JACKSON, Miss. -- Chris Bell knew he couldn't wait until his recently completed senior year at Millsaps College to start hunting for work or establish his credentials.
The job market was on the upswing but still swollen with scores of candidates scrambling to fill each new opening.
The graduate with a bachelor's degree in public management did a research internship with a local lobbying firm. He spent six months studying abroad in Grenoble, France. He helped organize a rare meeting on campus of the Jackson City Council and, in turn, aided in putting together a city-sponsored talent-retention fair.
And he looked for jobs amid that bustle of activity, landing a position as a data analyst and policy consultant in the Mississippi Development Authority's energy and natural resources division.
"The market is tough, especially if you're not a science, technology, engineering or mathematics major. You have to start your job search early," said Bell, originally from Little Rock, Ark.
Class of 2013 graduates could be rewarded not long after leaving school, a new report from CareerBuilder.com and CareerRookie.com indicates. Its survey of more than 2,000 hiring and personnel managers nationwide states 53 percent plan to hire new and recent grads. While that percentage is fairly flat, it's nine percentage points higher than in 2010.
Information technology, financial services and health care were the fields looking to do the most hiring.
Almost half of those queried said the new hires would get at least $40,000 per year.
Scott Maynard, who heads Mississippi State University's career center, said 699 firms came to campus this school year to recruit, an 11 percent jump from the 2011-2012 school year.
"They view it as a sign that the economy has stabilized," he said. "It's not going gangbusters like it was in 2006 or 2007, but it's stable."
Older alumni continue to turn to their schools for job assistance, too. Maynard said MSU alumni attended a recent job fair in Nashville in which 46 companies were looking to fill openings.
Still, Maynard sees the ideal job hunt for MSU students as one that starts long before their senior year. He said his office markets its services to students practically from the time they arrive as freshmen. Starting early is important, he said, because the average job search still takes six to nine months now versus the average of four months before the recession.
A report from Generation Opportunity, an organization that promotes economic advancement for young people, is bleaker than the CareerBuilder/CareerRookie study.
It said the unemployment rate for people 18 to 29 years old, including those who have given up looking for work, was 16.1 percent on a non-seasonally adjusted basis in April, which the group said is the highest jobless level for young people since World War II. That number was 20.4 percent for African Americans.
"It is a rough time to be a young person in America," wrote Generation Opportunity president Evan Feinberg, adding that with "about 2 million college students graduating this month, there is no sign of an economic recovery for my generation."
The CareerBuilder/Career Rookie study acknowledges lingering challenges, noting the percentage of firms expected to hire new grads this year remains more than 20 percentage points below pre-recession levels.
Still, the job market is improving, and fewer students are opting to continue directly to graduate school, in part because of the high costs. Many people are waiting tables or doing other service-industry work at night, while they look for work during the day related to what they studied in college, said Tonya Nations, director of Millsaps College's career center.
A psychology graduate, for example, may get a job as an administrative assistant in a psychologist's office while looking for a job that takes greater advantage of degree-specific skills, she said.
"They have choices (now), instead of just one opportunity," Nations said.
Anas Alfarra is continuing his engineering studies on the post-graduate level at Jackson State University despite several job offers.
"You get more skills and make yourself stand out more" by earning a master's degree, he said.
Alfarra, originally from the Gaza Strip, Palestine, came to JSU through a global student exchange program. He hopes the extra time in school will help him get a long-term visa and build a career here.
Social media could help this year's graduates in their searches. Maynard said MSU is taking part in a program in which students can sign up for weekly email updates from the Mississippi Department of Employment Security. Mississippi College features a job-search Pinterest board and Twitter posts on openings.
Old-fashioned methods still work, too, Bell said.
"Always ask questions and keep looking."