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The 'promised land' of stable, high-paying jobs for recent grads is falling apart

Shubhangi Goel   

The 'promised land' of stable, high-paying jobs for recent grads is falling apart
  • Tech, consulting, and finance jobs are harder to secure because of hiring cuts and more competition.
  • Students are stacking internships and appear to be expanding their job searches to other sectors.

Management consulting, Big Tech, and finance are the go-to industries for many college students because they pay big money and look great on a résumé.

But those entry-level jobs appear to be harder to come by now. It's upending the job search for young people who are trying to find their footing in a fast-shifting workforce.

In a survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 21% of employers said they expected to decrease hiring this academic year. In the 2023 and 2022 versions of the survey, only 6% and 3.5% of employers, respectively, said they expected hiring to drop.

Economists, career experts, and students who spoke with Business Insider all agreed on one thing: If you're fixated on a career in one of these three industries, it's going to be a tough ride that won't get easier for future classes, especially as artificial intelligence starts to affect white-collar jobs.

Last month, people at Wall Street banks, including Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, told The New York Times their firms were considering cutting back on fresh-graduate hiring by up to two-thirds. Analysts who make it in may be offered lower salaries because their work can be assisted by AI.

Those in tech fear a similar fate.

Austin Wang, a class-of-2025 computer-science major at Yale University, said students were "scared that engineering roles will be replaced in the future."

Management consulting

Known for $200,000 straight-out-of-business-school pay packages and work across industries, consulting giants such as McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, and Bain & Company have long been the dream for fresh graduates.

Now, less client work is forcing these firms to tighten their belts.

In March, the professional-services firm Accenture pushed back start dates. McKinsey went one step further and offered UK employees nine months' worth of pay and career-coaching services as an incentive to leave the firm. The tactics came after the firm said it would slash 1,400 jobs globally last year.

Industry woes are showing up in hiring numbers, too.

Handshake, a job platform for college graduates, analyzed its users' applications and found that jobs posted for fresh graduates under the category "professional services" — a proxy for consulting — fell more than 14% from 2023 to 2024.

"Consulting has been very difficult in particular because these companies who hired interns to work for them have asked them to delay their start date," Beth Hendler-Grunt, the president of Next Great Step, a career-counseling service for college graduates, told BI.

She said that some consultancies pushed entry-level start dates back eight to 11 months, adding, "That is a lot to ask of somebody to wait around and hope that the job is still there."

Given the market's pessimism, students are applying to more companies, hoping to improve their odds of success. Handshake found that fewer prospective business graduates were applying to consulting roles and that more were seeking positions in customer relations, marketing, and analytics compared with last year.

Matthew Park, who just graduated from Yale after serving as the president of the university's undergraduate consulting group, said the market had changed since he applied to internships in 2022. He said those who applied with him had a much easier time landing offers than this year's cohort — but his peers, on the whole, wanted to stick with consulting.

"I don't really think there's been a marked shift in student interests," Park said about the demand for these roles. "If there has been a shift, I'd say it's a shift more out of necessity than intrinsic interest."


Plagued by layoffs and budget cuts, hiring in tech seems to have taken the biggest hit of the three industries examined in the story.

Handshake's analysis suggested tech job postings geared toward fresh graduates fell by 30% compared with last year. Companies are cutting workforces that swelled during zero-interest-rate, pandemic-era boom times.

Career consultants are seeing a change in the job market.

"We have students who come in from excellent schools and Ivy League schools with STEM experience and are still struggling to land interviews," said Next Great Step's Hendler-Grunt.

To improve their chances, some students are branching out.

Yale's Wang, who leads a computer-science club at the university, has seen his peers apply to more jobs and more diverse roles, including engineering jobs in finance.

"There is overall a lot more stress going around this year due to the recruitment cycles being tougher than usual," Wang said.

Anika Nair, a computer-science student who graduated from Rutgers University last month, said she expected her résumé — including cloud certification and a software-engineering internship at JPMorgan — would make her search straightforward.

"I started job searching in December of last year and continued to do so through 2024 — I sent out around 200 applications, received 20 interview invitations, and experienced numerous ghostings and rejections," she told BI. "I didn't expect it to be this hard."

Investment banking

The first quarter of the year has been one of mixed signals for Wall Street's mightiest investment banks — and their head counts.

Citigroup began the year saying it would lay off as many as 20,000 employees in the next two years. Around the same time, JPMorgan said it would spend $2.8 billion in 2024, primarily on hiring. Within a month of those announcements, Deutsche Bank announced it would cut 3,500 jobs.

While industry hiring sentiment remains mixed, job platforms are seeing a drop in finance postings. The analysis by Handshake indicated that the number of early-career postings for financial services, which include more than just investment-banking roles, dropped more than 13% for the class of 2024. Finance-related roles made up more than one-fifth of total applications by Handshake users, the company found.

In Singapore, undergraduates are stacking investment-banking internships with the goal of attaining the ultimate prize: a full-time job. Some Singaporean students take a semester off for off-cycle internships to bolster their résumés.

"There's so much stress seeing friends taking a whole semester off to do an internship. If you are not taking the semester off, you'll be like, 'Oh, am I doing something wrong?'" Adnan Hussain, a student at the National University of Singapore, previously told BI.

Students are hedging their bets

The government looks like the biggest winner in the drop in tech and professional-services hiring.

Handshake found that about 7.4% of job applications from its users graduating this year had been submitted to government roles, compared with 5.5% last year.

Christine Cruzvergara, the chief education-strategy officer at Handshake, said that after hearing about so many layoffs and hiring freezes, some students were prioritizing working in industries that felt more stable, such as government work.

Career counselors at top schools are also noticing that students are less likely to stick to a short list of companies.

Richard Carruthers, the deputy director of the careers service at Imperial College London, said that more students had backup plans this year and that the process was taking longer for students who were getting offers.

"We're seeing more students waiting longer for decisions about offers across many sectors," he said. "Students with good prior experiences and strong CVs are included within this."

Work visa restrictions

A tougher job market means more clampdowns on work visas.

Over the past month, KPMG, Deloitte, and HSBC have rescinded offers for foreign graduates who no longer meet sponsorship requirements because of UK visa rule changes. Employers must now pay skilled workers nearly 50% more than the previous minimum threshold to be able to sponsor work visas.

An international student at the National University of Singapore who graduated with internships at Amazon Web Services and Deloitte said she started her job hunt in August and had applied to more than 400 roles. She spoke anonymously because of her ongoing job search; her identity is known to BI.

"It's quite bad for entry-level jobs in general but even worse for international students," she said. "I've reached out for referrals to seniors, only to learn that their company has stopped sponsoring visas."

"I saw my friends struggle to get interviews in 2023, and with the way layoffs continued, I knew it would be harder in 2024," she said.

She has yet to receive a full-time offer.

Do you have a career story to share? Get in touch with this reporter via email.

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