The job outlook for new college graduates is brightening this year, experts say, although some graduates say finding a good entry-level position remains difficult.
For the first time since 2007, employers report a double-digit increase in their spring hiring projections, according to a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Projections last fall showed employers planned to hire 13.5 percent more new graduates than a year earlier. The spring update raised the number to 19.3 percent.
Dale Singleton of Lady's Island worried about finding a job after graduating from the University of South Carolina Beaufort last month. He'd heard so much about high unemployment rates, scarce openings and layoffs.
But after applying for about 30 positions, the psychology major landed a job with defense contractor Northrop Grumman at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. Singleton, 33, spent 12 years in the Marine Corps before starting at USCB.
"It was like a burden -- a two-ton burden -- had been lifted off my shoulders," he said.
Job postings have "really bounced up" in recent weeks, said Flora Riley, executive director of Clemson University's Michelin Career Center.
As baby boomers retire and employers feel more comfortable with the economy, "they feel a little safer starting to put some people in their pipeline for their future," Riley said. "Things are improving, but it's gradual. You may see a real jump next year. All the signs point to a really good year next year."
Hiring increases are expected across regions and across most industries, according to the association's spring survey. Oil and gas extraction companies, chemical manufacturers, computer and electronics manufacturers, and finance, insurance and real estate employers reported the most aggressive hiring plans.
Still, some students say good jobs are hard to find.
Another survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that despite a rise in job offers, just 24 percent of new college graduates who applied for a job reported having one lined up by graduation.
Jared Springle, USCB's Student of the Year, said the market remains "very tough."
He began searching for a human resources management position in a large corporate setting in February but hasn't found one yet, despite his high grade point average and work experience. Springle has held data-management and accounting positions, in addition to working at USCB.
Most of the job opportunities he wants require a degree and at least five years of experience in human resources.
"The question is, how in the world do you get that five years of experience?" Springle asked. "It's very frustrating as a recent college graduate not to have a whole lot of opportunities available to us."
Susan Hansel, manager of the Randstad recruitment company branch that includes Beaufort County, said experience is key.
The market has picked up and more companies are hiring this year compared to last year. But it still isn't near where it was five years ago, she said.
Hansel said that means new graduates need to keep an open mind.
"The presumption of getting a high-paying, salaried job just because you have a degree is gone," she said. "Now, it's important, but it doesn't guarantee something. ... There is such competition that you have to be very flexible."
For instance, she said it might be worth a graduate's time to take a $10-an-hour receptionist job to enter the workforce instead of holding out for a $40,000 salaried position.
Before getting his position at Northrop Grumman, Singleton applied for a variety of jobs across the country and considered positions at Waffle House and Target. It's important for new grads to be flexible, he said.
"You get your foot in the door, you work really hard and you're going to get promoted," he said. "But you've got to be willing to put your foot in the door, no matter what that door is."
The Greenville News contributed to this report.