College Grads Expect More Pay, Clear Career Paths

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer May 14, 2018
College Grads Expect More Pay, Clear Career Paths

​New survey reports shedding light on the professional aspirations of the Class of 2018 show that this group—where Millennials and Generation Z meet—expect a higher starting salary than recent grads and may not be the job hoppers they've been made out to be.

College graduates from the Class of 2018 expect to earn an average of $54,010 in their first job, a rise of almost $8,000 from the salary expectations of the Class of 2016, according to a new report from talent acquisition software company iCIMS, based in Holmdel, N.J.

"This year's graduates are confident in their ability to find the job they want after graduation, and a well-paying one at that," said Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS.

iCIMS surveyed 400 U.S. college seniors and 400 recruiters, in addition to drawing from its database of more than 61 million applications and 3 million jobs posted per year.

The data revealed that recruiters estimate they will pay entry-level employees $56,532 on average this year—a substantial jump of more than $10,000 since last year, when the estimate was $45,361 on average.

"For employers, even with an abundance of educated candidates, nearly 80 percent of recruiters are finding filling entry-level positions more challenging than they did three years ago," Vitale said. "In response, recruiters have upped their game by offering better salaries and benefits, increasing training and development, and enhancing their employee referral programs."

The women of the Class of 2018 are not expecting to earn as much as men out of the gate. On average, men surveyed expect a salary of approximately $65,558, while women expect $49,002 on average.

The gender gap may come down to women being more realistic than men when it comes to what recruiters are willing to offer and more female graduates entering fields that traditionally offer lower wages, such as teaching, Vitale said.

Even with salary expectations rising, 64 percent of college seniors said they are likely to work side gigs to supplement their main income.

[SHRM members-only online discussion platform: SHRM Connect]

Opportunities for Advancement

Another survey found that over half (52 percent) of the members of the Class of 2018 consider the type of work they would be doing and career advancement opportunities as the most important considerations when accepting a job offer. A significant majority of respondents (94 percent) said they would be willing to move for the right job, according to the report from recruitment technology company Yello, which surveyed over 700 U.S. students and recent graduates who have accepted a full-time position or an internship, or who recently entered the workforce.

Almost half (48 percent) of college graduates plan on staying with their first post-graduation employer for more than three years.  

"Campus recruiters will need to change their mindset, especially with how they close candidates," said Jason Weingarten, CEO and co-founder of Yello. "They are dealing with a new batch of graduates who are not basing job decisions on perks or pay but instead on career path. With almost half planning to stay with their company for more than three years, they want to understand growth plans and advancement opportunities before committing to an organization."

One way to showcase career-growth plans is through a structured program that outlines the performance needed to move to the next level, said Marie Artim, vice president of talent acquisition at Enterprise Holdings, which owns the Enterprise Rent-A-Car brand and is one of the most recognized companies for its successful campus recruiting programs.

"Our management training program is structured and performance-based, allowing trainees to earn as many as two promotions within the first year," Artim said. "And since we promote almost entirely from within, the career paths and opportunities available are very broad."

Poor Candidate Experience Drives Talent Away

The recruitment experience played a large part in whether students accepted a job or internship. "Top talent is in incredible demand—providing a personalized and differentiated candidate experience will increase the likelihood of an accepted offer," Weingarten said. "Top employers have efficient scheduling and evaluation processes, so they rarely leave candidates in the dreaded limbo phase."

  • 70 percent of respondents to the Yello survey said that the specific recruiter they worked with was a major factor in their decision to accept a position. "High-performing recruiters focus on building candidate relationships, instead of facilitating dozens of non-value-added tasks," such as perusing through hundreds of resumes or scheduling interviews, Weingarten said.
  • 20 percent said they turned down offers because the recruitment process took so long.
  • 80 percent said that the average time between a first interview and an offer being extended—four weeks or less—felt "just right." Eighteen percent said it was too long.

"It is critical to provide information when and where a candidate needs it," Artim said. "Our careers site is mobile-enabled, which allows for access on the go. In addition, we make it easy for candidates to contact a local recruiter and understand where they are in the hiring process." 

A couple of ways to speed up the process include replacing phone screens with applicant-submitted video interviews and using interview-scheduling software.

"Introducing on-demand video interviews into your campus recruiting process can accelerate your path to selecting the best candidates," said Kurt Heikkinen, president and CEO of Montage. "If you receive a high volume of college applicants, replacing the phone screen can save recruiters hours and give hiring managers insight into top applicants earlier in the process."

Candidate self-scheduling can turn campus recruiting from a reactive event to a proactive series of conversations with the students who are most interested, he added.

But while technology helps make the process easier, personalized recruiting is more important than ever, Artim pointed out. "We have more than 200 recruiters, all of whom are active in their local communities, allowing them to have face-to-face interactions with their candidates."

Job Search Trends

Nearly all of the respondents to the Yello survey began their job search before graduation, and about half who had already accepted a job or internship had multiple offers to consider.

"Students are more empowered than ever before to choose where they start their professional careers," said Jeanette Maister, managing director for the Americas at New York City and London-based WCN, a software system designed specifically for high-volume campus recruiting. "The average number of employers a student is considering is 25. In 2008, it was 12. Recruiters in turn are aware of this mounting competition, which is ramping up business pressures to recruit faster and be more agile. Having more year-round campus presence and accelerated processes is becoming the norm."

Most students said they heard about the job opportunity they ended up accepting through an on-campus hiring event (32 percent), followed by the career center (21 percent), referrals (15 percent) or a job board (15 percent).

Students found the company's website to be the most helpful research tool (39 percent), followed by third-party review sites (29 percent). Seventy percent of respondents indicated a company's social media posts and behavior encouraged or dissuaded them from applying to a job, and 33 percent had joined the employer's talent community before applying.

"The need to be more creative and demonstrate company values as well as good role descriptions has never been so vital," said Seldric Blocker, director of talent acquisition campus programs for NBCUniversal. "It's no longer just notoriety of brand names that gets the best candidates interested in your business. Students want to be networked with and made to feel welcome from the start of a process all the way to the end. The more inclusive and career-focused you can demonstrate to be, the better."

Was this article useful? SHRM offers thousands of tools, templates and other exclusive member benefits, including compliance updates, sample policies, HR expert advice, education discounts, a growing online member community and much more. Join/Renew Now and let SHRM help you work smarter.



Hire the best HR talent or advance your own career.


HR Daily Newsletter

News, trends and analysis, as well as breaking news alerts, to help HR professionals do their jobs better each business day.