Richard Lord, a University of Missouri junior, is having a good time at his first career fair. He is dressed in a bleached white shirt, shiny leather shoes and a striped necktie, with a name tag attached to his black suit. Holding a black bag filled with flyers and pamphlets from different companies, Lord looks more like a shopper in the supermarket than a job seeker at a career fair.
Last month, MU students looking for internships or full-time job opportunities packed the Business Career Fair, held at the Hearnes Center in Columbia. More than 100 employers attended the event, ranging from multi-national corporations to Missouri-based small businesses.
Lord, who was looking for an internship in financial services, said he saw a lot of opportunities. He already had a few options — an offer from Enterprise, interviews with two other companies — and was still looking. He had talked to about 15 companies since the start of the job fair.
Of all the college students zealously seeking career opportunities, not everyone was faring as well as Lord. Andrew Tucker, a senior studying business administration, said he had been to several events like this, and he was still in the beginning stage of his job search.
Melicia Cates was one of the early birds at the job fair. She said she was really glad that Macy’s took her résumé for a summer internship, despite the fact that she’s a freshman.
“I really wanted to get the experience before I was a senior,” Cates said. “ I want to go (to the job fair) every year and have the recruiters recognize my face, just so they know I’m really trying.”
Labor market awakens
The good news for college students is that jobs are coming back.
According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of college graduates with bachelor’s and higher degrees in February 2015 was 2.7 percent, its lowest mark since September 2008.
In the first month of 2015, the number of non-farm jobs in Missouri grew by 14,300. Over the past year, Missouri has gained 43,200 non-farm jobs, according to the state’s January 2015 Jobs Report.
“The job market this year certainly seems more competitive, in terms of getting the candidates we want,” said Scott Smith, assistant vice president at Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. The bank was looking for 25 college students to fill its summer intern program.
Toyota was one of the busiest tables at the career fair. The company was doubling the hiring for its management trainee program. Toyota usually hires 20 in January and 20 in July, but this year the company was planning to hire 40 in the first quarter, and 40 in the rest of the year.
Micah Clarke, who has been working as the Toyota college recruiter for four years, said the job market this year has “definitely improved.”
“Of all the career fairs I’ve been to over the past year, employers have really started coming out to recruit,” Clarke said.
Balance of power shifts
Small businesses are also getting aggressive in hiring. Joel Brown, production manager at Classic Contracting, a Lee’s Summit-based company that provides natural disaster restoration services, said his company was able to find quite a few “quick-witted, and willing to work hard folks” this year through the job fair.
“We are growing,” Brown said. “We need to have more young talent in our company to fulfill the demand.”
With the job market improving, the balance of power is shifting from employers to prospective employees.
“It’s more a candidates’ market than an employers’ market right now,” Toyota’s Clarke said. “The candidates can be playing the field and interview with several companies, and picking the company they want to work for.”
As students filtered out of the arena, employers began to clean up, packing away the pamphlets and promotional swag they brought to the fair.
“Three or four years ago,” Clarke said, “they were just lucky to get an interview and get a job.”