#ElonExperts: Current job market welcoming Class of 2022 with open arms

Two Elon experts explore what graduating seniors are seeing as they head out from Elon into a variety of new careers and experiences.

Elon University’s newest graduates will don caps and gowns on May 20 as they receive their diplomas and head on to what’s next.

For many, that will be embarking on their post-graduate careers, and new graduates of Elon, like their peers at colleges and universities across the country, are finding a competitive job market — one where the competition is greater between employers looking to land new graduates than between new alumni seeking their first post-grad jobs.

The Elon University News Bureau recently caught up with Brooke Buffington, director of the Student Professional Development Center, and Tonmoy Islam, assistant professor of economics, to gain more insight into the employment landscape for the Class of 2022 and how graduates are capitalizing on a job market that is clamoring for talent.

Historically, college seniors have been entering their post-graduate job searches earlier and earlier in their final years. What does it look like this year in terms of when these students are cementing their post-graduate plans?

Brooke Buffington, director of the Student Professional Development Center

BROOKE BUFFINGTON –  The hiring cycle is very dependent on industry, and our Elon graduates have vast interests and professional goals, so there’s not one answer to that question. Accounting and financial institutions are certainly starting their recruiting processes earlier than they have in the past. Right now, some second-year students have already been interviewed and secured internships for summer 2023. A nonprofit or media company may not start their recruiting process until eight weeks before they need that new hire to begin with the organization.

The good news is that no matter what hiring cycle, organizations are looking for new talent.

TONMOY ISLAM –  I agree with Brooke. Students had multiple offers from different institutions this year. Some students were able to ask for increased benefits from their potential employers in the midst of this competition. In the summer internship market too, students have been able to obtain internships in some top institutions.

The economic rebound from the pandemic and lockdowns has brought increased competition within the labor market. Why is this now such a lucrative job market for new graduates and how long will these rosy employment prospects last?

ISLAM – In the early period of the pandemic, the unemployment rate rose by a large margin. The government then acted and provided a lot of support through the stimulus packages to individuals and businesses. This helped to create a lot of demand. Some people delayed purchases of big-ticketed items earlier in the pandemic, but with steady employment, and the stimulus checks, they were able to spend more in the later period. Later, businesses too became more comfortable with workers working from home, and so started to hire more workers remotely and expanded their operations.

The stimulus packages, and the falling unemployment rate, in turn, created more demand for workers by firms because as the business activities recovered, they required more services from other businesses.

How have students shifted their job searches and contract negotiations in light of the fact there are far more positions to fill than qualified applicants, generally speaking?

BUFFINGTON –  This is an interesting question, because some students are very aware of the shift in the job market, and others are not. Our work at the Student Professional Development Center is to help our graduating seniors understand the changes that are occurring with the opportunities that they’re pursuing.

I have been in this field for a long time, and this is the first year in which I’m hearing students say that they are receiving “raises” before they even begin their first day of work. Organizations are working hard to make sure that their compensation packages are aligned with the market and making adjustments in this rapidly changing hiring landscape.

I have been in this field for a long time, and this is the first year in which I’m hearing students say that they are receiving “raises” before they even begin their first day of work.

What is the state of the labor market meaning for entry-level salaries for new graduates? Are they seeing higher wages as well as more open positions?

Photo of associate professor of economics Tonmoy Islam
Tonmoy Islam, assistant professor of economics

ISLAM –  Because of increased competition, employers are offering higher wages and more benefits to students. There are also a lot more employment opportunities for students this year than in the last two years. The unemployment rate is falling, which signals that students do not have to wait long to get their first offer. To show how strong the job market is right now, some larger banks have started to pay substantial salaries to the summer interns, hoping that these interns will transition to employment in the coming months. Many students are able to work completely online for their employers, or in a hybrid model. Some students have said that they may work from their parents’ home for a few years to save on rent and other expenses.

What does the landscape look like for continuing students in terms of internships? Is the current state of the economy translating into more and better, and even better-paying, internships this summer?

BUFFINGTON –  Some industries have already hired their interns for summer 2023, but this is far from true for every industry. Hiring is currently up for internships, which is great for current students. As Tonmoy noted, we’re seeing pay increases with internships, as more employers are hoping to convert their interns into full-time hires at the conclusion of the internship. The economic environment is ever-changing, so students need to always be looking for ways to continue to build skills and grow their marketability.

The high demand for talented workers has a lot of upsides for those seeking jobs. What are some of the economic downsides to a welcoming job market for new graduates? Is this contributing to inflation?

ISLAM –  Yes partly. Offering higher wages to new entrants will increase the cost of doing business, which then increases the price of their products. This further increases wages and the cycle continues.

On the other hand, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates to dampen inflation. Raising rates makes it costly for some consumers to buy certain products (mainly large-ticketed items like housing and cars), which can reduce demand for products in the coming months. Already, some tech firms have laid off workers or have instituted a hiring freeze.

I would suggest that new entrants to the full-time job market continue to acquire new skills so that they are marketable, and can easily move to another job if their current employer is facing a decline in business.