The Class of 2017: What They Expect from Their First Jobs

Business, communications, STEM fields most popular with new grads

By Roy Maurer Jun 19, 2017
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The Class of 2017, including some of the first Generation Z graduates to enter the workforce, expects higher salaries than last year's grads, according to recently released studies.

New graduates also said they most value opportunity for growth when considering a new job and that they pay attention to compensation and culture when researching employers.

This year's graduates are most interested in jobs in business (29 percent), communications (25 percent), and science and technology (23 percent), according to the Class of 2017 Job Outlook Report published by iCIMS, a talent acquisition software company based in Matawan, N.J. The report was based on a survey conducted by Wakefield Research among 401 U.S. college seniors and 401 recruiting professionals in March.

However, graduates may be willing to change their plans, the survey results show. Regardless of what degree they graduate with, 81 percent of college seniors said they would be willing to accept a full-time job in a field unrelated to their college major, and 82 percent of recruiters said they frequently hire entry-level candidates whose college majors don't directly relate to the job position.

"Job seekers are increasingly interested in working for companies with a mission that resonates with them, an attractive culture and a workplace environment that they see themselves thriving in," said Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer for iCIMS. "Having a connection to the brand, paired with the reality that student loan debt is on the rise and students are eager to begin paying them off, is driving young candidates to seek employment opportunities in fields outside of their college major to get their foot in the door."

Employers, on the other hand, are looking for people they believe have the right soft skills and attitude for their work environment, she added. "It is easier to train someone to perform well in a job than it is to train them to have the right attitude, passion and drive for it. To reduce the risk of turnover, we have seen employers hire candidates with little to no experience in a specific role but [who] embody the traits that align with their core competencies."

Salary Expectations

On average, 2017 college seniors expect to earn approximately $53,483 at their first job after graduation, according to the iCIMS study. More than half of those surveyed (54 percent) said they expect $50,000 or more, a 12 percent increase from 2016.

There is a gender divide, however. Female graduates were less confident in earning higher wages

than men, with only 49 percent of women expecting to earn $50,000 or more, compared to 62 percent of men who expect to earn that wage.

"According to recruiters, on average, entry-level employees can expect to earn approximately $45,361, with only 24 percent of companies paying $50,000 or more," Vitale said. "That's more than $8,000 less than what this year's college seniors are expecting. The good news is the salary approximations from recruiters are up more than $1,500 from 2016."

But recently employed college grads appear to be satisfied with their starting salaries, according to another survey of more than 6,000 recent college graduates conducted in April by Chicago-based staffing provider LaSalle Network. Over 8 in 10 recent grads (83 percent) said they are making what they expected or more, the LaSalle survey results showed.

"We believe this is in part due to graduates doing more research on compensation," said Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network. He advised HR to use resources like Glassdoor or PayScale to determine the compensation benchmark for open positions. "Even if the salary you offer is lower or higher than the benchmark, at least you're prepared going into the conversation," he said. "Regardless of their major, it's crucial to have honest and open salary conversations with candidates, find out how they arrived at that number, and let them know what you can realistically offer them today and down the line."

Gimbel said employers should be prepared to face higher salary expectations from recent graduates who have business or STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees. According to the LaSalle study, students who graduated with STEM and business degrees made up the majority of respondents who expected starting salaries over $51,000.

Significant majorities of student respondents (97 percent) and recruiters (88 percent) to the iCIMS survey agreed that STEM majors will earn more than non-STEM majors for entry-level jobs. Students (87 percent) and recruiters (88 percent) also agreed that STEM majors will have an easier time finding a job after graduation than non-STEM majors. But while 61 percent of recruiters said that they are most interested in hiring majors in STEM fields, only 23 percent of college seniors surveyed are graduating with STEM degrees, according to iCIMS.

"The increase in jobs requiring a STEM education, whether that be in high school or postsecondary schools, is boosting the overall salary figure," Gimbel said. "There's minimal wage growth according to the BLS [Bureau of Labor Statistics.] But that [measure] takes into account all geographies, and salaried and hourly jobs. College graduates with a couple of internships and computer skills are driving up wages for all recent college grads."

2017 Grads Want Room to Grow, Work/Life Balance

Opportunity for growth is the top factor for candidates when evaluating a job opening, chosen by 70 percent of respondents to the LaSalle survey, followed by compensation (56 percent) and work/life balance (50 percent). "Recent college graduates are looking for earning potential and to be compensated properly, but they also want work/life balance," Gimbel said. "They want opportunities for growth, but they may not want to put in the hours to achieve that growth."

He advised organizations to showcase the growth opportunities they offer. "Whatever the path—additional projects, wider scope of responsibility or managing a team—make sure you are able to speak to it in interviews. Share stories of promotions from within and highlight employees that have been at the company for a long period of time. You can even share team goals and how they will be able to contribute."

When asked what the most important factors were when deciding what companies to apply to, survey participants said compensation was No. 1 (69 percent), followed by culture (60 percent) and location (48 percent).

"Establishing your company's culture is about understanding your goals and creating the best environment to achieve them," Gimbel said. "Perks and culture are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Authenticity is key. Don't just focus on free food and happy hours. Invest in employee development and training and encourage teams to learn and grow together."

Internships Are Becoming the Norm

Seventy percent of recruiters and college seniors in the iCIMS survey said that internship experience is more valuable than a high college GPA when applying for a job.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Employing Interns]

"In addition to making candidates more competitive in the job market, internships can provide students with the chance to network, learn new skills and gain real-world experience in the workplace," Vitale said. According to iCIMS, 28 percent of college seniors secured an internship through a career fair or the career services center at their school, and another 33 percent landed an internship through a mentor or professor.

"Having an established partnership with nearby colleges and technical schools can vastly expand your pool of qualified applicants, provide opportunities for college recruiters and hiring managers to network with potential interns or new hires to help fill open positions, and will help to spread brand awareness," Vitale said.

Additionally, if employers want to find the best qualified interns, they need to be clear about what they are looking for when advertising open internships, she said. "Some of the biggest mistakes that employers make when developing job postings are using too many acronyms and buzzwords, having more requirements than necessary, and focusing on the hard skills, rather than soft skills and personality traits."

LaSalle's survey revealed that 85 percent of recent college graduates had at least one internship, 30 percent had completed two and 15 percent had finished three.

iCIMS found that more employers are looking for an average of three internships (35 percent) than two (30 percent) or one (28 percent).

Gimbel recommended employers look for candidates with at least one internship, but if desirable candidates lack that, to ask for work or volunteer experience. "These are other ways candidates could have learned a strong work ethic and valuable soft skills such as teamwork, problem-solving and strong communication that will help them adapt to the professional world faster, even if they've never interned at a company."

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