By this time next month, University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate Matt Heng will be starting a yearlong journey around the country, representing a major brand and spreading “miles of smiles.”
Heng, 22, landed his first job out of college before he had even walked across the stage to collect his degree in advertising and public relations: He'll be working as a Hotdogger, driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile around the country for a year.
Heng said he wanted to do something that would “also be an adventure.”
“There are actually a lot of practical skills I'll learn on the road as far as managing my own work and being responsible for a brand, so I definitely see applications to my future career and ... it should be an exciting thing to talk about,” he said.
While Heng's career path might not be traditional, employer surveys show that more and more college graduates are in the same position, landing a job before they've graduated or juggling multiple offers. Surveys show prospective hiring of recent graduates is up this year over last, with the National Association of Colleges and Employers reporting about a 9 percent increase in hiring from a year ago among about 160 employers surveyed.
Another survey of about 200 corporate executives by Korn/Ferry International Inc. indicates job prospects for the undergraduate class of 2014 are even better than that: Of those surveyed, 67 percent said job prospects are better for the undergraduate class of 2014 than for grads a year ago, and 56 percent said prospects are better than they were three years ago.
At Creighton University's Career Center, senior director Jim Bretl said this year he's seeing more postings on the Jobs For Jays website, and employers recruiting on campus and at career fairs are hiring for multiple positions. “We've had really well-attended career fairs this year with employers that have a lot of jobs,” Bretl said.
“I think it's a healthier market even over last year,” he said. “The feeling is mutual amongst all my staff.”
Representatives of the Omaha and Lincoln campuses of the University of Nebraska also report more postings, employers with multiple positions to fill and students in some cases receiving more than one offer.
Michael Weber, 21, will graduate from Creighton this week after majoring in finance and economics. He's still on the hunt for a job and hoping for a job closer to home in the Chicago and Milwaukee areas. “I really want to work in a position I'll really enjoy in a location I'll really enjoy, instead of taking something that comes right away.”
Weber admitted he was a bit worried about not having a position locked in yet. But he said he feels prepared, with two internships under his belt, including one with Mutual of Omaha as an investment analyst, and with help from the career center in using the Creighton alumni network.
He said he did think the job market had improved since he started school, but added: “The bar is set a little higher. It takes a little more skill to impress people these days than what probably my parents had to go through or my grandparents.”
Another Creighton student, Collin Mathis, 22, said he found out in March he'll be working at ConAgra Foods' information technology help desk starting in June. He already had a two-year internship with the company and believes that helped set him apart from his peers.
“I just thought having that experience would really help me not only get a job but also help me understand my classes better.”
ConAgra has completed its hiring for the school year, and spokeswoman Barbara Bellinghausen said the company consistently fills about 100 positions per year with recent college graduates. The company also has a robust internship program across all departments, hiring about 200 interns per year. “We find that our intern program is a great feeder for our full-time positions,” she said.
But getting students to understand the importance of internships has been a challenge, Bretl said.
“The students that struggle the most in a good job market or bad market are the ones that don't have internships and are undecided about what they want to do.”
Jessica Wolff, senior director for achievement and the University of Nebraska at Omaha's director of academic and career development center, said the center has been seeing “a good number” of postings on its job board.
“We have been heavily contacted over this past year by employers who are trying to recruit college graduates,” Wolff said. The university also hosted a “speed networking” event for the first time in April, where about 20 companies told students about their businesses and students had a chance to talk about opportunities there in two-minute exchanges.
The event responded to requests “from our employers that they want more access to our students and ability to network with them one on one.”
Hiring at Mutual of Omaha has increased this year, mostly because of growth in the company's information technology and actuarial departments, said the director of human resources, Sharon Rues Pettid.
Recruiting efforts have included attending job fairs on college campuses and an internship program, she said. Full-time positions can be offered to interns as early as the fall of their senior year.
The company has about 60 job openings right now, and about a third are ideal for recent college graduates, she said.
While hiring of graduates may be up this year, Nebraska was relatively insulated from the deep effects of the recession, said Bill Watts, director of university advising and career services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
“We've seen increases in job postings and a few more employers coming (to campus), but we never saw the dip that some of our peers might have seen during the depths of the recession,” Watts said. “Our students are reporting anecdotal opportunities and good things.”
Watts' staff members in the Career Services office have also been counseling more and more students who are juggling multiple offers, he said.
Last year, about 53 percent of undergraduate students at UNL reported employment after graduating, and about 23 percent attended graduate or professional school. Of Creighton students, about 55 percent reported employment after graduation, about 33 percent planned to attend graduate or professional school, and 7 percent participated in a volunteer program.
This year, UNL also added a spring career fair that focused on government and nonprofit jobs because of student interest and national trends that indicate a growing number of people looking for nonprofit work, Watts said. Several hundred students and just under 100 employers attended.
Recruiting on college campuses is a priority for First National Bank, said Tonya Kaminski, vice president of talent management. The company attends career fairs on local college campuses and employs a recruiter who focuses on college campuses.
Kaminski said the company will bring 10 former interns into full-time roles this summer and has hired another 10 spring 2014 graduates for its yearlong management training program. The program allows fresh college graduates to get some experience in different areas of the company before starting in a permanent full-time role.
“We're giving them that year of experience so we can get them right out of college,” Kaminski said.
Like Creighton student Mathis' experience, Kaminski said internships starting in a college student's sophomore year are becoming more and more common. “That would be my advice to students, is that they start early and they get in on the internships,” she said.
Heng, the soon-to-be hotdogger with Oscar Mayer, said he didn't think he'd be employed without the internships he'd done, eliminating a lot of the panic that comes with searching for a job out of college. But he was never particularly worried about finding a job.
He said he had applied for other positions at advertising firms and for jobs in public relations, but the hotdogger position was one he was “really excited” about and an “honor to receive.” He heads to Wienermobile headquarters in Madison, Wisconsin, on June 1, and is “ready to get going.”
“I just think it's such an amazing program and such an iconic part of American life,” Heng said.
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Who’s getting hired?
>> 39% of employers want to hire business majors.
>> 28% want computer and information sciences majors.
>> 18%, engineering.
>> 14%, math and statistics.
>> 14%, health professions and related clinical services.
>> 12%, communications technology.
>> 11%, engineering technologies.
>> 10%, liberal arts and sciences as well as general studies and humanities.
>> 7%, education.
>> 7%, science technologies.
>> 7%, communication and journalism.
Source: Harris Poll of 2,138 hiring managers and human resource professionals in February and early March for CareerBuilder
Most interested industries by major
Finance: Government; finance, insurance and real estate; retail trade
Computer and information sciences: Information; miscellaneous professional services; finance, insurance and real estate
Accounting: Government; retail trade; finance, insurance and real estate
Business administration/management: Retail trade; finance, insurance and real estate; government
Mechanical engineering: Motor vehicle manufacturing; miscellaneous manufacturing; chemical (pharmaceutical) manufacturing
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers
What employers want
Skills ranked extremely or very important, in order:
>> Ability to work in a team structure
>> Ability to make decisions and solve problems
>> Ability to plan, organize and prioritize work
>> Ability to verbally communicate with people inside and outside the organization
>> Ability to obtain and process information
>> Ability to analyze quantitative data
>> Technical knowledge related to the job
Source: National Association of Colleges and Employers