15. Liberal arts and sciences, general studies and humanities — 5 percent.

The national survey was conducted online by The Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder between April 4 and May 1, 2018, and included a representative sample of 1,012 hiring managers and human resource professionals in the private sector across industries and company sizes.

Be Careful Reading Too Much Into Broad Survey Results

Here’s my take: While the CareerBuilder survey certainly sounds like good news for 2018 college graduates, the reality may be a little bit different as judged by my class of Communications students at a large state university here in California.

I’ve been quizzing these soon-to-be grads about their job prospects all semester, and the feedback I’m getting is that they are struggling to find positions, and when they do, they don’t pay very much — at least not enough to live an independent life here in Southern California.

The message is clear: Although broad survey results may sound encouraging, your mileage may vary depending on a number of specifics such as your major, your skill set, the demand for that skill set, where you live, and probably most importantly, where you might be willing to move to.

For example, I have a millennial-aged relative who had been working part-time in the finance department of a big company that makes it easy to buy and sell used cars. Last year, he graduated from a local university with an MBA in Finance, and of course, he was looking for a full-time job.

Unfortunately, the big company he was working for didn’t seem to have one, despite being very happy with the work he was doing, and, in spite of of how much time and effort it had spent training him. His only option, if he wanted a full-time spot with the company, was to pick-up and move to Georgia or Virginia.

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Things May Not Be Quite as Rosy as They Seem

My relative was mightily frustrated at why his company didn’t have something full-time locally for him, particularly since his supervisors were so pleased with his part-time work. When it came to moving, he simply wasn’t ready to trust the big company and upend his life for a job some 3,000 miles away from family and friends.

But sometimes, all’s well that end’s well,

Tesla reached out to my relative via LinkedIn InMail, and the Tesla folks had done their homework. They knew all about how unhappy a lot of employees were at the big company where he was working, and in fact, had hired a number of others working for his company by researching them and then reaching out via LinkedIn.

The good news is that my relative is now employed full-time by Tesla and very happy. He’s making a decent wage with great benefits, plus, whenever he tells somebody where he works, they say, “WOW — you work for Tesla?

My relative turned out OK by not just up and moving for a job, but he got a little lucky, I think. Although there are always people willing to do that, as I was several times in my career, millennials as a group aren’t terribly excited by that prospect.

The soon-to-be college grads I deal with understand it’s a tough job market out there. My students at Cal State Fullerton keep reminding me of that, and despite the rosy CareerBuilder survey results, you should keep reminding yourself of that too.

John Hollon

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.