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Growing job market offers more opportunities for college grads

By Rebecca Lubecki

There is good news for Blugolds looking forward to graduation in May. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, job outlook hiring projections of college graduates are rising. 

Employers are reporting that they plan to hire 8.3 percent more new college graduates this spring for their U.S. operations than they did from the class of 2014, according to the 2015 NACE Job Outlook report. 

"The outlook is very good for students who will be entering the job market this spring," said Staci Heidtke, associate director of Career Services at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. "There will be a lot of competition for the entry-level positions but given UW-Eau Claire's strong reputation for providing students with high-quality education and real-world experiences, our newest graduates should find many opportunities in a variety of fields."

The anticipated increases in employers' college hiring numbers is due to business need, company growth and anticipated retirements, NACE stated, noting that the study asked employers to report hiring intentions for all categories of majors, individual majors and degree levels.

In the report, employers also note that it's important that they hire new college graduates to fill their talent pipelines, as these new hires will eventually become the future leaders of their organizations, according to the NACE report. 

So how do new college graduates land their first entry-level position?

"It takes work," said Gretchen Bachmeier, a University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire alumna who now works as a group leader at Target Corp. "The job market is competitive so you have to be prepared."

Students must make the effort to join clubs and gain work experience during their college years so they stand out among the applicants when they graduate, Bachmeier said.

Students often think about what they want in a career, but don't always think about the skills employers want them to bring to the table, Bachmeier said, noting that students visiting with potential employers at career fairs must be able to answer the question, "Do you know what we want from you?"

Alex Moss, a UW-Eau Claire graduate who now works as a credit analyst for Cargill, said it's critical for soon-to-be-college graduates to know how to brand themselves and how to portray themselves to potential employers. 

Students often don't realize that whether they want a self-brand or not, they have one, Moss said.

Moss began his job search by visiting UW-Eau Claire's Career Conference as a freshman, and then continuing to attend the conference each year throughout his college career so he could talk with and get to know the recruiters. He also emailed recruiters after the event to build relationships and create a positive reputation for himself. 

"You have to start early," Moss said of positioning himself for post-college career success.

Having an idea of possible career paths early in his college career also was helpful, Moss said. Knowing what interested him allowed him to pursue relevant experiences early, something that is difficult for students who are unsure of their major or fields of interest, he said. Even if students are unsure of their major, Moss said he'd encourage them to attend job shadows, networking events and apply for internships because the experiences may help them discover interests sooner and the connections they build will be valuable.

"It may be tough to get experience if you're undeclared, but networking is a great way to make up for that," Moss said. "It's important to build relationships no matter what direction and at all levels."

Moss encourages students to look for and create their own networking opportunities so they can better learn what recruiters are looking for in future employees. It is not enough, he said, to simply drop off a resume and shake hands with the recruiter when they are on campus.

"You have to build a relationship," Moss said of networking with recruiters and employers. "How do you benefit them? Think of their needs."

Bachmeier knew she wanted an internship before graduating from college, and she understood there was a process she needed to follow when approaching employers. She visited Career Services, where she connected with Heidtke, who then helped her with her resume, taught her how to prepare for the Career Conference and helped her practice interviewing. 

The support gave her the confidence she needed to effectively market herself to recruiters, Bachmeier said.

As a result, she secured a summer internship with Target, which then offered her a full-time job after her graduation.  

Bachmeier encourages students who are nearing graduation to think of their first post-college job as a stepping stone in their career path rather than as the job they'll have for the rest of their lives. 

"When I was entering the job market, I felt so much pressure to make a life decision," Bachmeier said.

Recent graduates still have a lot to learn once they get into the workforce so it's important for them to think about how an entry-level job can help them build the kinds of skills that will lead to mid-level and senior-level positions, Bachmeier said. 

"Finding that first job out of college can be a difficult time for recent graduates," Heidtke said. "However, the jobs are available. It is a matter of knowing how to find them and market themselves and their skills to obtain one. Fortunately for Blugolds, there are many resources on campus that can help them prepare now for their future job success."