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BELLINGHAM — With his list of seven companies, résumés printed and personal sales pitch practiced, Ben Pilloud walked into the Western Washington University career fair looking for a summer internship.

Pilloud plans to graduate from Western in December with a business degree but wants to land an internship that will help him find a job after graduation.

“Hanging out on the beach for the summer is not productive,” says Pilloud, 22. “I would be giving up three whole months when I could be building skills I may need.”

As graduation nears and students face the “what’s next” question, the government has some good news: The job market is brightening for new grads — a bit.

The Labor Department this week said the unemployment rate for 2013 college graduates — defined as those ages 20 to 29 who earned a four-year or advanced degree — was 10.9 percent. That was down from 13.3 percent in 2012 and was the lowest since 7.7 percent in 2007.

The drop reflects the steady recovery in overall U.S. economic growth and hiring.

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers plan to hire about 8.6 percent more college graduates this spring than last, and starting salaries are up 1.2 percent for the class of 2014.

To take advantage of those odds, more than 700 students attended the Western career fair Thursday to meet with recruiters from 76 companies, up significantly from the years coming out of the Great Recession.

“Three years ago, it was really hard for recent grads to even find an entry-level position because the market was inundated with people with more experience,” says Aaron Ignac, assistant director of operations with Western’s Career Services Center. “Now we are seeing more internships and jobs available on our website and more recruiters at our job fairs.”

But career counselors in colleges around Puget Sound are preparing their students for a harsh reality facing their graduates: The first job may not be their dream job.

“Sometimes students have a vision and they talk to people who are in really sexy roles, and they think that is where they will go right when they graduate,” says Briana Randall, associate director of the University of Washington Career Center. “Our take is that usually there are a couple jobs in between graduation and that dream job.”

More than 1,600 students and alumni and 140 employers attended the University of Washington spring career fair this month.

Seattle University’s is Tuesday. Currently 74 employers are signed up and the school expects about 400 students.

In a report last year, the McKinsey consultancy found that 41 percent of graduates from top universities and 48 percent of those from other schools could not land jobs in their chosen field after graduation.

Nic Doherty, a senior at Western studying political science and economics, says even though he would love to work for a finance company with a good salary and benefits, he has prepared himself to take whatever position he can get.

“When you are offered a sales job instead of the executive offices, some people ask why they even went to college,” says Doherty. “But you have to work at it — you can’t just step right into your dream job.”

A new study by CareerBuilder and shows both Pilloud and Doherty are ahead of some of their peers with majors in liberal arts and communications. According to the study, business, computer science and engineering are the most sought-after majors.

Paccar had recruiters at Western’s career fair looking for graduates with software development and accounting experience.

Seattle City Light had entry-level positions coming available in data analysis, engineering and especially IT as the company changes all its programs from Windows 7 to Windows 8.

Real-estate website Zillow also had positions available in software development and mobile application development.

Those openings won’t help Western senior Kastle Huffaker — an English major, graduating in June.

Huffaker, 21, has a minor and two previous internships in Web development. She is wrapping up a third internship in marketing and says she is hopeful.

“I’m not looking to publish a famous book or anything.”

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or On Twitter @coralgarnick