Companies Again Giving It the Old College Try

By Rita Pyrillis

Feb. 18, 2011

On a recent snowy morning, Scott French, a 32-year-old first-year MBA student at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, rode the train to downtown Chicago to prepare for an internship interview at a top consulting firm. Dressed in a dark suit and tie, French was heading for a practice session the firm offers to prepare candidates for a rigorous interview. He was nervous, but optimistic—and with good reason.

Campus recruiting for both internships and full-time positions is on the rise at top MBA programs, and students such as French face a much friendlier job market than those who graduated in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. According to a recent survey of 79 graduate schools during fall 2010, 63 percent said on-campus recruiting increased from the previous school year. Additionally, 70 percent reported more full-time job postings and 81 percent predicted an increase in internships over last summer. The survey was conducted by the MBA Career Services Council, an association of business school career management offices and employers.

Although hiring is on the upswing, starting salaries are likely to remain at 2010 levels for most new hires, according to a recent poll by the Graduate Management Admission Council, which administers the business school entrance exam. Of 210 employers surveyed, 69 percent of those planning to hire MBAs and 71 percent of those expecting to hire undergraduates intend to keep salaries flat this year.

“Last year the general mood was: ‘I just need a job and I don’t care where it is,’ but now it’s going back to where students have a lot more power, and we’re being more discerning,” says French, a corporate lawyer who is studying for a career in management and strategy. For many Kellogg students, that means the pressure to attend employer-sponsored recruiting events isn’t as intense as in previous years. “Before people killed themselves trying to go to everything,” French says, “and now it’s like, ‘Eh, I’ll see.’ ”

Companies realize they must be more strategic to woo top students at the most elite schools, which are seeing more action than less-heralded programs. Like many employers, Deloitte has changed its recruiting approach in recent years to better target the talent it needs, eschewing large “meet and greet” events for smaller gatherings. The New York-based consulting firm hired 370 full-time MBA students this fall, up 51 percent from 245 the previous year, and plans to recruit about 200 interns this summer compared with 130 last summer.

“Our approach is relationship recruiting,” says Diane Borhani, Deloitte’s campus recruiting leader. “We focus on one-on-one interaction. It’s not about the flashy presentations and taking them to the best entertainment venues. It’s about learning and developing. We find people who are attracted to that culture.”

Conveying a company’s culture is critical to the recruiting process. For Deloitte, that means highlighting the firm’s commitment to community service to both undergraduate and graduate students. For the past four years, the firm has teamed up with United Way Worldwide and Teach For America Inc. to sponsor alternative spring-break programs for undergraduate students who work alongside employees to help communities in need. And this fall, Deloitte sponsored a campus tour of three Olympic gold medalists, including speed skater Apolo Anton Ohno, who spoke with students about achieving success and the importance of giving back to society.

Today’s students are more socially conscious and want a clear idea of the kind of company they will be working for, says Jeff Rice, executive director of career services at Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. “The new trend is more personalization and that is dictated by the current crop of students.” Historically, recruiters cast a wider net, but these days, more companies are reducing the number of colleges they visit. “It’s a smarter investment from a human capital and travel expense standpoint,” Rice says. “The goal now is to deepen the relationships they have with those invested schools.”

In fall 2008, Nestle USA Inc. made a radical shift in its recruiting approach, going from about 35 campuses to only four. “In the past we didn’t have a rhyme or reason around the number of schools we went to,” says Laura Warren, a campus recruiter, at the Glendale, California-based unit of the Swiss company. “We don’t hire hundreds and hundreds of students each year, so going to that many schools didn’t make sense. Now, we get to know the teachers, the students, and they get to know us, too. We’ve built relationships with professors who are referring top students to us.”

In 2009, Nestle started a program to help teachers and student clubs at those four schools purchase equipment such as computers. Employees also lecture in classes throughout the school year.

The new approach is paying off. Last year, Warren says, Nestle hired 78 interns and 75 full-time employees from the schools’ undergraduate and graduate programs and expects to hire 100 full-time employees in 2011.

At Boston Consulting Group, recruiters still host large “marquee events” for 150 or more students, according to Meldon Wolfgang, a partner and managing director. But the firm is also organizing more personal get-togethers, such as a cooking class in which first- and second-year Kellogg students interacted with the consulting group’s employees last month.

Campus hiring at Boston Consulting has seen double-digit growth over the past five years, and 2011 promises to yield the largest crop of student recruits ever, says Wolfgang, who heads up the recruiting effort in the Americas. He declines to provide numbers, but says, “This year it could be a 15 to 20 percent increase from last year.”
Some companies are focusing on interns as a way to fill their talent pipelines. “If I had my budget slashed and only had $100 to spend, I’d spend it all on my internship program,” says Steve Canale, manager, global recruiting and staffing services, at General Electric Co., based in Fairfield, Connecticut. “They become my brand ambassadors. Students are bombarded with ads and sales pitches but what they really believe is other students.”

GE hired about 1,000 students in 2010, he says, and three-fourths came from its internship and apprentice programs.

Workforce Management, February 2011, pgs. 16-17Subscribe Now!

Rita Pyrillis is a writer based in the Chicago area.

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