Note: This is a revised version of this story. The original ranking relied on the Consumer Price Index as a cost-of-living measure. The new ranking uses data from the Council for Community and Economic Research, which is a better cost-of-living indicator.
There's a story, probably apocryphal, told about the legendary bank robber Willie Sutton, who knocked over so many financial institutions in the early part of the 20th century that he made Jesse James and John Dillinger look like a couple of Cub Scouts. A reporter asked Sutton why he robbed banks. Sutton's reply: Because that's where the money is.
It's a good approach to getting what you want, and one that today's job hunters would be wise to follow. Too many young people, fresh out of college, limit their search for gainful employment to their dream jobs, only to discover there aren't any. What they should be doing instead is following Slick Willie's advice. They should go where the jobs are.
They should go to Indianapolis.
That, according to an exclusive new analysis of job market data, is where college graduates have the best chance of finding work in an economy where jobs are rapidly becoming an endangered species. By examining job postings for new college grads on AfterCollege.com, a jobs site for young professionals, along with salary, unemployment, and cost-of-living data, BusinessWeek was able to create an "opportunity map" of the U.S.: the 30 metropolitan areas where jobs are, if not exactly easy to come by, at least an attainable goal.
Opportunity in Indianapolis
Why Indianapolis? For starters it's dirt cheap. According to the Council for Community and Economic Research, which collects cost-of-living data on U.S. cities, Indianapolis has one of the lowest living costs of the 30 cities in this ranking, so living there won't break the bank. The average annual pay—$41,420—is a far cry from the salaries enjoyed by denizens of New York, Boston, and San Francisco. But it goes a lot further in Indianapolis, which enjoys one of the most affordable major housing markets in the nation.
And then there are the jobs. On the AfterCollege site, 180 employers—more than almost any other city in the country—posted jobs for new college graduates. Area employers include Eli Lilly (LLY), Wellpoint (WLP), Sallie Mae (SLM), FedEx (FDX), and Amazon.com (AMZN). A healthy local economy and flourishing tourist trade only add to its appeal.
Which isn't to say new college grads will find a job-market Eden in Indianapolis, which like the rest of the country has been hit hard by the housing crisis and recession. "What's happening here is similar to what's happening in all cities," says Pambana Uishi, director of the Skilled Workforce Development for the Indianapolis Urban League. "There is lots of competition for jobs."
With Indianapolis in the top spot, Phoenix, New York, Denver, and Atlanta round out the top five cities for new college grads. Unlike other cities that were crushed by the economic downturn, the Phoenix economy and population are growing. And the city, which has been recognized before for having some of the nation's best job opportunities for young adults, is something of a magnet for Generation Y. With 1.5 million residents and a median age of 31.7, it's one of the youngest big cities in the nation.
"Phoenix is an opportunity-laden city that you could add to your list," says Rick Hamada, COO of the information technology giant Avnet (AVT), a Fortune 500 company that calls the city home. As an employer of about 12,000 people, Avnet has had a presence in Phoenix since the mid-1980s but moved its headquarters there in 1998, says Hamada. "It certainly has felt the economic crisis, but it has not faced the same challenges as those whose economies focus on finance or automotives," says Hamada. "We're not in the same position as New York or Detroit."
The young people who come to Phoenix come, in part, for companies like PetSmart (PETM), a $5 billion maker of pet products that is still growing. And still hiring. Shammara Howell, PetSmart's university relations manager in Phoenix, says the company recently expanded its headquarters campus with an on-site fitness center and child care center. And it's probably the only company in Phoenix where employees are welcome to bring their children—and pets—to work.
Howell, who moved to Phoenix after graduation nine years ago, says she understands why young people find it attractive. "It was a no-brainer," she says of her move. "Phoenix has a lot to offer when you're in your twenties, but as you get older, you can go to the suburbs and have a nice family life."
Job Search Flexibility
While the cities at the top of the ranking may offer young people the best chance for finding work, there are no guarantees, and job-seekers can expect to encounter economic backlash no matter where they go.
A willingness to relocate, however, shows flexibility—and in an impossible-to-navigate job market, every little bit helps. Being flexible is how Michael Fineman, president of the Young Professionals of Chicago, landed his job with American Capital (ACAS), a private equity firm in Chicago, three years ago when he was living in Minneapolis. Fineman now works for Maranon Capital, an asset management firm based in Chicago, the No. 7 city in the ranking. He says he liked Minneapolis but doesn't regret the move. "Chicago has a Midwestern feel and tight business community," he says. "You don't feel like you do when you're in New York City."
The advice most experts are offering young people is to keep all options open. "Be flexible," says Uishi. "Keep in mind what you want to do but consider other opportunities as well." Certain fields are seeing more job openings than others. Civil engineering, health care, sales, and customer service are offering a steady stream of opportunities, says Roberto Angulo, CEO of AfterCollege. Angulo and other experts suggest that, during the economic crisis, recent college grads consider volunteering or taking on freelance projects or internships if they can't find full-time work. "It could get your foot in the door when the company starts hiring again," says Angulo.
Your first job out of college might not be what you expect. "You have to look for opportunities in a lot of unique places," says Molly Wilkinson Chavers, the executive director of IndyHub, an organization that mobilizes young professionals in Indianapolis. "Sometimes, our first jobs on paper are not our dream jobs. But we must learn from each opportunity."View a slide show of the top cities for college grads looking for jobs.