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updated 6/7/2006 4:14:01 PM ET 2006-06-07T20:14:01

OK, kids, it's time to put down that mustard-stained apron, give up the good life sliding plates of tuna salad in front of people immersed in “Das Kapital” and launch your career.

Luckily, June college graduates will jump into the strongest job market since 2002.

“This is the most competitive recruiting environment in years,” says Steve Pollock, president of WetFeet, a San Francisco-based career Web site targeted to the nation's best students.

Pollock says a preliminary survey of this year's graduating seniors shows them following the opportunities created by the new economy, with 25 percent headed for jobs in financial services; 25 percent management consulting; 23 percent investment banking or corporate finance; 19 percent other types of consulting and 8 percent in government or the nonprofit sector.

The Internet bubble popped in the spring of 2001, and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., sent the economy into a skid. Declining investment and an unexpected drop in exports pushed the economy into a brief recession. The economy rebounded modestly in 2002 and 2003, but aided by strong consumer demand, a robust housing market and President George W. Bush's tax cuts, it kicked into a higher gear in 2004.

June 2002 graduates had a tough time by current standards. This year is expected to exceed 2005 — a very good year for June graduates — and is likely to rival the Internet boom years of the late 1990s.

The long-term employment outlook is strong. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the economy to add 21.3 million jobs between 2002 and 2012, boosting total employment to 165.3 million. That represents about 600,000 more jobs than were added between 1992 and 2002. However, with a bigger base, the projected 14.8 percent increase in total employment trails the 16.8 percent increase in the previous ten-year period.

The robust economy continues to reward those with talent and education. The strongest job growth will be at the top end of the scale — finance, management and engineering. Computer and health-related occupations account for 22 of the 30 fastest growing occupations surveyed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Sales and education also will be strong.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the roaring economy makes graduate school, once seen as a way to postpone adulthood for another year or two, less attractive to undergraduates, who appear eager to launch their careers.

“Students are much better informed than they were even five years ago,” Pollock says. “They have more realistic expectations, and this makes them better able to meet and negotiate with potential employers.”

Last year, the average base salary offered to June graduates was $44,574, plus an average signing bonus of $2,818, Pollock says.

This year's figures aren't complete, but June graduates aren't overselling themselves. According to polls, they expect to receive an annual starting salary of about $42,500 with an average signing bonus of $2,841. In 2005, June graduates did better than their expected starting pay of $41,950.

That kind of money can buy a lot of tuna salad. Some of the hottest jobs didn't exist a few years ago. Oh well, that's capitalism, Karl.

© 2012 Forbes.com

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