The atmosphere of hope that surrounds job hunters across the country is extending to college seniors as well.
The Class of 2011 is facing many more favorable employment conditions than those who graduated in the previous three years, when students walked across the stage to get their diplomas and stepped into the worst economy since their great-grandparents' days.
The National Association of Colleges and Employers, which tracks employment trends for graduating seniors, reported recently that companies plan to hire 19.3 percent more entry-level college workers than in 2010. Two years ago, hundreds of thousands of careers were put on hold when employers hired fewer graduates.
In 2010, companies received more than 40 applications for every entry-level job they posted. This year it's 21.1 applications per posted position, the association reported.
"It's not the job market we saw when the economy was running on all cylinders, but it's gotten better," said Randy Williams, who directs the career center at the University of California, Riverside.
UCR's job boards have at least 50 percent more postings than in the fall, Williams said. But despite the stronger numbers, the lingering effects of the recession still hover over the job market. Unemployment is still close to 10 percent nationally.
That means employers are still picky. If they're shopping for a computer programmer, they'd likely look at the person who was a leader in a campus technology club or who led ambitious projects, experts in the field said.
The best salaries are going to graduates trained in sciences, engineering and computers, according to the association's research. Chemical engineers are being offered almost $67,000 to start, and computer science graduates are commanding $63,000 salaries, on average.
The study found that last year more than half the graduating seniors hired by major corporations did an internship at the company first, meaning companies want to use that tenure to get a feel for how workable that student might be.
Some say the door opened for the Class of '11 because corporations see it as economically feasible. Rookies command more modest salaries than workers with 15 years of experience.
"I think a business that's just getting back on the upswing would do that to try and save money," said Carl Miller, CEO of Russell Stephens, a Los Angeles executive search firm specializing in the financial sector. "It's common to see that coming out of a recession."
But UCR's Williams said companies' motivation to hire younger workers goes beyond saving money.
"Certainly companies have to have experienced talent," Williams said. "But they also need guys with the latest skills. If you can get a guy who's freshly minted and knows the latest technology, why not hire him?"
The survey indicated the Northeast would be the most active hiring area, with the West Coast a distant second. The association's survey is based on responses from 174 companies or agencies, including major corporations such as General Electric, Dow Corning and Ernst & Young.