Charleston Southern University graduate Michael Silvestri of Myrtle Beach hasn't landed that teaching job he spent five years studying for despite applying to several school districts.

Neither has College of Charleston graduate Jordan Hansen of Collingswood, N.J., who after 35 applications has not heard a peep to put her international business degree to work.

Mount Pleasant resident Matthew Shaffer's business administration degree from The Citadel is virtually going unnoticed after 30 attempts to get his foot in the door. Though he's had a few nibbles, his job net is empty.

All three graduated Saturday without the prospect of a career job in what is still a tough employment environment, but some companies are hiring, albeit slowly, as the nation claws its way out of the Great Recession.

"It's somewhat better than last year," said Ed Koc, director of strategic and foundation research for the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "It is improving."

The Bethlehem, Pa.-based agency's spring job outlook survey shows employers plan to hire 5.3 percent more new college graduates this year over last year, the first positive news since October 2008, when employers projected a 1.3 percent increase in college hiring for spring 2009. That projection came just as the stock market and economy plummeted, and college hiring has been in negative territory ever since, hitting bottom in the spring 2009 survey, when employers reported plans to hire nearly 22 percent fewer graduates than they did in 2008.

"This time last year, things looked really terrible," Koc said. "They started to improve in August. The spring has been much better than last year. A little more than a third of the firms said they plan to increase their hiring this fall. The big thing is that just 7 percent said they would decrease hiring. Last year 40 percent said they would decrease hiring."

Most wanted

Graduates who majored in accounting, computer science, engineering and business administration are getting the most offers, Koc said.

"Retail trade, too, is doing interestingly well this year, kind of unexpectedly, but they had a really difficult time last year, and they are starting to hire again," he said.

The Northeast has the best hiring outlook, projecting a 25.5 percent increase, according to NACE. The Southeast is the only region reporting a slower recovery with a projected 10 percent decrease in hiring.

College career counselors see rays of hope, though.

"The Southeast was hit hard, but the region is recovering and will do better than most parts of the country in time," said Tom Halasz, the University of South Carolina's career center director.

Halasz cites employer interest in internships and co-ops as a good sign because it suggests companies are planning for growth and wanting to cultivate a pool for future hiring.

For instance, a new summer Community Internship Program at USC's career center, funded by a federal stimulus grant, enables Palmetto State employers to hire students and be reimbursed for half the student's wages. Only a few of the 90 CIP slots remain, indicating employer interest in the program.

"There is a greater level of optimism from employers," Halasz said. "We've turned a corner."

Preliminary surveys of students graduating from USC indicate that 26 percent have found jobs, while 29 percent are actively searching. Twenty-five percent will be heading to graduate and professional schools, with another 10 percent waiting to hear from schools. Those numbers don't vary too much from previous years, Halasz said.

Citadel director of career services Brent Stewart said the job outlook is stabilizing, but it could be awhile before it's back to pre-recession levels.

"I think employers are still hesitant to commit," he said.

At Trident Technical College, health care graduates are in high demand, and hiring has picked up for culinary students. But job offers in other fields are lagging, student employment director Brian Almquist said.

"I see more part-time opportunities than full-time now," he said. "People are not jumping out to hire full-time staff right now."

College of Charleston career center director Denny Ciganovic senses the hiring freeze has bottomed out.

"Small companies are starting to feel a little bit more confident," he said. "Rather than commit to hiring a full-time person, they are hiring graduates through a staffing agency as temporary workers. A company expanding here, another adding a few more positions. The little things I'm seeing, if you put them in the overall mosaic, that says it's getting better. I think things are getting a little more stable."

Still looking

Charleston Southern University career center director Hester Young tells graduates the job market is tight, and they have to go the extra mile if they want to stand out among a flood of new job seekers.

"If they think they are going to walk into the office of an employer and be considered just on the fact that they have a degree, they are mistaken," Young said. "They have to have the whole package. They have to have an excellent cover letter, a resume very personalized to that employer, excellent references and a professional image. They have to be persistent and consistent. They can't give up. They already know you can learn. What they want to know is are you going to fit in and not only can you do the job but will you do the job."

While the job search continues, Silvestri of CSU plans to move back to Myrtle Beach, live with his parents and wait tables at Joe's Crab Shack.

"If I don't have a job by this time next year, I'm going to go back to school for my master's," he said.

Hansen, at the College of Charleston, will stay in town over the summer and continue to work part time at the CVS drugstore next to the downtown campus.

"I've signed up with a temporary agency," she said. "Hopefully, I will get something out of that."

Shaffer of The Citadel doesn't want a desk job and plans to live with his parents in Mount Pleasant until the right offer comes along.

"I'm trying to find a job anywhere now," he said. "I just want something to put some money in my pocket until I can find something bigger."

Reach Warren Wise at 937-5524 or