2016 college grads: Prepare for a cutthroat job market

The quarterly U.S. Hiring Trends Report from talent acquisition solutions provider iCIMS reveals that new graduates should prepare for some serious competition in the job market.

cutthroat tech job market
Credit: Rob Sinclair/Flickr

Get your game face on, class of 2016, because according to the quarterly U.S. Hiring Trends Report from talent acquisition solutions provider iCIMS, the job market is getting increasingly more competitive.

The research, which covers hiring trends from Q1 to Q4 2015 based on user data from 3,200 iCIMS customers, showed the already tight talent market constricting even more, and highlighted just how cutthroat the IT job market can be.

Supply and demand

In Q4 2015, in the Information sector -- which includes IT and telecommunications companies, among others -- there were an average of 41 applicants for every open position filled; nearly twice the number (21) in any other market segment, according to the data.

"That's an incredibly competitive landscape for new grads looking for jobs. And it's an even greater spread when you look at the Northeast region; there were approximately 26 applicants for every job filled and the Northeast had the highest ratio of supply to demand for every quarter in 2015," says Al Smith, vice president of technology for iCIMS.

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Underemployment

Increased competition could be one factor in the continuing problem of underemployment. Despite steady overall job growth, the number of full-time jobs created relative to part-time, contingent and internship positions is only 0.3 percent, says Josh Wright, iCIMS chief labor economist.

"Underemployment is one of the most disappointing aspects we see in this report. When we asked respondents, they said that their reasons for accepting a part-time job were involuntary or 'for economic reasons,' meaning they were looking for full-time work, but weren't able to get it, so they were settling for other options," Wright says.

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The skills gap

The skills gap, too, continues to play a role, as the educational systems struggles to keep up with the fast-changing skills and experience needs of IT companies, says Smith.

"New grads are in a precarious position. Nowadays, employers are looking for hard, STEM skills, and while students are responding to that in terms of the kind of degrees they're seeking, there's still not enough to meet that demand. We're seeing a lot of emphasis on cloud technology, DevOps and other forms of technology automation, but again, finding those skills is increasingly hard," he says.

The job market in 2016 doesn't necessarily demand a degree from a certain brand-name school, but successfully landing a job is easier if your university or college offers co-op, internships and real-world work experience programs, Smith says.

"When I'm hiring, I'm giving a bias to these proactive schools that have programs like hackathons, internships and the like that prioritize students' real-world and on-the-job experience, especially for software engineers. These are the schools that are providing the most relevant education and these are the graduates that are landing jobs," he says.

Landing a role as a mobile developer is becoming easier, though, as companies look to new grads and even high-schoolers and self-taught hobbyists to fill demand, says Stephen Zafarino, technical recruiting manager, IT recruiting and staffing firm Mondo.

"The market for mobile developers, iOS and Android as well as basic fundamental software development skills is still hot, but where this talent used to be rare and very expensive, now the employers we work with are willing to consider talent as long as they have an app or two they've created and some real-world experience," he says.

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Java is another area that remains in high demand, especially at the junior level, and cybersecurity is a major focus for Zafarino's clients, especially those in the Washington, D.C. area.

"Companies in the District and surrounding areas, especially those that are governmental or are contractors to the government are snapping up every cybersecurity professional from the entry-level all the way up to CSOs and CISOs. Often, we'll see they have a job offer or an internship before they even graduate, and then they'll start the clearance process so they can hire them the day they graduate," Zafarino says.

While the class of 2016 is facing intense competition, it's clear their skills are in high demand; with patience and perseverance, many should be able to land a lucrative, fulfilling IT job, says Zafarino.

"This is definitely the place to be, in IT, if you're a new grad looking for a job. Make sure to take advantage of any and all opportunities to get hands-on, real-world experience; freelance, gigs or internship projects," he says.

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