DALLAS -- This spring, 1.5 million college graduates will enter the worst job market in years, thanks to an economy teetering on the brink of recession.
But appearances can be deceiving, and the sinking economy may not translate into a poor market for freshly minted college grads.
"It's really not a weak job market, especially for recent grads," said Michael Doty, a University of Texas at Dallas official who helps students and alumni land jobs. "The economy may be heading toward the R word, but it's not having that effect on us." Economic woes may yet torpedo opportunities for the Class of 2008. But for now, many employers continue to hire well-educated, but relatively cheap, young graduates. Moreover, many companies have an eye on the long term: With baby boomers heading off to retirement over the coming years, managers want to ensure a stable of skilled employees.
That's not to say it'll be a cinch for every graduate to find a job. Some industries are hot; others have gone cold. And each person's job search depends on everything from education to effort -- not to mention that old standby, luck.
Also, the sunny outlook seems to be growing cloudier. The U.S. economy is shedding jobs, retail sales are down, and consumer confidence has plummeted, all signs of a downturn that keeps getting worse.
A deteriorating job market is eventually bound to make things harder for all job seekers. Already, the outlook for recent graduates is not as strong as it was just a few months ago.
Last fall, the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a Bethlehem, Pa.-based group that tracks job opportunities for college graduates, projected that employers would hire 16 percent more new grads in 2008 than in 2007. Now the association expects only an 8 percent increase.
"New college graduates just entering the job market will likely find fewer opportunities than originally anticipated," said Marilyn Mackes, the group's executive director. "It will also mean that graduates who were focused on particular industries, such as finance, may need to adjust their target industries." Chances still are good for aspiring accountants, engineers and anyone in the oil and gas industry.
But would-be mortgage financiers and hedge fund analysts face one of the worst credit crunches since the Great Depression, which has slowed hiring.
Engineering services now leads the pack for hiring new graduates. Other openings are in accounting, consulting and even some kinds of financial services.
As for pay, the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicts that new grads will earn an average of $49,300 a year, up 4 percent from last year's $47,400.
Those armed with engineering degrees can expect even more: About $56,000 on average, the group estimates.
Chemical engineers can expect a starting salary of nearly $64,000, while the average offer for computer science majors will be almost $57,000.
Meanwhile, liberal arts graduates will have to settle for an average of around $33,000. But that's 9 percent more than 2007 liberal arts grads got, the association says. Still, with the shaky economy, a few cracks are beginning to appear in hiring plans, even in hot areas such as accounting.
"Public accounting has experienced a softening of the market over the past year," said Nina Guthrie, university recruiting manager at the Dallas office of accounting firm Grant Thornton LLP. While competition for positions is strong, Guthrie still expects a record number of hires this year.
New college grads always offer one advantage compared with people with years of experience: They cost less.
"Regardless of whether we're in a recession or not," said Troy Behrens, executive director of Southern Methodist University's Hegi Family Career Development Center, "companies are not cutting back on their new hires, because they tend to be less expensive."