(CareerBuilder) -- Of all the parties the class of 2011 will be attending in honor of their graduation this spring, a pity party probably won't be one of them.
That's because, after three years of dismal hiring and salary reports for new college grads, things are finally looking up this year.
"Employers are more optimistic overall, and as a result, are looking to bring in entry-level workers to build their workforce for the future," says Brent Rasmussen, president of CareerBuilder North America. "Companies are adding jobs in a variety of areas and need fresh, educated talent to fill those roles."
Indeed, numerous recent reports show positive hiring trends for this year's graduates. According to a new CareerBuilder survey, for example, 46 percent of employers plan to hire recent college graduates this year, up from 44 percent in 2010 and 43 percent in 2009.
Additionally, a new report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that, not only are more companies planning to hire new graduates this year, but those companies are also planning to hire in larger numbers.
Employers expect to bring on 19.3 percent more new college graduates this year than they did in 2010, the first double digit percent increase in anticipated hiring since 2007.
Besides a better hiring outlook, annual starting salaries for the class of 2011 are also expected to increase. The NACE survey reports that the average anticipated offer to this year's graduates will be $50,462, a 5.9 percent increase from the $47,673 average annual salary offer made to the class of 2010.
Plus, the CareerBuilder survey found that, of companies who plan to hire new grads, 26 percent will offer higher starting salaries than they did in 2010.
Regardless of the health of the economy, though, the entry-level job market is always competitive, and new graduates will need to work for their job offers.
If you'll be looking for your first job in the real world this spring, follow this expert advice in order to stand out from your competition in all areas of your job search.
Most recruiters spend less than a minute looking over a résumé, so make sure that your most important and relevant skills and experiences stand out. While those will vary depending on the job you are applying for, there are certain things all employers look for in job candidates.
According to CareerBuilder survey respondents, the following five most important skill sets and experiences they are looking for from new grads.
• Strong written and verbal communications
• Technical skills
• Project management
• Part-time jobs in another area or field
• Volunteer work
• Class work
• Involvement in school organizations
To ensure potential employers see your crucial qualifications, create a career summary at the top of your résumé that speaks to your "selling points," and use bullet points when listing accomplishments so that they're easy to find.
Interviews can be anxiety-provoking, but remember to be yourself, no matter how nervous you may feel, says Jenny Blake, author of the book "Life After College," a resource guide for college graduates, as well as a blog of the same name.
"Take three long, deep breaths before your interview to work out any nervous energy that might be building. The more natural and authentic you can be, the better. And don't forget to smile."
Whatever you do, avoid making the following mistakes, cited by CareerBuilder survey respondents as the most common slip-ups entry-level job candidates make in interviews:
-Going to the interview with no knowledge of the company
• Acting entitled
• Dressing inappropriately
• Not asking good questions during the interview
• Forgetting to turn off their cell phone before the interview
A little preparation can go a long way in avoiding these mistakes, though.
For example, "Spend time researching the organization ahead of time by checking out their website, press room and other articles that might be written about them," Rasmussen advises. "Going to the interview prepared is a great way to impress a hiring manager."
Your job search might get frustrating or take longer than expected, but don't give up hope.
"Even though the job market is gradually improving, it is still a highly competitive job environment," Rasmussen says. "[But it's important to] stay positive and make sure you show that enthusiasm during your search."
To maintain an optimistic outlook while you find a job, "Focus on creating value in your life even outside of your job search," Blake says.
"For example, start a blog, take some classes, join networking groups -- find activities that will add value to your résumé and your life -- which will hopefully take some of the pressure off of relying solely on your job search to provide validation and satisfaction. Besides, you never know when you might meet a fruitful contact through any of those venues."
You'll get a lot more leads in your job search if you vary the approach you take in looking for work. Rasmussen suggests using social media and in-person networking to supplement an online job search, for example.
If you job search seems to hit a stagnant point, don't be afraid to look for a job outside of your preferred industry, either.
"Consider taking a job outside of your desired field if it will help you gain experience and learn new skills," Rasmussen says. "Plus, you may discover that what you originally planned wasn't as good of a fit as a different path."
Agrees Blake, "The important thing to remember is that it's not the end of the world if you don't end up madly in love with your first job -- focus on the skills you are learning that will serve you for the rest of your career, and know that you can always correct course with the next gig. While you may not see every step of your path defined at the outset (in fact most of the time you won't), if you can start small and start somewhere, things will unfold naturally. Dream big, trust your gut and don't be afraid to take great leaps."
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