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CollegeGrad.com Survey: Entry-level hires jump 22% from 2010 to 2011

entry-level hiring jobs college grads

Amid an otherwise dreary economy still marked by a sluggish job market, the employment prospects for new college graduates entering the workforce took a turn for the better in 2011.

According to a new survey from CollegeGrad.com, last year marked a low point for entry-level hiring, but 2011 is showing signs of a strong rebound. In 2009, employers responding to the survey snapped up 32,367 new college graduates. But that figure tumbled 11 percent in 2010, dropping to 28,904, before rebounding this year to 35,372, a 22 percent spike over last year and 8 percent ahead of the 2009 mark. (CollegeGrad.com is owned by Schools.com's parent site, QuinStreet.)

The news comes as a scant bright spot in the U.S. labor market, with a nationwide unemployment rate continuing to hover atop 9 percent and more job-seekers taking longer to find work or abandoning the search altogether.

As a partial result of those conditions, more college students have been returning home to live with their parents upon graduation as they search for full-time work. By one recent estimate by a consulting firm, the rate of so-called "boomerang" kids who return to the nest has reached 85 percent.

Hiring for college grads rebounding

But the 50 small, mid-sized and large companies polled by CollegeGrad.com over the past three years indicated that the job prospects for new entrants into the workforce may be improving. The leading industries recruiting recent college graduates were automobile rental, led by Enterprise Rent-A-Car and Hertz, education, general merchandisers, transportation and logistics and financial services.

When asked about what credentials they look for in entry-level workers, the companies ranked an applicant's major and degree first, followed by an internship or other experience, and the interview and communications skills demonstrated by the applicant.

The most popular majors for entry-level candidates were business administrations, favored by 14.7 percent of companies polled, followed by engineering, cited by 13 percent of respondents, and marketing, favored by 11 percent. The authors of the study acknowledged that there was little uniformity among respondents when asked about preferred major, explaining that the answers skew to the company's industry. Nearly one-third of the entry-level positions available fall into the administrative category.

While the authors of the survey had hypothesized that online social media tools would rank as a leading recruitment method, employers said that they continue to prefer traditional methods of connecting with entry-level candidates, led by college career fairs. Next on the list of favored recruiting tools were postings on college career websites, followed by ads on general jobs sites such as Monster and Indeed.

"We recommend that students and recent graduates learn more about these companies by attending college career fairs," the authors wrote in their report. "Additionally, we recommend that students choose majors relevant to the companies and industries that are showing hiring growth. Lastly, we recommend that students gain valuable internship experience and sharpen their interview skills before applying for these entry-level positions in order to be more successful in their employment endeavors."

In descending order, the leading employers of new college graduates in 2011 are:

1. Enterprise Rent-A-Car; 8,500 planned entry-level hires

2. Teach For America; 4,925 planned entry-level hires

3. Verizon Wireless; 4,250 planned entry-level hires

4. Hertz; 4,000 planned entry-level hires

5. PricewaterhouseCoopers; 3,938 planned entry-level hires

6. KPMG LLP; 2,300 planned entry-level hires

7. Target; 2,200 planned entry-level hires

8. Ernst & Young; 2,000 planned entry-level hires

9. City Year; 1,700 planned entry-level hires

10. Aerotek; 900 planned entry-level hires

11. Total Quality Logistics (TQL); 900 planned entry-level hires

Among those companies, the 2011 hiring plan for recent college graduates represented an uptick over the previous year for all except Verizon Wireless. Most companies on the list upped their annual hiring rate by 400 or more entry-level workers, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, a professional services firm, plans to nearly triple the number of new college graduates it will bring on this year.