Carrie Bien has always worked hard, set goals and reached them. So you can understand why this 2009 college graduate is having a bit of a shock.

She doesn't have a job offer.

In that, she has plenty of company. The class of 2009 is facing the most competitive job market in years.

Only 43 percent of employers told a CareerBuilder.com survey that they intended to hire new college graduates this year, down from 56 percent in 2008 and 79 percent in 2007.

Carrie started a blog, "The Final 30 Days," to chronicle her jam-packed last month as an undergraduate at the University of Missouri. On it, she's posted her resume, replete with internships, part-time jobs and volunteer experience that most employers crave.

On it, she also admits that she's truly, aggressively starting her job search now. Again, she's in good company.

It's tough to do a full-bore job search while you're finishing up your senior year. But 6 in 10 of this year's graduates said they'd at least started a job search this spring, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

Nonetheless, only 20 percent of the students who had applied for a job actually had an offer in hand as of April 30.

"The days of deciding between three or four job offers before you even collect your degree are over, at least for the next year or two," said job market consultant John Challenger. "You will have to find new ways to get in front of hiring authorities, look where other people are not and be willing to take jobs that most people would avoid."

Carrie is learning the current job-hunting realities:

"1. This is a LONG process.

"2. Sometimes employers are not that great at getting back to you."

You'll know the job market is turning when offers go to candidates like Carrie, with strong communication skills, proven time management, and internships or job experience.

Carrie earned degrees in journalism/convergence media and Spanish. Great! Unfortunately for her job prospects, her degrees aren't in engineering or accounting, this year's two hot-job fields.

The unemployment rate for 20- to 24-year-olds has topped 14 percent for the first time in more than 25 years. With the notable engineering exceptions, starting salary offers have fallen by 3.1 percent compared with last year, according to CollegeJobBank.com.

Small wonder about 1 in 4 of this year's grads plans on graduate school instead of getting a job.

(c) 2009, The Kansas City Star.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.