Archive for April, 2007


            Okay, I admit it, I do watch the Apprentice, and in fact I’m hooked. I know it’s all a big sham. Trump plays the pompous power broker, shamelessly plugs sponsors, and now he’s dragging his two kids into the act! But it does provide insights into the extreme measures today’s young people will take to advance their careers.            

Last night I was editing Lesson 7: Promotionology; The Art of the Raise, and I realized that Trump’s newest apprentice, Stephani, exemplifies my first rule of Promotionology – Always Be The Least Hated Candidate for any given promotion. She “flew under the radar” all season and then somehow rose to the top of the class in the final few weeks. I never even noticed she existed until she presented the marketing plan for Trump Towers in Las Vegas!           

Anyway, the reality show format really proves my point regarding promotions. People will go out of their way to sabotage coworkers who threaten their upward ascent and willingly accept nonthreatening candidates as their new bosses. Stephani even mentioned this in her final plea for the job. She said “no one ever said anything negative about me in the boardroom”. But enough about silly reality TV shows – here’s what I wrote for Career Secret Sauce.

The First Rule of Promotionology

Most promotions go to the person who the team hates the least as their new boss. Why did I say hates the least versus likes the most? Very few people like the idea of a new boss, unless it’s them! And when a former peer becomes the new boss, most people get really emotional, and often when companies promote from within and that’s exactly what happens. The classic reaction to discovering that a former peer is your new boss is to update your resume and look for a new job.  However, some peer promotions are less traumatic than others. The best way to get promoted is to establish yourself as the least controversial candidate. Simply put, your goal is to be the last one standing when your peers mentally eliminate all of the other people on the team they would hate to work for.            

There are a number of ways to become the least hated future boss. Chances are you’ll be competing with ambitious people for ever promotion. Most ambitious people are obsessed with themselves; the things they’re working on or have accomplished. They think it’s a waste of time to study the work of coworkers, let alone complement their efforts. Don’t be like them. Develop a habit of publicly recognizing everyone around you for the good work they do. You’ll instantly separate yourself from the pack of self-obsessed ambitious coworkers and make a lot of friends. This doesn’t mean be a kiss-up. It just means pay attention to what others are going and don’t be afraid to acknowledge someone else’s good work. If someone comes up with a clever way of doing something, ask them about it. In staff meetings, remind other team members about the good work of others. And here is the key – spread it around. If you simply hurdle praise on the top performers, you’re just fueling their egos. They don’t need your praise and you may be inadvertently signally your boss that you’d be willing to report to them. But if you go the extra mile to recognize the lesser-appreciated members of the team, you’ll win more hearts and minds than you can imagine. They will trust you more than those around you and your boss will appreciate your contribution to the overall morale of the team. 


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Thirty years ago, the “generation gap” reflected the cultural gulf between World War II-era parents and their children. Parents then just didn’t get sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Today, the gap is about debt.

This generation of twentysomethings is straining under the weight of college loans and other debt, a crushing load that separates it from every previous generation.

Nearly two-thirds carry some debt, and those with debt have taken on more in the past five years, according to an analysis of the credit records of 3 million twentysomethings that Experian, the credit-reporting agency, did for USA TODAY. Their late payments are rising, and they’re more likely to be late than other Americans are.

Nearly half of twentysomethings have stopped paying a debt, forcing lenders to “charge off” the debt and sell it to a collection agency, or had cars repossessed or sought bankruptcy protection.

High debt loads are causing anxiety, too. A poll of twentysomethings by USA TODAY and the National Endowment for Financial Education (NEFE) found 60% feel they’re facing tougher financial pressures than young people did in previous generations. And 30% say they worry frequently about their debt.

“I have nightmares,” says Heather Schopp, 29, of Long Beach, Calif., who accrued $165,000 in student-loan debt to become a chiropractor. “I dream I’m on a hot-air balloon, hanging on for dear life.”

