Cap, check. Gown, check. Job, no prob.
They may not be scouring the Wall St. Journal, but college seniors are good at reading the economic tea leaves when it comes to their job prospects.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( The class of 2006 timed things just right.

College seniors collecting their diplomas in a few weeks started their collegiate career when the economy and job market were on the decline. But they're leaving the quad just as the going is getting solidly good.

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So, too, graduate students who plan to collect their MBAs this year.

And both groups have the career optimism to show for it, judging from an exclusive look at the preliminary results of a Yahoo! HotJobs select survey.

Not that most grads-to-be have started pounding the (virtual) pavement just yet. A majority said they hadn't started looking for a full-time job.

But when they do, they're confident they'll find something good before they grow old, or even bored.

Over half the respondents said they only expect to interview with between two and five companies before finding a full-time job. And they expect the process will take no more than one to three months.

What's more, over two-thirds said they feel optimistic that they'll find a job they want in the right field.

When asked to select the fields they were planning to seek employment in, advertising, public relations and marketing got the most votes, followed by finance and business and healthcare. (Of course, surveys like this would really make news when a majority say they're seeking work in philosophy and sociology.)

In terms of starting salary, nearly two thirds expect their starting salary will range between $20,000 and $49,999. Another 21 percent expect to be paid between $50,000 and $70,000.

And thankfully for all those who, during the dotcom boom, suffered the arrogance of new recruits expecting nothing less than a big title and $80,000 salaries to start, the vast majority of respondents to the HotJobs survey said they expect to start at the bottom and work their way up.

But the bottom is better paid today than it has been for the graduating classes of the past few years. And the opportunities to get one's foot in the door are much greater.

The spring survey of the National Association of College Employers (NACE) found that nearly 9 out of 10 employers have experienced an increase in competition for new college hires.

"In fact, more than 20 percent told us that they have raised or plan to raise their starting salaries to entice potential employees," said NACE Executive Director Marilyn Mackes in a statement.

Indeed, hiring expectations are higher in all sectors and in all four major regions of the country. The Northeast leads the way, with a nearly 25 percent jump in new college hires projected.

NACE found starting salaries are up in a number of areas, including chemical engineering, accounting, business administration and finance.

It's a good thing job prospects are improving, because it's very likely many graduates will enter the workforce packing some serious debt.

According to the College Board, the average college graduate leaves school with somewhere between $15,000 and $25,000 in student loans. Credit card debt and going to graduate school can add significantly to that balance.

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