A Look at the Class of 2017

It’s official: the class of 2017 is transitioning into the eye-opening “real world.” These recent graduates are eager to make an impact on the organizations where they choose to begin their careers, but their employment expectations may be faced with a harsh reality.

Our new report surveyed this year’s college seniors about their plans to take the workforce by storm. The data leads to two helpful truths and one disrupting lie that help decode the class of 2017 and better recruit the newest batch of candidates. How well do you know your entry-level applicants?

They Are Confident in Their Ability to Nail the Interview

America’s most recent graduates may have just flipped their tassels, but more than 90 percent already feel confident in their ability to nail an interview. It’s no secret that confidence is praised by hiring managers, but don’t be surprised if these ambitious candidates lack key interviewing skills. Sixty-two percent of recruiters surveyed believe that entry-level candidates need to become more familiar with the organization before stepping into the interview room. Kayla Cermak, campus reach recruiter at Southwest Airlines, believes that college seniors must improve their ability to complete prior research on a company and be prepared to express why they are interested. She suggests reading through the job description prior to the interview and thinking through ways that their experience relates.

One way to ensure entry-level applicants are well equipped for an interview is to establish an employer brand that clearly communicates what makes a successful employee. This can be done with consistent information about the culture and mission across all recruitment marketing materials to not only highlight candidates who have done their research, but also attract talent that is best-fit.

Their Experience Matches Your Expectations and Well Qualifies Them for Entry-level Positions  

Sure, a college education prepares students to enter the workforce, but many new graduates are unaware of the type of jobs for which they are truly qualified. In fact, thirty-two percent of surveyed recruiters have received entry-level applicants who are not qualified for the roles applied.

The biggest factor is the amount of experience that fresh talent brings to the table; to 65 percent of recruiters, two or more internships is what it takes to be considered for an entry-level role today. The good news is that most college seniors have completed at least one internship during their college career, and 65 percent came out of it with applicable skills like time and project management.

College major is another area of disconnect for desired talent. Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics majors top 61 percent of entry-level recruiters’ lists for candidates they are most interested in hiring. However, only 23 percent of college seniors received a STEM degree in 2017. Nevertheless, qualified candidates are out there, and Trudy Steinfeld, associate vice president of student affairs and executive director of the Wasserman Center for Career Development at New York University suggests that the class of 2017 “read job descriptions closely, and if you have 60 percent of the qualifications, apply. If you have 60 percent of the skills they need, they can teach you the rest.”

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Understandably, there are certain qualifications that entry-level positions will require outside of a degree. Emphasizing these must-haves through screening questions associated with the application process can reiterate exactly what is non-negotiable regarding skills, and narrow applicants based on that criteria.

When it Comes Time to Discuss Salary, They Will Face a Harsh Reality

We all know that hiring an entry-level employee is a gamble for employers, and candidates should expect their starting compensation to reflect their relatively low experience, right? Not so! On average, college seniors expect to earn $53,483 from their first job, an even higher figure from what we saw last year with the class of 2016. With only 24 percent setting expectations at around $35,000 or less, these candidates may be in for a surprise when receiving an offer. When it comes to negotiation, however, only 42 percent of college seniors believe that salary is negotiable. They may be pleased to know that 67 percent of recruiters say it is likely to happen.

Understanding why the class of 2017 has such high hopes may become clearer after a glance at their post-college debt. Last year, the average college student graduated with $37,172 in student loans, according to student loan expert and president of Cerebly, Inc., Mark Kantrowitz. However, with 87 percent of recruiters agreeing that a four-year degree makes entry-level job seekers instantly competitive, the investment seems worth it. Candid compensation conversations with entry-level candidates offer the opportunity to highlight paths for promotion within the company, as well as exciting benefits packages that may not have been thought of in the past. For example, 71 percent of millennials are concerned about how their leadership skills are being developed. Visualizing professional growth potential may swing candidates back into salary reality.

It is common for new graduates to have oversized expectations, but anticipating them can help shape well-informed entry-level hiring techniques to stay ahead of the competition in attracting and retaining the best new entries to the workforce. As time goes on, graduates may expect more, but a great candidate experience and a helpful onboarding program may help to bridge the gap to even the highest of expectations.

As chief marketing officer at iCIMS, Susan Vitale oversees brand, communications, and direct marketing. She also plays a role in portfolio strategy, helping to ensure iCIMS’ products and platform remain on the radar of the ever-changing HR technology landscape.

A graduate of Lehigh University, she joined iCIMS straight out of college in 2005 as a marketing coordinator. She quickly moved through the ranks, becoming the director of marketing, and then before the age of 30 was promoted to chief marketing officer.

Her entrepreneurial thinking helps her develop new business opportunities via new product lines, expansion into new markets, and additional revenue streams. She belongs to several online mentoring communities where she gives career advice and provides insight on finding the right career fit for young professionals.



4 Comments on “A Look at the Class of 2017

  1. One of the best articles I’ve read about job prospects for college grads, Susan. Thank you for writing this fact-based piece and for publishing it in such a public forum.

    As the founder of www2.CollegeRecruiter.com/home job search site, career-related articles about students and recent graduates are ones that jump out at me and I typically want to tear them and the authors into tiny pieces as those articles are often not worth the bits and bytes on which they’re written. Yours was different. Yours was good. Thank you.

  2. How much does college major matter vs. internships and overall skills profile? This article notes that 61% of entry-level recruiters are targeting STEM degrees, while a survey commissioned by The American Association of Colleges and Universities states that broad education and internships are more important to employers than major: https://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2015employerstudentsurvey.pdf

    There are also more articles on how tech is valuing liberal arts majors, such as: https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/georgeanders/2015/07/29/liberal-arts-degree-tech/&refURL=https://www.google.com/&referrer=https://www.google.com/

    A recent study also showed liberal arts majors were as likely to get jobs in business as business majors – IF they had a related business internship. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927537115001207

    So, recruiters, what chance does the History major who has the skills to develop a website or analyze big data have in today’s recruiting market. Is it all about the degree, or do recruiters give equal wight to skills and experiences?

    1. Hi Jennifer — thank you for taking the time to read and comment.

      We’ve certainly seen plenty of employers (iCIMS included) value internships over a college major. Our study showed that 82% of recruiters frequently hire entry-level candidates whose college major does not directly align with or relate to the job position they ultimately get hired into by the organization. Additionally, past work experience (#1) and communication skills (#2) were cited as the top two factors more important than college major.

      Please feel free to check out the full report here: https://www.icims.com/hiring-insights/for-employers/ebook-the-class-of-2017-job-outlook-report


  3. Big fail on my part for missing this. Thanks for reading and for the kind words, Steven. Much appreciated!

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