Although the percentage of people ages 22 to 29 with debt has declined, their total debt is up 10%, to an average $16,120 as of Aug. 1, compared with five years earlier, Experian’s analysis found. Every type of debt — from credit cards to college to personal loans — has risen.

Student-loan balances rose 16% to an average of $14,379; revolving debt, including credit cards, surged 24% to $5,781; and total installment debt, including student and personal loans, rose 4% to $17,208. (Comparisons are adjusted for inflation.)

Among all twentysomethings, the fastest-growing group owes $20,000 or more in student-loan debt. Though it’s a small group, its proportion has doubled in the past five years to 3%.

“This debt-for-diploma system is strangling our young people right when they’re starting out in life,” says Tamara Draut, author of Strapped: Why America’s 20- and 30- Somethings Can’t Get Ahead. “It’s creating a sense of futility that no matter what they do, they’re not going to be able to get ahead. It’s a sense of hopelessness.”

Credit cards have been a seductive lure for many twentysomethings who got them while in college or right after.

“I didn’t have a lot of savings, so I started on my credit cards,” says Tolu Adeleye, 28, of Minneapolis, who ran up debt traveling during school. He has about $35,000 in credit card debt.

A change of plans

Debt has forced some young people to change their career plans. Of those surveyed, 22% say they’ve taken a job they otherwise wouldn’t have because they needed more money to pay off student-loan debt. Twenty-nine percent say they’ve put off or chosen not to pursue more education because they have so much debt already. And 26% have put off buying a home for the same reason.

A smaller percentage say they’ve put off marrying (11%) or having children (14%).

The Boomerang Generation — young adults who return to live with their parents — is real, too. In the poll, of 910 twentysomethings, 19% said they’ve moved back with parents to cut costs. The 2000 Census found that more than 25% of 18- to 34-year-olds had moved back in with family at the time the Census was taken.

“I was getting buried” by student debt, says Todd Townsend, 25, of Lake Placid, N.Y. He has moved back home from New York City to live with his mother so he can save money and pay off some of his debt.

Experience Inc., which provides career services to link college grads with jobs, found that 58% of twentysomethings it surveyed in July had moved back home after college. Of those, 32% stayed for more than a year, according to its survey of 320.

“The reliance on family for this generation is very, very different from prior generations,” says Jennifer Floren, CEO of Experience. “They’re living under the shelter — financial and otherwise — of Mom and Dad for much longer. “

Many young people fear they won’t be able to count on Social Security or on company pensions. Meantime, they’re being urged to save early for their retirement.

Yet many can’t, and most aren’t. Fifty-five percent aren’t saving in either an individual retirement account or a 401(k) account, and 40% don’t have a savings account they contribute to regularly, according to the USA TODAY/NEFE poll.

Kimberly Halbach, 25, of De Pere, Wis., is trying to save a little each month, even though she has about $30,000 in student debt. “I understand what I need to do,” she says. “It’s just getting the money to do it.”

Dana Dwyer, 24, of Miami has $13,000 in student-loan debt, about $15,000 in credit card debt and $16,000 in medical bills. She’d like to save, but she’s struggling just to pay her bills.

“Save what?” she says.

‘Quit whining’

Some in the generations before them seem to feel little sympathy. They recall their own college days, when they worked during the school year and summers to pay tuition. What some may not recognize is how much college costs have soared above the overall inflation rate since then.

“We hear boomers all the time say, ‘Well, gosh. They should just do what I did — work their way through school,’ ” says Bob Shireman of the Project on Student Debt, a non-profit that studies the issue. “It doesn’t work that way anymore.”

Shireman points to higher tuition, lower levels of federally guaranteed student loans per student, stagnating entry-level wages and skyrocketing housing costs.

Even some boomers who are sympathetic can sound a little judgmental, like Jimmy Williamson of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. The institute has launched an ad campaign — Feed the Pig — to urge young people to save in today’s version of a piggy bank.

“When I came out of college, I knew I had to live within my means,” says Williamson, who had $7,000 in college debt that took 10 years to pay off. “I used a public washeteria. I even saved for a TV. It took me two years to get a TV.”

