When she walked through job fairs her senior year of college, Lauren Keating couldn't go far without being flagged down by a recruiter.
"People were literally grabbing me, saying, 'come talk to us,'" recalled Keating, 22, of Elizabeth Township. "Companies were very aggressive -- I'd give them my resume one day and have them calling me the next day."
She graduated in the spring from Penn State, and landed a job as a civil engineer with U.S. Steel. The company is one of eight Pittsburgh-area companies to make Collegegrad.com's list of the Top 500 entry-level companies.
All of the local companies on the list predicted they'd hire either the same number or more entry-level employees this year than last. Rick Brown, chief operating officer of recruitment firm O'Connor, O'Connor and Lordi said he expects that trend to continue.
"If we look back at the last decade, we've seen tremendous economic highs and lows," Brown said. Until recently, companies were looking to become leaner, and did less hiring across the board, he said.
"But now with senior leadership getting close to retirement age, companies need to invest in their futures, and hire younger people," Brown said. "They need to fill the stable."
Heidi Hanisko, of Collegegrad.com, said it has surveyed companies on their hiring predictions since 1998.
"We do follow up with them before we start the next year's survey," Hanisko said. "Their numbers are usually pretty close. Established companies tend to have a pretty good idea of who they need and who they'll be able to hire."
Sixty percent of the Top 500 companies plan to hire more college graduates this year. And while the phrase "entry-level job" might not sound that glamorous, Jana Sharlow, director of management training at Eat 'n Park, came up through the ranks there, starting in the management training program.
"It's really important to get that foot in the door," Sharlow said. According to company spokesman Kevin O'Connell, 50 percent of Eat 'n Park's upper management came up through the ranks like Sharlow did.
PNC Financial Services predicted it would hire 1,350 entry-level employees, up from last year's figure of 1,030.
According to spokeswoman Michelle Deemer, about 100 of PNC's new hires for 2007 have been selected for leadership opportunities. The company aims to promote from within, and hires both undergrads and recent MBA graduates for leadership training roles. Fifty percent of its leadership hires come from its internship program.
John Armstrong, spokesman for U.S. Steel, said the company expects to exceed its estimate of 240 entry-level hires. They're looking for college graduates with degrees in engineering, business, operations and information technology.
U.S. Steel's entry-level hiring has increased over the past two years; in 2005, it made 85 hires according to the Collegegrad.com poll, and last year, 206 entry-level employees joined the staff.
It's strategic hiring, said Maggy Barna, U.S. Steel's manager of recruiting and college relations.
"Over the next three to five years, many of our experienced management employees will be retiring," she explained. In order to keep the talent pipeline flowing, the company needs to get some new people trained and ready to take over when the middle-managers move into the senior positions being vacated.
A similar situation exists at PPG, said John Coyne, manager of corporate recruiting. There just aren't as many members of the Gen-X population to fill the senior management roles, and even fewer people behind them, Coyne said. The company might hire slightly more entry-level employees than it predicted to Collegegrad.com, he said.
"That has increased significantly over our target of last year," he said. "It's a good time to be graduating in one of the hot majors -- engineering, accounting and the hard sciences. Those graduates will be grabbed up very quickly, and salaries in those fields will escalate."
Companies and how many college grads they plan to hire this year in the Pittsburgh area.
84 Lumber: 1,700
PNC Financial Services Group: 1,350
Education Management Corporation: 625
US. Steel: 240
Westinghouse Electric Company: 150
Eat N Park Hospitality Group: 110
PPG Industries: 75
Bayer HealthCare: 60