Hamza Afzal had such a hard time finding an electrical engineering internship during the recession that he delayed his graduation, took pre-med classes, and applied to law school. This year he got two job offers in his field. "I definitely saw a shift in the job market," says Afzal, a senior at San José State University, who starts May 30 at chipmaker Linear Technology (LLTC).
The class of 2011 is enjoying the best job market for new grads since the 2008 financial crisis, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers. It's being driven by gains in finance, energy, and technology, says Edwin W. Koc, NACE's research chief, who foresees younger workers filling a backlog of jobs after two years of stagnant hiring.
In Silicon Valley, postings have doubled from two years ago at technology career website operator Dice Holdings (DHX). "It's quite a stunning comeback," says Lance Choy, director of the career development center at Stanford University. Postings on Stanford's online job board for full-time positions surged 36 percent to 1,900 in the fourth quarter of last year compared with a year earlier.
Emerging areas such as social media, mobile applications, and e-commerce are fueling rapid hiring at big companies such as Google (GOOG) and Apple (AAPL), as well as venture capital-backed startups. At San José State, job postings increased 59 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier, according to Cheryl Allmen-Vinnedge, director of the school's career center. A job fair at the university on Apr. 12 drew more employers than the school had room for, she says.
Zynga, the biggest maker of online games on Facebook, is hiring about 130 college grads this year, 35 percent more than last year. That pace is a switch from the past few years, when the recession crimped the hiring of new graduates. In 2009 the University of California, Berkeley, halved its job fair from two days to one because of a dearth of interested employers. This year the event returned to two days and drew 160 companies, up from 95 last year.
Baba Shiv, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, says the current frenzy to hire business and engineering students translates into a great opportunity for job seekers to gain valuable experience at a startup. "For students, it's the perfect time to take chances," Shiv says. "Do it now. In five years, it will be over."
The bottom line: The job prospects for the more than 1.6 million college students graduating this year will be the best since 2008.