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Job Outlook for 2011 College Grads Best in 4 years

This year's crop of newly minted college graduates -- and the parents who love and bankroll them -- can look forward to the best job market for new grads since before the financial crisis began. According to a new survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), businesses are gearing up to hire nearly 20 percent more college grads in 2011 than they did last year.

As the table below shows, employers' hiring plans have experienced a big jump from just this past fall, when they expected to hire 13.5 percent more college grads than the previous year. And the anticipated 19.3 percent hiring jump over last year would be the best since 2007.

While the pickup in hiring expectations is an oh-so-welcome bit of good news, the reality is that the job market remains incredibly competitive. For starters, just look at that table again; there are a whole lot of 2009 and 2010 college grads still angling to get a permanent foot in the door given the abysmal market they had the misfortune of graduating into.

Here's what new college grads -- and their parents eager to help them launch out into the real world need to focus on:

1. Better doesn't mean great. According to the NACE, employers are seeing 21 applications for every job opening. Sure, that's much better than the 40.5 to 1 ratio of a year ago, but if you're a college grad -- or the supportive parent wanting to help in any which way to get them launched in the real world -- you need to bring your A+ game to beat out the 20 other college grads applying for the same job.

2. Get geographic. Hey, you've yet to put roots down, so maybe you might want to head to where the hiring looks the most promising. According to the NACE survey, employers in the Northeast expect to hire 25 percent more college grads this year compared to 2010, followed by the Midwest at 20 percent and the West at 19 percent. And it looks like the Southeast could be the toughest slog for new grads, with employers in that region expecting to boost their college grad hires by just 8 percent.

3. Listen to Warren Buffett. Yes, he's an old codger, but he's a smart old codger. Turns out, Dale Carnegie, not Ben Graham, is the secret to Warren Buffett's success. Buffett says the most valuable thing he ever did was enroll in a Dale Carnegie course to help burnish the social skills that are such an important complement to business skills. (You can download an e-version of Carnegie's influential 1937 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People at Amazon. MoneyWatch's Robert Pagliarini also has some great social-skills advice that goes a few steps beyond Carnegie's approach.)

Sound impossibly old-fashioned? You could not be more wrong. In the NACE survey, employers said the most important trait they want to see in job candidates is the "ability to verbally communicate with persons inside and outside the organization." That outranked computer skills, analytical skills, and technical skills. A recent CareerBuilder survey said much the same: strong written and verbal skills were the most important skill employers are looking for in new hires, cited by 69 percent of the survey respondents.

5. Remember your manners. In another recent CareerBuilder survey, more than 1 in 5 hiring managers said they would toss out any candidate from the pool if they didn't follow up an interview with a thank you note. You don't necessarily have to go the old pen to paper to stamp route; nearly 9 in 10 managers said an email thank you was just fine. But take the time to think through what might resonate with the person you just interviewed with. No surprise, IT managers want it via email. But if you catch the vibe that the hiring manager might appreciate a handwritten snail mail note, that's a really easy and smart way to differentiate yourself from everyone else who will probably take the easier way out with an email.

6. Stay on top of your student loans. Regardless of how long your job search takes, your student loan lender is expecting you to start repayment pretty fast. If you have a federal Stafford loan, you get just a six month grace period between leaving school and when the lender expects the first payment. (It's nine months for Perkins.) You can apply for a deferment, but you must make an official request. Ignorance is so not bliss here. If you just ignore it, your loans are heading for default, and this is one immensely costly mistake. It messes up your credit score. And just in case you're wondering: even if you file for bankruptcy, your student loans won't be dismissed. Think super glue. For more on this, be sure to check out 5 Student Loan Repayment Tips offered up by MoneyWatch's Lynn O'Shaughnessy.

7. Yes, you need health insurance. Let's keep this short: Crap happens, even to the youngest and healthiest among us. If your first job doesn't automatically offer you health coverage -- or you're not yet working -- talk to your parents. A new law allows adult children to stay on a parent's employer-based health plan until age 26. That can be less expensive than getting your own coverage (you can shop around through But if you're living in a different state, have Mom or Dad double check if the plan coverage is the same for you -- not all are. If you do piggyback on a parent's plan, offer to cover the monthly premium. (See tip # 9 for more.)

8. Don't overthink the grad school route. If you've got your eye on becoming a doctor or lawyer, an advanced degree is a must. But for everyone else, you've got a choice to make. According to the NACE survey, 90 percent of employers that are hiring will be adding grads with just bachelor's degrees. Just half of the new hires are expected to be MBAs and other Master's degree holders; less than one in four expect to hire a Ph.D. Before you think about grad school, talk to hiring managers in your specific field to understand how important another diploma really is to getting hired. You can always go back to school later, possibly with the boss footing some of the bill.

9. Be good to your parents. Ever since the financial crisis hit, more and more college grads have boomeranged back to living with their parents. It's not just the grads that haven't found a solid job. When you're starting at a lowish starting salary and staring at big student loan payments, returning to the fold begins to look a lot better than sharing a two-bedroom apartment with five other roommates. But you're no longer a kid and your parents are no longer responsible for taking care of you. Moving back in requires a careful and respectful negotiation. A great working template comes courtesy of Justin Halpern of $%!T My Dad Says Twitter (and TV show) fame.

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