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More jobs for college grads, but most are filled by now

Employers have painted a rosier job outlook for college grads this year, but college seniors still on the hunt may find slim pickings.

Early projections have been optimistic. Employers will hire 9.6 percent more college graduates this year than last year, according to a forthcoming April report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). In its November outlook, the association had projected an increase of 8.3 percent in hiring for the Class of 2015.

Michigan State University's College Employment Research Institute found almost all companies, or 97 percent, plan to hire at least one new college grad this year, up from 84 percent who said so last year. Overall, hiring for candidates with bachelor's degrees is expected to rise 16 percent this year, according to its October survey of 2,200 recruiters and hiring managers.

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"Most of the industries were positive, pretty much across the board," said Andrea Koncz, a research manager at NACE. The only field with a weak hiring outlook, she said, was the oil and gas industry. In Michigan State University's analysis, only educational services (2 percent decrease) and health services (8 percent increase) were projected to experience less than double-digit growth.

Graduation college education
Linda Goodhue Photography | Moment | Getty Images

But graduates perusing job listings this spring might not see a wide array of job listings. Currently, 5 percent of all job openings nationwide are targeted to college students, according to a soon-to-be-released report from job listings website Simply Hired. That's down from 6 percent of listings this time last year.

Part of the problem? Grads' search timing isn't coinciding with when employers are hiring. For many college seniors, the job search starts in January and peaks in April, but listings targeting recent grads tend to pick up over the summer and into the fall, said Susan Martindill, a Simply Hired spokeswoman.

By April, roughly two-thirds of employers have already made offers to college seniors to fill any open entry-level positions, said NACE's Koncz. "Typically, what they do is hire most of their graduates in the fall of the year before they graduate," she said. "They do most of their recruiting early on."

It's not all bad news. The makeup of currently available jobs has shifted in the favor of new grads this year. "In recent years, new grads have really had to look at anything and everything," said Martindill.

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Job openings this year reflect fewer internships, temporary jobs and part-time positions. Within those grad-targeted listings, full-time opportunities are up more than 20 percent compared with last year, Simply Hired found.

Not all jobs will be a good fit for new grads. According to the data, demand for a college degree is up 5 percent in office jobs that haven't traditionally required one. Those jobs include customer service agents, receptionists and data entry workers.

College grads can also expect to earn more at that first job. Employers in the the NACE survey said they expected to raise starting salaries by an average 3.6 percent for new college hires. Last year, the association reported, the average starting salary was $45,473.