Job Outlook Improving for Class of 2012

Employers say they plan to hire 9.5 percent more graduates than in 2011.

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Things are looking up for the class of 2012.

Employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) say they plan to hire 9.5 percent more graduates from the class of 2012 than they did from the class of 2011.

Salary offers for recent college grads also continue to inch higher. Students landing jobs from this year's class will be paid more, on average, than the class of 2010. The NACE Fall 2011 Salary Survey shows that this year's class of graduates will make, on average, about 6 percent more than last year's graduates, from just over $48,000 to just over $51,000.

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Students earning engineering degrees have seen some of the highest salary offers. As a group, the average salary offered to engineering majors rose 2.8 percent from last year's average, to $60,291. The average salary offered to petroleum engineering graduates grew 7.1 percent to $82,740, making it the highest-paid major, according to the report.

If you're still in college and looking to get a leg up on the competition, another NACE survey reveals that paid interns had the most success attracting job offers in 2011. "Class of 2011 graduates who took part in a paid internship were more likely to get a job offer, have a job in hand by the time they graduated, and receive a higher starting salary offer than their peers who undertook an unpaid internship or no internship at all," according to a NACE press release. More than 61 percent of students who took part in paid internships in the for-profit sector received a job offer.

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It's not all good news on the hiring front. Many of the openings for the class of 2012 are for "replacement hires," new employees brought in to fill the roles of existing employees who are leaving. In the report, employers expressed the greatest interest in graduates who majored in business, engineering, and tech-related subjects.

Two companies with extensive hiring plans, mostly based on new hires and not on attrition, are accounting firm Ernst & Young and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

Ernst & Young began a hiring campaign in July, in which it plans to hire 9,000 students from throughout the Americas. Some 5,200 of those hires will come from U.S. campuses. The company plans to hire for a mix of full-time positions (3,000 graduates) and interns (2,200) in the United States alone. This year marks a the first that Ernst & Young's campus hiring level has reached its pre-recession highs. "There are a wide range of opportunities that are available," says Dan Black, director of campus recruiting for the Americas at Ernst & Young. He says the company is actively recruiting at about 200 college campuses throughout the Americas.

Car rental company Enterprise is also back to hiring levels in line with its pre-recession efforts. Marie Artim, Enterprise's senior vice president of talent acquisition, says the company plans to hire about 8,500 college graduates for its management training program for the fiscal year starting in August 2011. Artim says Enterprise generally promotes from within the company, and that many company executives, including herself, started in the management training program. "That's really the one way into the company is through our management training program," Artim says. "From there, it's our pipeline to our management path and our future leadership."

Twitter: @benbaden