This year's college graduates might have an easier time entering the workforce than their recent predecessors, thanks to local companies' hiring plans and grads' in-demand skills.
As the economy continues to recover, some companies around the suburbs have been seeking new entry-level employees.
State Farm, for instance, has been recruiting new claim processors, including for its Downers Grove office. The company has hired about 70 more college graduates recruited from the Chicago area compared to last year, State Farm spokeswoman Angie Rinock said.
Elk Grove Village-based creative agency NuphorIQ hired two recent college grads, finding their up-to-date marketing knowledge and enthusiasm to be assets.
"They are passionate about being part of a company where their voice is heard and their work is respected -- thus giving us 110 percent," said Jamie Pritscher, the firm's co-founder and chief brand officer.
The two suburban companies are in line with employers nationwide, who are expected to hire 10.2 percent more new college graduates this year, compared to last year. That's up from the 9.5 percent hiring increase projected for this year when employers were polled last September.
It is the second year in a row in which hiring projections for new grads moved upward, the National Association of Colleges and Employers said in a study released in March.
The Chicago and suburban market reflect those national numbers for entry-level jobs, said John Challenger, principal with Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a global outplacement firm in Chicago.
"The economy here in the Chicago area is diverse and gives graduates a wide swath of companies to look at," Challenger said. "Chicago is a magnet for the most talented students from around the Midwest."
New college graduates brings valuable skills to the table, industry experts say. "Today's graduate brings in fresh new ideas, a different perspective and the eagerness to succeed and do well," said Kathleen Canfield, director of career services at Palatine's Harper College.
Many new graduates are adept at using social media and may have just completed course work involving social media strategies, which is in high demand at many suburban companies, industry experts said.
"The college graduate has the latest available information and knows social media trends," Canfield said.
Suburban colleges don't yet have available job placement statistics for this year's graduates. However, career placement counselors agree that more job openings have arrived on their desks.
"I've been hearing conflicting information on the recovery of the economy, but people certainly have faith that the economy will be getting better and jobs are slowly on the upswing," said Judie Caribeaux, career services director at Aurora University.
She has been seeing more openings for sales and marketing, health care, child development and insurance. Some students scored State Farm jobs after recruiters visited campus. This year, the university strengthened efforts to get recruiters on campus to interview students, she said.
"One trend we're seeing is that students are using their internships in their second semester of senior year to get into a full-time job," Caribeaux said.
NuphorIQ followed that path. In 2011, the company was ramping up and hired interns, including Arlington Heights resident Eileen Matthews. Matthews, who just graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a bachelor's degree in advertising, was hired permanently and is grateful for the opportunity.
"Coming out of college with a job is a rarity these days, but what has been invaluable to me is the support I have from my colleagues to actively pursue my personal and professional goals," Matthews said. "The flexibility I've been given to grow both in the workplace and outside is an opportunity that I know I wouldn't have been granted had I joined a large corporation right out of school."
The firm pursued recent graduates because "they know all the latest and greatest in marketing. Also, they are well connected to their classmates and professors -- both of whom they can rely on for advice to help them professionally. They are very eager and ready to get hands-on experience," Pritscher said.
Companies that recruit on college campuses aren't necessarily interviewing just those in their early 20s. Harper College, for example, has a number of older students who have either completed a degree or earned credentials in a new field, Canfield said.
"We've had a lot of older students interview for jobs along with others who are younger," Pritscher said.
Harper's annual job fair, held in April, drew 26 percent more employers this year recruiting for manufacturing, computer sciences, security and hospitality jobs.
Even in the "down" economy of the past few years, some jobs have remained in demand, said Kimberly White, executive director at the Community Career Center in Naperville.
Those include health care (doctors, nurses, certified nursing assistants, occupational therapists, physical therapists and health care administrators) and child care (early childhood teachers), White said.