March 27, 2008: 12:23 PM EDT
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Who's hiring new college grads now

The overall labor market is shaky, but the Class of 2008 can breathe easy: Many employers plan to hire more of them than last year. Here's where the jobs are.

By Anne Fisher, Fortune senior writer

(Fortune) -- Planning to graduate in the spring? Tossing and turning in your dorm room at night wondering if you'll be able to get a decent job? Don't worry - or at least, don't worry too much. A couple of new surveys gauging employers' entry-level hiring plans show that jobs for new grads are plentiful.

In fact, 22% of U.S. companies intend to hire more new grads this year than they did in 2007, according to one poll of human-resources managers, by Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. About half will hire roughly the same number and only 12% of U.S. companies are cutting back, the poll found.

Meanwhile, the results of CollegeGrad.com's annual survey were even more upbeat: It found 60% of companies anticipate recruiting more new grads than last year, 21% will hire the same number, and just 19% will bring fewer on board.

The big surprise: College recruitment may actually be benefiting from the current economic slowdown. "We're not graduating enough students to replace baby boomers," some of whom will take early retirement in lieu of a layoff, says Steve Schroeder, director of the business career center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Not only that, but entry-level hires are cheap: Even as employers cut jobs at higher levels of the organization, they're often adding people in humbler positions.

"Companies need talent now more than anything - and they're getting good, young talent for a fraction of what they're paying someone older who's been with the company for ten years or more," says Schroeder. He adds that University of Wisconsin-Madison is seeing record numbers of companies at its career fairs.

The consensus among campus career counselors is that only certain industries have sharply curtailed their recruiting efforts - and even those haven't stopped hiring. At the University of Florida, for instance, Career Resource Center associate director Tom Halasz says construction and financial services are the only two areas where he's seen less activity than last year.

"Instead of receiving 8 or 10 offers, seniors in our construction management program are getting 3 or 4 offers," he says. "So I'm still very optimistic about this year."

At least so far, woes afflicting the housing market, Bear Stearns and the economy at large, haven't trickled down much to college campuses yet. It's a far cry from the recession of 2001, when lots of seniors who aspired to dot-com jobs got their diplomas just as the tech bubble popped: Instead of getting a cool gig with a big signing bonus, many had their early-spring job offers rescinded.

So who's hiring the most new grads now? Based on its poll results, job site CollegeGrad.com compiled its annual list of the top employers for new grads, ranked by the number of job openings they hope to fill. Enterprise Rent-A-Car is No. 1, with its goal of hiring a whopping 8,500 entry-level staffers. Fast-growing Progressive Insurance (PGR, Fortune 500) is projecting a 42% increase in entry-level hiring, to 4,208. Drugstore Walgreen (WAG, Fortune 500) wants to hire 5,924 new grads, while Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) expects to add 2,500.

Lockheed Martin (LMT, Fortune 500) is looking for 2,501. General Electric (GE, Fortune 500), Intel (INTC, Fortune 500), and Northrop Grumman each want to hire 1,500. Accounting continues to be a hot field, as it has been for the past several years: Deloitte & Touche will hire about 3,500 new grads, followed by Ernst & Young with 3,180, and PricewaterhouseCoopers with 3,117.

Want to work for the government? The Internal Revenue Service is looking for 5,000 entry-level hires; the FBI seeks 2,981; and U.S. Customs and Border Protection will hire 2,250.

If your sights are set on a nonprofit career, you might consider Teach for America, which plans to hire 3,700, or the Fund for Public Interest Research, which is hiring 260% more new grads than last year, going from 125 in 2007 to 450 this year. To see the full list of top employers for new grads, go to www.collegegrad.com/topemployers.

"Even in this challenging economy, college grads are in very high demand," notes Brian Krueger, CollegeGrad.com's president. Still, he adds, finding the right opportunity takes some hustle: "A successful job search requires a focused effort. The earlier you start, the better. Start now."

Are you (or your kid) about to graduate? Or, are you hiring new grads? How are you finding the job market? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog.

Folks, a quick question: For a future story, we would like to find business owners who routinely sleep no more than 4 to 6 hours per night. If you're a night-owl entrepreneur, write to me at afisher@fortunemail.com and tell me how you adapted to your current schedule. Many thanks! To top of page