PITTSFIELD - Unlike many of her peers, Williams College senior Meghan Kiesel has a job waiting for her when she graduates on June 2. But it wasn't an easy task.
Kiesel said she sent out 30 job applications before she was hired by Deloitte & Touche, one of the country's largest professional service firms, for a position in Chicago.
Some of the jobs she applied for re quired interviews, others just wanted resumes.
"I'm still getting rejection letters," she said, "six months later."
Kiesel's experience is not unique. As students at the county's four colleges prepare to graduate over the next three weeks, job placement advisors at those institutions say the job market for the Class of 2013 is better than it has been, but not where it used to be.
John Noble, director of the career center at Williams, characterized it as "a little better from last year from a psychological point of view.
"There's a little more optimism among the students, themselves, which is important because it keeps them working at it," he said.
But Liz Lierman, the director of career services at Bard College of Simon's Rock in Great Barrington, said job opportunities are still scarce.
"It's a little hard to say at this point, at least in our case, because a lot of our kids are still considering their plans and are not sure yet," said Lierman.
Simon's Rock will hold its graduation ceremony on Sat., May 18.
"But the most recent data I've seen from the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that hiring is relatively flat. It's up a few percentage points, but not much from 2012."
Yet, there is hope. Citing data from CareerBuilder.com, Heather Boulger, the director of the Berkshire County Re gion al Employment Board, said 53 percent of U.S. employers plan to hire college graduates in 2013, just slightly below the 54 percent who were hiring last year. But those numbers are far better than they were in 2011 when employers planned to hire only 46 percent, and 2010 when they planned to hire 44 percent.
Nationally, the unemployment rate for recent college graduates between the ages of 21 and 24 has averaged 8.8 percent over the last year, Boulger said, citing statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor.
However, the unemployment rate for those with a bachelor's degree and higher was only 3.9 percent in April.
But Boulger said once you factor in the recent graduates who are either working part-time for economic reasons, or stopped looking for work over the last 12 months, the "underemployment rate" for the 21-24 year old age group balloons to 18.3 percent.
"Although the job market has improved during the past few years, both these rates remain higher than pre-recession levels," she said.
Local data on the unemployment rate for graduates was unavailable, but Berkshire businesses are hiring.
Denise Richardello, vice president of enrollment and ex ternal relations at the Mas s a chusetts College of Liberal Arts, said a mathematics and computer major in MCLA's class of 2013 has already been hired by General Dynamics Information Systems in Pitts field. MCLA's graduation ceremony is May 18, but Mountain One Financial Partners in North Adams has approached the college about a paid internship which Richardello called a "great opportunity."
MCLA hasn't seen an in crease in the number of em ployers visiting campus.
"Job and career fairs tend to be [held] more in the metro areas," Richardello said. "But I think what we have been seeing is more businesses and organizations participating [in those fairs], which is telling us there's more opportunities in those organizations that weren't available in the past."
Arthur Milano, the vice president of human resources for Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer, said BHS hires recent college graduates every year, mostly as nurses, pharmacists, and physical and speech therapists.
But with jobs so hard to come by, and plenty of competition for the ones offered, those in the employment field say graduates who have prepared the most for the job market are the ones who get hired.
Students who develop e-portfolios, have networked, done internships, develop relations with faculty members, or even studied abroad for a year, are the ones mostly likely to be hired in this economy, college placement officers said.
At Berkshire Community College, where graduation takes place on May 31, there are no four-year academic programs. But BCC has two-year programs that send graduates directly into the workforce.
"This is my perception," said Judith Monachina, BCC's coordinator of career services. "Students who launch a good job-search campaign, who do it thoughtfully and put planning into it, have good skills, and a good resume, and develop a network, they'll do fine.
"It's definitely competitive, but I do see jobs out there," Monachina said. "It's developing a network, talking to people. That's how you get a job."
Milano said Berkshire Health Systems looks for three qualities in graduating college students: the ability to communicate well, work as part of a team, and "wow" customers.
A student's major also plays a role in their job prospects . In Massachusetts, college labor market job-finding rates ranged from a low of 58 percent among humanities/liberal arts majors, to highs of 85 to 88 percent among engineering, math, computer science and health-related majors, including nursing, according to a 2012 report the Center for Labor Market Studies at Northeastern University compiled for the state Department of Higher Education.
But those with eclectic backgrounds, like Kiesel, have also been able to find an employment niche if they look hard enough. A Chinese language major, Kiesel served as editor-in-chief of the college newspaper, the Williams Record.
The Minnesota native did internships while at Williams to decide what she wanted to do, and honed job-preparation skills like improving her re sume, writing effective cover letters, and handling herself in job interviews.
She began her job search late last summer, and decided to apply for a variety of positions in different fields "so I could up the odds."
At Deloitte & Touche, Kiesel will work as a consultant in human resources.
Kiesel characterized the job application process as "competitive, disheartening, but not impossible." Being prepared helped her land a job.
"If you aren't getting things in early, and not demonstrating initiative, you're going to be seen as an unemployable candidate," Kiesel said. "Unless you have a skill set that nobody else has you're not going to stand out."