2018 Job Market for New College Graduates

2018 College Grad Job Market

There is good news: the economy is the strongest it has been in 17 years and wages are up. The bad news? According to the Job Outlook Spring 2018 Survey by NACE (the National Association of Colleges and Employers), employers are planning to hire 1.3% fewer recent college graduates than they did in 2017.  This is a 5% decrease just from this past fall, when employers were predicting to hire 4% more recent graduates.

So what has changed?

  1. Slowing GDP growth
  2. Uncertain global economy
  3. Significant decreases in planned hiring by the insurance and retail industries.

While overall hiring of new college graduates is forecasted to decrease, it is not true across all industries.

Which jobs are hot?

According to College Board, education tops the list, holding 3 of the top 5 spots, with combined openings for over 1.25 million new graduates. This job growth is being driven, in part, by a projected 2% increase in enrolled student population through 2026. Of no surprise to anyone who has surfed a job board of late, computer/systems analysts, programmers and data scientists are in demand. These roles came in second in total job openings with over 800,000 entry-level positions needing to be filled.

Career readiness continues to be a big concern for employers. 

Gaps continue to exist between graduates’ self-assessment and employers’ perceptions of entry-level candidates’ readiness. This is why having several internships prior to graduation is critical to improving your job prospects.

Internships continue to be the best pathway to a post-graduate job offer.

Studies consistently show that students who graduate with internships have better success finding employment upon graduation.

Why is this?

Employers use internships to create a pool of qualified candidates for future roles. They want to hire proven candidates with the skills and understanding of how the workplace works.

I often refer to an internships as “try before you buy”, which applies equally to the employer AND the intern. Hiring and training new employees is an expensive investment. Employers also want to know that their new hires are committed to the company and career path they’ve chosen.

The skills employers seek remain relatively unchanged, although priorities have changed, with three new additions. 

Having that right balance of technical and soft skills is critical not only to securing a great job but also to success once you have landed. NACE’s 2018 Job Outlook Survey lists the transferrable skills that employers seek most in recent college graduates as:

  1. critical thinking/problem solving (previously ranked 5th)
  2. oral/written communications (3rd)
  3. teamwork/collaboration (2nd)
  4. digital technology (NEW)
  5. leadership (1st)
  6. professionalism/work ethic (5th)
  7. career management (NEW)
  8. and global/intercultural fluency (NEW).

GPA and internships matter.

They, more  than major or college attended, are the key determinants in graduates’ ability to find professional work within 6 months of graduation. A NACE funded study entitled “The Impact of Undergraduate Internships on Post-Graduate Outcomes for the Liberal Arts” found that:

GPA and the total number of internships a student completed as an undergraduate student are the major predictors of initial career outcomes. Graduates with more internships and graduates with higher GPAs had higher odds of being employed relative to seeking employment six months after graduation.

So where are hiring prospects best?

Employment prospects vary significantly by location.’s 2017 survey of best cities for recent college graduates cites Madison, WI at the top of its list for opportunities with Arlington, VA dropping from the top spot to second place. Noticeably absent is New York City, which also happens to be the most expensive city for new graduates. Change your search from New York to Austin, TX, which joined the list this year, and your money will go 58% further!

Pay is up for some majors, but lower for others. 

STEM majors, in particular engineering and computer science, remain at the top of the pay scale. Forecasted increases in starting pay are also the highest for math and science majors, up 4.2% vs. a year ago.

College debt continues to skyrocket, with the average balance coming in at more than $34,000.

The average college debt now stands at nearly $35,000, an increase of 62% in the past ten years. Nearly two-thirds of the college cap and gown crowd will leave the stage with a diploma and a hefty loan to pay off.

Strong personal finance skills will help you make the most of your paycheck.

Understanding your pay, benefits and expenses can give you a stronger start financially. This is especially important if you face a lower salary than you anticipated and/or carry student loans.

Before you collect that diploma you’ve worked so hard for and leave campus life in your rear view mirror, take time to set yourself up for success in your job search. Reach out to your favorite professors and request letters of recommendation. Leverage your college’s career office and job boards. Most importantly, connect with alumni who work in fields that interest you. Your fellow alumni are among the best connections you can make in your job search. They also are more likely to extend a helping hand. Your ties to your college will never be as strong as they are now.

Need help launching your search? Contact me for a free 30 minute phone consultation.



About Lisa

Chief Career Catalyst @C2C, former Fortune 500 businesswoman, dog lover, avid skier, mediocre tennis player, golfer, new SUPer, aspiring surfer, cyclist, yoga & exercise enthusiast, happy wife & home chef. I am a regular contributor to the Bangor Daily News, and have appeared on WCSH6 where I offer career advice for college students, recent graduates and young professionals.
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