A sunny hiring season for job seekers

As unemployment rates dip below peak dot-com boom levels, companies are competing fiercely for the brightest new college grads. Google's strategy for hiring young talent Getting hired via social network

It's recruiting season and the forecast looks sunny for job seekers, so long as they're talented and willing to work at landing employment.

That's the consensus among analysts, students and big company recruiters who are struggling to find enough qualified applicants to fill their posts.

The overall unemployment rate for the computer industry at the end of last quarter was 2.1 percent, which is even lower than the 2.3 percent rate during the same quarter in 2000, the peak of the dot-com boom. Things are particularly bright for software engineers, whose unemployment rate was down to 0.9 percent last quarter, compared to 1.9 percent during the same period in 2000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Jobs openings have peaked in the last nine months, said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer for Challenger, Gray & Christmas, whose placement firm crunches job market data. "In total of tech jobs, we're probably in a better position than we've ever been."

"From being an employers' market four years ago, it's now an employee-driven market."
--Sean Norris, Sapphire Technologies

This year's batch of students with degrees in engineering and computer science can take advantage of a job market that's grown steadily over the last four year years. Challenger cited Labor Department statistics showing unemployment for recent tech grads down to 2 percent.

"In the tight labor market there are many companies which are eagerly awaiting the new graduates," Challenger said. "They bring in new skills and expertise and they are not as high priced."

Silicon Valley, a bellwether for the overall tech industry, has also seen this steady growth, said Sean Norris, branch manager for Sapphire Technologies' San Francisco Bay Area IT recruiting office.

"From being an employers' market four years ago, it's now an employee-driven market," Norris said.

Competition fierce
Spring and summer are busy hiring times for companies and graduating students. But the recruiting process take place throughout the year through the likes of job fairs, lectures, alumni events and on-campus interviews.

Companies like Google, Microsoft and IBM put huge amounts of people, time and money into recruiting students, although they're unable to assign specific dollar figures to such efforts.

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IBM, for example, spends much more than $100 million on student activities annually, said Gina Poole, the company's vice president of innovation and university relations. "You can't even begin to count the time IBMers put into this," she said.

IBM has even created its own academic discipline, Services, Sciences, Management and Engineering (SSME) to help ensure future recruits will have the skill set the company looking for.

"For today and even more so in the future, we are working with universities around the world to make sure that they are delivering this pipeline of students," Poole said, in order "to meet the needs for us, or clients and business partners."

Like IBM and others, Microsoft is working hard to fill open positions. "We don't have trouble finding people," said Microsoft Technical Staffing Manager Jeremy Brigg, "but the pool of qualified folks in tech as a whole has shrunken in the U.S."

Microsoft is looking to hire 2,500 students this year, a combination of full-time and intern candidates. It would like to hire even more, but there are just not enough students with technical skills, Brigg said.

That shortage has been documented by various agencies, including Challenger's, which also noted an increasing demand for people who have "softer skills" that go beyond technical abilities. "I think that companies are putting a premium on tech workers who have a good EQ," as opposed to just IQ, Challenger said.

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