CollegeGrad.com Survey: top 5 employers for college-level grads

entry-level jobs hiring

While the national unemployment rate continues to hover north of 9 percent, presenting a daunting labor market for new entrants to the workforce, a handful of companies are eager to take on new college graduates, according to a new survey from CollegeGrad.com. (CollegeGrad.com is owned by Schools.com's parent company, QuinStreet.)

Indeed, the canvassing of major U.S. companies found robust hiring rates for entry-level employees across an array of industries, including car rental, aerospace and financial services.

The leading employer of new college graduates is Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which is planning to snap up 8,500 entry-level workers in 2011, up from around 8,000 in each of the last two years.

Enterprise uses a mix of recruiting tools, such as college career websites, employee referrals and general job sites, such as Monster.com and Indeed.com. The firm says that its entry-level job openings encompass positions in customer service, sales, finance and management.

Among the survey respondents, the second leading employer of new college graduates is Teach for America, which has a recruitment goal of 4,925 for 2011, an increase of more than 400 from last year's mark and more than 900 ahead of 2009. Teach for America, which dispatches new college graduates to teach in underserved urban and rural communities for two years, is looking for educators with concentrations in a litany of academic subjects, including history, biology and psychology.

Checking in at third on the CollegeGrad.com list is telecom giant Verizon Wireless. Though its entry-level hiring has dropped sharply from the past two years, the firm is still looking to bring on 4,250 new college graduates in 2011. By comparison, Verizon Wireless reported hiring 10,500 entry-level positions in 2010, and 13,198 in 2009.

Hertz Automotive, another car-rental company, and professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, notched the Nos. 4 and 5 spots on the list, reporting 2011 entry-level hiring targets of 4,000 and 3,938, respectively.

Hot hiring rates despite cool job market

The news of robust hiring rates comes amid an otherwise sour economy marked by a lackluster job market that has not been generally hospitable to recent college graduates. In 2009, for instance, the unemployment rate for new college graduates spiked to 8.7 percent, up from 5.8 percent in 2008, according to a report by the Project on Student Debt. Graduating seniors left school with an average of $24,000 in loan debt, the group said. On the macro level, debt from student loans eclipsed credit card debt last year, and is on pace to top $1 trillion in 2011, the New York Times recently reported.

Last year, the average public four-year college charged $7,605 per year in tuition and fees for in-state students, with a surcharge of $11,990 for full-time out-of-state students, according to CollegeBoard.com. Private four-year schools, meantime, charged an average of $27,293.

The authors of the new study had hypothesized that social media tools and other online channels might supplant traditional methods as a corporate recruiting tool for new college graduates, but in fact, employers reported that college career fairs were still their favorite path for connecting with entry-level candidates. After career fairs, college-oriented job websites and postings are the second leading recruitment tool, followed by general job sites, such as Monster. Taken together, the results of the new survey reveal that many major companies are bucking the trend of constrictive hiring practices in the aftermath of the recession, presenting an array of employment opportunities for new college graduates.

"We recommend that students and recent graduates learn more about these companies by attending college career fairs," the authors wrote. "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."

According to the CollegeGrad.com survey, the three most important attributes for entry-level hires, in descending order, are: major/degree, internship/experience, and interview/communication skills.

Broken down by sector, the industries most welcoming of entry-level workers are automotive rental, led by Enterprise and Hertz, education, general merchandisers, transportation and logistics, and financial services.

Rounding out the top 10, the sixth leading employer of new college graduates in the survey is KPMG, with 2,300 entry-level hires planned for 2011, followed by retailing giant Target, with 2,200, Ernst and Young (2,000), City Year (1,700) and Aerotek (900).

The survey respondents were asked to rank the majors that made college graduates the most appealing candidates for entry-level positions. Business administration was deemed the most popular major, favored by 14.7 percent of companies polled. Engineering, at 13 percent, checked in at No. 2, followed by marketing (11 percent), management (8.7 percent), and information systems/MIS (7.8 percent).

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