FRAMINGHAM (03/16/2000) - Liberal arts graduates are showing up in technology jobs like never before.
Given the competitive job market, particularly for information technology positions, graduating college seniors in all fields - even liberal arts - are in demand. Job opportunities are better, and starting salaries are higher than ever.
"I've been doing this for 12 years now, and I've never seen a market as hot for graduating seniors," said Ken Ramberg, president of Los Angeles-based online college recruiter Jobtrak Corp.
It's not just computer science majors who are reaping the rewards. Some liberal arts majors received double-digit salary-percentage increases between 1998 and 1999, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers in Bethlehem, Pa.
Starting salaries for criminal justice majors rose more than 14 percent to $28,520, and salaries for visual and performing arts majors rose almost 10 percent to $26,433.
Although these figures pale in comparison with the average $44,000 salary that computer science graduates commanded in 1999, computer science salaries increased only an average of 6.4 percent last year.
Dorothy Fredericks, manager of employer services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., said the demand in high-tech for liberal arts graduates is a result of the scarcity of computer science graduates.
This month, the school, along with Jobtrak, is sponsoring a virtual job fair for liberal arts students.
Cara Rubino, manager of campus relations at Boston-based Thomson Financial, one of the companies that will be featured at the job fair, said that the company hopes to hire 50 analysts this summer and that she expects to extend half of the offers to liberal arts graduates - 10 percent more than last year.
The reason? Thompson needs individuals with a broad educational background who can think "outside the box," said Rubino. And, she said, retention rates for liberal arts majors are higher than for other majors.
Observers said companies are particularly interested in hiring liberal arts graduates for jobs that require good interpersonal skills, such as project management.
But before hiring a newbie to handle the responsibilities of a project manager, a company should make sure the student has some technical competence, said Gopal Kapur, president of the Center for Project Management in San Ramon, Calif. Otherwise, he said, "vendors will eat these people alive."
When recruiting new employees last year, Sue Golabek, manager of employment services at First Virginia Banks Inc. in Falls Church, Va., used TekXam, a computerized exam designed to test liberal arts students' aptitude in areas such as spreadsheets and Web design.
Elan Szymczak, recruiting manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York, said students in all fields are eager to enter technology jobs because the industry sells itself. Students today are "very savvy about the world of technology, even if they haven't chosen it as part of their major," she said.