Add Madison Avenue’s version of smart-talking, flip-flop-clad young adults springing for $5 lattes and downloading on their iPods, and you’ve got an image gap, too.

” ‘Quit whining’ — I’ve heard that a lot,” says Draut, who is director of the economic opportunity program at Demos, a public-policy research group. “Someone sees a 25-year-old buy a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy, and they think every 25-year-old is buying a plasma-screen TV at Best Buy.”

There’s a blame-the-victim attitude at work, too, says William Strauss, co-author of Millennials Rising, a 2000 book that identified the generation born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s.

“There’s the common misconception that they have these debts because they’re buying iPods or cable TV,” Strauss says. “It’s not that. It’s student loans and housing.”

What exactly is tougher about the financial challenges facing today’s young adults? Shireman of the Project on Student Debt points to:

•Skyrocketing tuition. The average price of college has grown much faster than the rate of inflation. Average annual tuition at public four-year colleges and universities is $5,836 in 2006-07, up 268% from 1976-77, according to the U.S. Education Department and the National Center for Education Statistics. Private college tuition is up 248% to $22,218 a year.

•Declining student grants. Though total federal student aid has grown sharply, so has the proportion of people in college. In 2004, 67% of high school graduates enrolled in college; in 1972, only 49% did. As a result, student grants cover only 39% of the costs of a four-year college today, compared with nearly 80% in the mid-1970s, the College Board says.

•Soaring student-loan debt. Students have generally made up the gap between what colleges charge and what they can afford by borrowing. The percentage of students who borrowed for college jumped to 65% in 2000-01 from 34% in 1977, the National Center for Education Statistics says.

And they use credit cards to help pay for books and other items. Half of all graduates in 2004 used credit cards for school expenses, the American Council on Education found.

•Flat wages. Once students graduate, jobs don’t pay what they used to.

Thirty years ago, a male college graduate could make the equivalent of $51,223 a year in 2004 inflation-adjusted dollars. In 2004, he earned less: $50,700, according to the NCES. Wages for women, though, have risen.

•Rising home prices. It takes a greater portion of the average income to buy a median-price home today. In 1970, it was 17%; in 2005, 22.4%. The median price of a home was $23,000 in 1970. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $115,770 — barely more than half the median price of $219,000 in 2005.

“Twentysomethings now are crunched in ways older people were not,” says Cathy Stocker, co-author of The Quarterlifer’s Companion, a book for twentysomethings. “The cost of education has far outpaced income, and housing costs have skyrocketed. They’re crunched from all directions.”

A tad too protected?

Twentysomethings tend to think differently, depending on their age.

Older twentysomethings are part of so-called Generation X, which includes those born from the early ’60s to the early ’80s. They grew up at a time when layoffs and divorce were hitting families hard. As a result, most of them tend to be realistic about company loyalty (they’re not counting on it) or Social Security (not counting on it) or even their family’s ability to care for them (they don’t even want to ask).

Independence and skepticism run high. “Even the tail end of the Gen Xers can’t imagine living with their parents again,” says Floren of Experience. “They’d rather pitch a tent.”

Younger twentysomethings, those about 25 and younger, are part of the Millennials, also known as Generation Y. More dependent on their parents, they’ve grown up in what some see as overprotective households. Their parents even have a nickname, “helicopter parents,” for the way they hover.

That’s left a group of young twentysomethings who tend to be casually optimistic about their future — no matter what.

“They expect things to be given to them,” Floren says. “Even Gen Xers are ticked off by their sense of entitlement. They think: ‘What’s wrong with you? Why don’t you just dive in?’ “

In financial matters, people in their 20s — both younger and older twentysomethings — say they’re more interested today in saving than twentysomethings were just 10 years ago, says Monica Kirgan, vice president of the Principal Financial Group.

But that doesn’t mean they’re actually saving.

