Hiring surge to bring more recruiters to campus job fair

If the throng of recruiters expected at this week’s pre-graduation job fair at the University of California, Berkeley, is any indication, students ready to enter the job market have good reason to be optimistic.

From startups to government agencies to major corporations, more employers are on the lookout for entry-level job and internship candidates. As a result, UC Berkeley’s “Just in Time” job fair has reverted to a two-day event after dwindling down to just one day since 2008.

Just in Time job fair

At least 1,500 students are expected to show up, hand out résumés and network with recruiters, many of whom see UC Berkeley graduates as prime job candidates.

“This year’s Cal senior looking for an entry-level position is benefiting from a confluence of factors,” said Tom Devlin, director of UC Berkeley’s Career Center and president of the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

“First, employers have greater confidence in the economy, and are now hiring for positions that they had been holding back. Second, employers are recognizing that there is heightened competition to hire the best candidates,” he said.

This Wednesday and Thursday (April 20-21), 148 recruiters from technology, science and  finance to government and nonprofit sectors will set up booths at the Pauley Ballroom on the 3rd floor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Student Union building. Wednesday’s job fair will focus on opportunities in science and engineering, while Thursday’s will cover a wide array of careers.

Among the tech and media companies recruiting at the Just in Time job fair will be Google, Microsoft, Hewlett Packard. StumbleUpon, Autodesk, Disney Interactive Media Group and Magoosh, a Berkeley-based test preparation startup.

Meanwhile, graduating seniors looking for careers in government and public service sectors will find recruiters for the Peace Corps, the U.S. Army and Navy, California’s Employment Development Department, the San Francisco Police Department, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the San Mateo Transit District and the NASA Ames Research Center.

Typically at UC Berkeley, two-thirds of graduating seniors enter the workforce, one-quarter pursue graduate studies, and the remainder enter the military, the Peace Corps or take a year off to travel or explore other options.

“Berkeley’s top-notch faculty and students make our campus a top destination for recruiters,” said Suzanne Helbig, assistant director of marketing and counseling at UC Berkeley’s Career Center. “Cal students bring innovative thinking to the workplace because of their unparalleled academic and hands-on experiences.”

A spike in recruiters at UC Berkeley job fairs reflects a nationwide trend. A recent survey from the National Association of Colleges and Employers, for example, found that employers this year expect to hire at least 13 percent more new college graduates compared with 2010.

Despite signs of an economic turnaround, the job market remains highly competitive, economists and career counselors point out. While California is seeing gradual job growth, the state’s unemployment rate remains around 12 percent, the second highest in the nation after Nevada. Graduating seniors are thus advised to consider internships and starter jobs that are not necessarily in their field, just to get a foot in the door, Helbig said.

In an increasingly wired world, a growing number of students are using such social networking sites as Linkedin for job leads. But nothing compares to a face-to-face interview, even if it’s just an informal meeting to get on an employer’s radar screen, Helbig said.

Regardless of whether the job market is up or down, Helbig advises students to have a plan B in case they don’t get their dream job right out of college; to build up their résumés with volunteer work, internships, research assistant positions or part-time jobs and to expand social and professional networks. She also reminds UC Berkeley students to make use of the Career Center.

As for the outlook for UC Berkeley School of Law graduates, even though recruitment goals of large law firms are lower than in pre-recession years, Berkeley Law graduates have held their own, said Terrence Galligan, assistant dean of career development at Berkeley Law.

In response, the law school’s career development office has boosted its efforts to attract new job prospects for graduates. The results are impressive: nearly double the number of employers attended the law school’s public interest and government sector reception last fall and 33 percent more employers took part in the law school’s student mentor-matching program, Galligan said.

As law firms adjust to a changing market, judicial clerkships have become some of the most coveted—and competitive—positions, according to Galligan. Berkeley Law graduates won a record number of clerkships this year, about 10 percent of the 2011 class.

“When you combine the number of clerkships for our current and recent graduates, it’s 25 percent higher than just a few years ago, and the highest it’s been in at least a decade,” Galligan said.