The job scene for college graduates in the late 1990s was like a seller's market: A glut of jobs meant grads could cut lucrative deals without...

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SANTA ANA, Calif. — The job scene for college graduates in the late 1990s was like a seller’s market: A glut of jobs meant grads could cut lucrative deals without leaving their dorm rooms.

Then the market busted around Sept. 11, 2001, leaving students despondent. Now grads are facing a bounceback in the market, with 13 percent of employers expected to increase college hiring this year, according to data released in May by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, or NACE.

But grads beware: Employers are holding most of the cards. They’re picky and, for the most part, unwilling to make grand gestures of the past such as signing bonuses and stock options.

Average hourly wages for entry-level college students have been sliding.

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In other words, it’s a buyer’s market, and headhunters are giving grads this advice: Distinguish yourself from the pack.

“The market is better, but the competition for graduates entering the work force is going to continue to get more difficult,” said Lonnie Pacelli, a national recruiting consultant and a former hiring executive at Microsoft.

Still, recruiters say that finding a job will be slightly easier for the 1.2 million students graduating this year.

Tips


Work experience/internships: Don’t spend summers on the beach. Get out there and get experience. Employers like to see that you know how to punch a clock, especially if it’s in their field of work.

Leadership: A take-charge person who can handle a group will almost always be preferred over a passive one. It shows initiative, whether you’re president of an academic club or a fraternity.

Make noise: Put your name out there. Look for opportunities to let people know that you are graduating and looking for a job.

Call your hero: Often those with experience love to pass it on. Find successful people in your field of interest and take them to lunch. Let them know your aspirations and ask for advice.

Source: “Nonstop Networking: How to Improve Your Life, Luck and Career”; Lenny Pacelli; David Perry; www.CollegeRecruiter.com/”>www.CollegeRecruiter.com and MonsterTrak.

The Orange County Register

“There’s no question that the number of job postings are up from a year ago and up astronomically from three years ago,” said Steven Rothberg, president of www.CollegeRecruiter.com/”>www.CollegeRecruiter.com, a Web site for student job seekers.

Besides stiff competition, college graduates also are facing a dip in wages. According to a report released in May by the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), wages for entry-level college students dropped from $23.04 an hour to $22.41 hour from 2001 to 2004.

Though the economy is seeing moderate job growth, “young college graduates are still facing lower real wages than they did four years ago,” according to the EPI study released in mid-May.

That gives employers the upper hand, which is why career counselors tell students to start job hunting early.

It worked for David Espinoza.

The media-arts graduate said he sent out his portfolio to at least 20 companies before landing an internship at a video-game firm in Costa Mesa, Calif., during his junior year at the Art Institute of California in Santa Ana.

Although the game company folded, the experience he gained led to a job offer at Obsidian Entertainment in Santa Ana, where he works as a 3-D artist.

His credits already include work on the recently released “Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords” video game.

“Before I knew it, I was painting character heads and maps for the game,” said Espinoza, 22, of Garden Grove, Calif.

The former comic-book store manager now makes more than $40,000 a year and believes he’s landed his dream job by networking early and perfecting his craft.