“They would rather spend than save, and they’re spending like crazy,” Kirgan says. “They view saving for retirement as something old people do.”

That said, when asked in a survey by American Century mutual fund company — “What would you do with $5,000?” — 58% of Gen Xers and 35% of Millennials said “pay off bills.”

“Perhaps they’re not as frivolous as we all thought,” says Donna Byers, senior vice president of American Century.

In Los Angeles, Gregory Cendana is canvassing the UCLA campus to get signatures on a petition to lower student fees at California universities. Those fees, he says, have risen nearly 80% in four years.

“We want to make sure that the folks we have in office will be accountable to students and will care about education,” says Cendana, 20, a sociology major who’s on the Campus Progress student advisory board. He says they’ve registered 2,400 students to vote, the largest in years.

Across the country, students have been testifying at U.S. Education Department hearings, wearing “I’m drowning in debt” T-shirts.

A social issue

The U.S. Student Association (USSA) wants the government to boost student Pell grants, cut interest rates on government-backed loans (now 6.8%), and offer more forgiving repayment options, including graduated payments so those who earn less early in their careers aren’t unduly burdened. Right now, student-loan debt is like a fixed-rate mortgage: The payment is the same on the first month as on the last month.

And they want payment plans that consider the effect of children on a family’s monthly student-loan payment.

Other student advocate groups also want higher tax credits for student debt and help for students who choose lower-paying careers such as social work, teaching or public service. They’re upset that Congress this year cut $12.7 billion from student-loan programs, the largest cut in history.

The high level of student-loan debt is “on the brink of becoming an unacceptable social issue,” says Strauss, and it’s one, he says, older generations must address.

“It’s the single greatest problem facing this generation.”

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My daughter Natalie just finished up an internship that was pretty boring (welcome to the real world). It got me thinking about how many times I found myself feeling stuck in a boring job. In my restless youth, I would generally panic and run to HR or my boss and start a job change process. Change is the correct response, panic is not. Taking 6 months to play out a bad move is the right answer. One or two of these short-run bad moves a decade is okay. Two back-to-back can be fatal (or at least mare your resume).

The proper response is to “run out the clock” and use this period of boredom to make CERTAIN that the move that follows is an excellent one.

Liz Ryan from Buisnessweek has a handful of great tips to how to survive this period of time.


Working Off a Six-Month Sentence

If you’re locked in for a while at a job you dislike, there are plenty of ways to use that time to hunt down more suitable employment

Dear Liz, My company relocated me to a new city, and while I like the new location, I don’t love the new job. I have been in the new job and city for a year. If I quit before 18 months have passed, I owe the company my relocation expenses back. Can I ask a new employer to pay me a bonus to cover those?Yours, MelindaDear Melinda,You can ask for whatever you want, but I advise you strongly not to go to the job market asking a future employer to cover your debts. You’ve indebted yourself to your employer by accepting the transfer, and in my opinion you owe it to them to stick it out for another six months.

Besides, if you got a sign-on bonus, wouldn’t you rather spend that money on a new car or your retirement savings than pay it back to your last employer? Anyway, they don’t want the money. They want you to stay and “work off” your obligation.

Melinda, six months seems like a long time, but it’s not. And it’s actually a great amount of time to implement a really focused, targeted job search. Here’s a plan of action to help you make it through those weeks:

Month One:Rewrite your résumé. No, it won’t take all month, but it will take longer than you think. Work on it the first week, put it away for a week, and take your time tweaking it or coming up with different versions.

Month Two: Think about where you want to work. By the end of the month, you should have identified 10 companies you will approach regarding job opportunities.

Month Three: Begin your outreach. The way typical job searches go, it will take three months for you to get an offer anyway.

Month Four:Start interviewing (hopefully). If you find you’re not getting any interviews, maybe you should look at your résumé again and also make sure you’re identifying not just the companies you want to work for but who at those companies you should be contacting.

Month Five: You should be deep in discussion with one or two companies.

