BETHLEHEM, PA.—Competition for new college graduate hires remains robust, and many employers expect to offer signing bonuses to clinch the deal, according to results of the Job Outlook 2008 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). Nearly 54 percent of the employers responding to the annual survey said they will use signing bonuses to sweeten the deal for potential hires. That’s an increase compared with the 47 percent of respondents who reported that they expected to offer bonuses in 2007. Additionally, NACE said its studies suggest that employers tend to underestimate their need to use signing bonuses.

"Last year, approximately 47 percent of employers said they planned to offer signing bonuses; ultimately, more than 54 percent used them. Similarly, in NACE’s 2006 survey, 44 percent of employers expected to offer bonuses, and 47 percent ended up doing so," said Marilyn Mackes, NACE executive director.

If that pattern holds, more than 60 percent of employers could use signing bonuses to attract and hire 2008 graduates.

Also underscoring the level of competition employers face: The size of the average bonus has increased. Among respondents who plan to offer a bonus to all entry-level college hires, the average signing bonus is $4,450—up 25 percent from last year’s average of $3,568. However, two-thirds of those using bonuses expect to offer them to just selected candidates, and average bonus offers vary according to a number of factors, including the candidate’s degree and degree level.