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Our Q&A with Challenger, Gray & Christmas CEO John Challenger

The outplacement expert speaks on the job market for new college grads.

Photo: Jeff Sciortino

Employment in general is rebounding. But if I’m the parent of a child finishing up college, what can I expect of the market for new grads in particular?

The unemployment rate for recent grads is 6.8 percent. That’s twice the rate for all college grads. But companies are starting to take steps to bring more new grads into their pipeline. Sixty-four percent of the HR professionals [that Challenger’s Chicago-based firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, surveyed] said they planned to recruit graduates this year. That’s probably the highest it’s been since the summer of 2007.

What is driving that rosier outlook?

There are 4.2 million unfilled openings, according to the Labor Department. The most often cited reason for that is the skills gap—that employers can’t find candidates with the right skills in the unemployment pool. College grads not only offer the best hope for having those skills, they also have the best foundation for acquiring skills on the job.

How does Chicago’s job outlook compare with the rest of the country?

This will be a better market.

Why?

In Chicago, we have a strong business and professional services sector. Job creation has been positive in the health care sector. Engineering, accounting, and computer science are three other areas where grads with those degrees can expect to do very well. They come out of school with real skills that can be used right away.

Still, should parents hold off a little while longer on turning that extra bedroom into a den?

That’s a good idea. Even though things are better, kids today are more likely to find it harder [than previous generations did] to find a job. Also, companies often use the last-in, first-out method when they’re doing layoffs, so people in their 20s are more vulnerable.

What’s the best tip parents can give job-seeking kids?

Utilize your parents and your professors, your former classmates and their parents. Go see people where they work. Explore. Don’t rely on posting your résumé on LinkedIn and waiting for people to find you. Parents should make a conscious effort to identify people they know who would be good for their children to meet. That might be more important than keeping a bedroom open.

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