Month Six: Look how fast the time went! Chances are because you took your time and conducted a methodical search, you will end up in a job that won’t feel like you’re serving time after a year.

There are other things you can do to take your mind off your six-month “sentence.” For example, join a professional association in town to begin networking with other local business professionals. Spring is coming, Melinda! You can bring your sneakers to work and take a walk at lunchtime—that’s got to help your mood.

Cheers, Liz

Liz Ryan is an expert on the new-millennium workplace, a former Fortune 500 HR executive and the author of Happy About Online Networking: the Virtual-ly Simple Way to Build Professional Relationships. Liz speaks to audiences around the world about work, life and networking, and works with employers on attracting and retaining world-class talent. Liz can be reached at liz@asklizryan.com.

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Whether you’re changing jobs in mid-career or starting your first full-time gig as a new grad, here’s how to avoid common – and dangerous – errors.

FORTUNE Magazine

By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE senior writer

(FORTUNE) – Congratulations on landing that new job! Now, listen to some scary statistics: About one-quarter of all new hires won’t make it through their first year, according to research from the Employment Policy Foundation. And that may be a conservative estimate: Almost half – 46% – of rookies wash out in the first 18 months, found Leadership IQ, a training firm that studied 20,000 newly hired employees over three years.

These dire numbers don’t just apply to the lowly rank and file. In fact, other studies suggest that the higher up in an organization you climb, the more likely you are to fail. Indeed, 53% of managers and executives brought on board from outside are gone within a year, according HR consultants Development Dimensions International.

Obviously, when you start a new job, you want to impress your co-workers and bosses so you’ll thrive. Milo Sindell and Thuy Sindell, Ph.D., a husband-and-wife team of consultants for clients like Charles Schwab (Research), Cisco Systems (Research), Wells Fargo (Research), and Yahoo! (Research), have written a book called Sink or Swim (Adams Media, $14.95) that just might help. They’ve also got a web site, http://www.hitthegroundrunning.com, that offers in-depth interactive training for newbies.

“In our consulting work, we saw a real need for a blueprint that would give new hires a manual for success,” says Milo.

“Our goal here is to spare people unnecessary misery,” agrees Thuy.

Some excerpts from our recent conversation:

Q. Why do so many new hires wash out in their first year?

Milo: A big reason is that a huge percentage of new employees, including new managers, are not clearly told what they were hired to do or what their goals should be for the first six months and the first year.

Thuy: They also usually aren’t told where to find information that they need, so they spend a lot of time reinventing the wheel – and their managers think they’re idiots for wasting so much time and not asking colleagues or bosses for help.

Q. What are some “red flags” that might indicate you’re in trouble in a new job?

Thuy: One is, if you don’t know why you are doing something. If you don’t know your goals or what success looks like, you can’t succeed. Another red flag would be if you frequently find your mouth open. You need to listen at least five times as much as you talk.

Milo: It’s a warning sign, too, if no one on your team comes up to you and tells you they’re glad you’re on the team. If you don’t know what your team wants from you and how they want it, you haven’t got a chance.

Q. Suppose there are people with hostile attitudes or petty turf concerns who are really hoping you’ll fail at this job? How can you deal with that?

Milo: Three things. First, try to bring to the surface the reasons behind the attitude. Ask questions to understand what’s really going on. Second, change the conversation. Focus on the goals of the group, team, or company.

Thuy: And third, rise above. If all else fails, you need to be the one who takes the higher road.

Q. Your book emphasizes the first 12 weeks in a new job as being the most crucial for laying a solid foundation. What is most important for someone just starting his or her first job out of college?

Thuy: Meet as many people as you can, and explore lots of different opportunities and areas of interest. Constantly look for chances to build your experience.

Milo: Make sure you deliver on every commitment that you make.

Q. In Sink or Swim, you write that each of us is our own champion at work. What does that mean?

Thuy: Since 2001, Americans have lost 2.3 million jobs to layoffs. Like it or not, if you want to remain marketable no matter what, it’s your responsibility.

Milo: Successful people know themselves. As a new employee, you need to know what you value, and what success looks like for you. Not all of us want to be the CEO. If you have a clear mental picture of your own success, it will help you understand what skills you need to develop, and recognize opportunities to do that.

Hear, hear.

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Here’s a great article I clipped from Businessweek on really dumb things one can do during the interview process. Hopefully we’re all too smart to make these mistakes, but just in case, give it a read.


Think Before You Speak—or Write
Hiring managers are looking for signs that suggest a bad fit. So be honest. The worst that will happen is you won’t get a job you really don’t want

by Liz Ryan

I got an e-mail message not long ago from a job candidate who wrote, “I’m disappointed that the job you’re advertising pays much less than I’m used to making. It would be almost impossible for me to survive on the salary listed in the ad. Can you please tell me how much travel is required?”

My e-mail back was a nice version of, “Why would I bother? If the job pays much less than you’ve been earning, it’s better for you not to take it, and better for me not to hire you. I’ll find a person with less experience whose first interaction with me is not to grouse about the salary.”

The job seeker was surprised that when I responded, I didn’t address her question about travel. “But I didn’t say I wasn’t interested,” she wrote back. However, my take on it was, “Yes, you did.” At the very least, she made it clear that I would be foolish to be interested in hiring her.

Little White Lies

And I still remember the young man who was interviewing for a sales engineer job (back in my corporate human resources days). “Where do you see this position leading, career-wise?” I asked him. “Do you want to go into sales or marketing, or something else, or do you see yourself loving sales engineering so much you stay put there?”

“I want to go into brand management,” he said. I must have frowned, because he asked, “Did I say the wrong thing? You’re frowning.”

“Oh, no,” I said. “I was just trying to think of a person who’s moved from sales engineering to product management in this company, so that I could tell you his or her story. But I couldn’t think of anyone—it’s not a very standard progression. Well, no reason you couldn’t be the first.”

The young man was miffed. “Gee, I guess I should have lied to you and said I’d love nothing better than to be a sales engineer in order to get this job,” he huffed. “Sounds like that’s what you want to hear.”

“Not at all!” I protested. “I’m very glad you are being forthright with me.” (I didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question, “So, you make decisions about whether to lie or tell the truth based on which approach will get you what you want?” because I thought that would be mean.) “I want to let you know enough about the job to see whether it will engage you, and to learn enough about you so that we can likewise determine whether you and the job will be a good fit.”

All Ears

Both of these applicants had fallen victim to a very common job-hunting fallacy: namely, that when you’re looking for a job, people really aren’t paying attention to or don’t care about what you say or write. I’m always amazed when I pick up on something in an interview and the candidate says, “You’re kidding me, you’re going to hold that against me?” What I want all you job seekers to know is this: Hiring managers like me don’t “hold anything against” you. But we weigh your words carefully. What other information, after all, do we have to go on?

Job seekers have many obligations and burdens, and I’ll be the first person to say that a job search is a major task, and very often a headache. But if you’re expending all that effort, you may as well know the ground rules, and ground rule No. 1 is “The hiring manager is listening very closely.”

My husband thinks the tendency to underweigh or overweigh other people’s speech is gender-based. “Women take every little thing you say and dissect it,” he says. But men who do a lot of hiring often do the same thing—and they should—because if a hiring manager misses a red flag in the hiring process, the company will pay for it down the road.

Good Faith Works

So if you tell an interviewer, “I’m on the verge of receiving a settlement from my car accident last year, which would let me move out of state,” and the hiring manager takes that statement seriously enough to turn his or her attention to other candidates, is your honesty being held against you? Not in the slightest. Most of us, while sorry about your accident, would be happy for you and your impending windfall. But we’re just not going to hire you. After all, you talked yourself out of the job. All the hiring manager did was listen.

That’s not to say that you should tell interviewers what you think they want to hear. Why pretend to be excited about a career path that doesn’t interest you? If salary is a problem, say so. What’s the point of working for a company that doesn’t give you what you want? No, your honesty isn’t hurting you. In the long run, it will help you get the job you really want.

Liz Ryan is a former corporate HR executive and an author and speaker on the new-millennium workplace. Ryan is the CEO of WorldWIT, the global network for professional women. Reach her at lizryan@corp.worldwit.org.

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The outlook for graduates looks promising, with employers fighting for top talent – despite signs of weakness in the overall job market.

By David Ellis, CNNMoney.com staff writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) — Four years of late-night cramming and exam stress – for the Class of ’07, it may have been worth it.

For the 1.5 million college seniors set to graduate this spring, the labor market looks pretty good, according to college career offices across the country, with employer recruitment on the upswing and recruiters squabbling over the top talent.

In fact, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) estimated last fall that employers will hire 17.4 percent more freshly minted college graduates this school year than they did in 2005-2006.

This optimistic outlook for the entry-level set, however, comes just as the larger U.S. job market has shown signs of weakness. Last month, U.S. economic job growth slowed to its weakest level in two years, while a recent survey of 113 chief executives, cited by the outplacement firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas, anticipated a potential hiring lull in the U.S. job market in the coming months.

Nevertheless, the demand for college students remains strong as employers look to build their ranks ahead of the fast-approaching mass retirement of the baby boomer generation. And college career advisors on the ground remain resoundingly upbeat about the outlook for this year’s seniors.

Some private schools like Milwaukee-based Marquette University, for example, have received so much interest from recruiters that they have had to turn some away. Larger state institutions like UCLA and Clemson University have had to extend or add an additional career fair to accommodate interested employers.

“What we are seeing across the board is increased participation on the part of employers in recruiting efforts, in posting jobs and attending career fairs,” said Marie Rozenblit, the director of career services at the University of Arizona, which graduates roughly 7,500 students very year.

As a result, competition is stiff among employers for top talent.

While signing bonuses are starting to make a modest comeback, most employers are really competing by making higher salary offers to students.

Right now, NACE estimates that employers, on average, will increase their starting salary offers for graduating seniors by 4.6 percent this year.

“The fact that employers are hiring more college graduates and are offering higher starting salaries to their new hires demonstrates how robust the job market is becoming,” Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director said in a recent report on the outlook for graduating seniors.

What’s hot

As in previous years, the spoils of this year’s hiring season are going to those seniors with engineering degrees and those in the business and technical fields.

Mechanical and chemical engineering students each reported the biggest increase, with their average starting salaries climbing more than 7 percent, according to NACE.

Salaries for both computer science majors were up almost 2 percent after holding mostly steady last year.

Business-focused students also appear to be faring well this year as average accounting salary offers were up 1.7 percent to $46,508, while finance and economics majors also experienced “respectable” increases, according to NACE.

Other hot hiring areas this year, according to college career advisors informally polled by CNNMoney.com, are management consulting, construction science or civil engineering and companies that work in the energy field.

Liberal arts majors, on the other hand, may not have the banner year they did last year, as early numbers suggest a dip in starting salaries for those majoring in English and art history. As of February, the average starting salary for liberal arts majors is $30,502, down 1.1 percent from last year, according to NACE.

What students really want

While a hefty salary package is awfully lucrative, more and more students are taking a hard look at one to two-year commitments after graduation like teaching English abroad or work for a service program like Teach for America or Americorps before embarking on their career path, say college career advisors.

“There is an altruistic side to them (the students),” said Kathy L. Sims, director of UCLA’s career center. “They are interested in giving back something and in many cases related to experiencing other cultures or traveling.”

But when it comes to deciding between job offers, today’s graduating seniors, as in recent years, are weighing other factors besides salary and benefits, said Laura Kestner, director of Marquette University’s career services center.

Students nowadays want to know about the corporate culture at their potential employer, what kind of work-life balance they will have and what kind of growth opportunities are out there.

“This generation of college students has a very different expectation in what work is,” said Kestner.


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