Graduates have choice of job offers

Companies pursue students, offer lucrative salaries

`In the driver's seat'


May 16, 1999|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Fortune is smiling on John Argentiero, and he can hardly believe it.

The double major in economics and decision-and-information sciences is graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park in a week and he has landed a job as a senior technical associate with AT&T Corp. in Middletown, N.J.

One of the perks is that he'll be near his fiancee. Another is the company's health, dental and vision plan. The 401(k) is nice. But his salary blew him away. The 23-year-old will start at $53,800 a year.

"I yelled, `Oh, God, yes!' " he said. "I expected around $37,000."

Argentiero, who will be designing features such as call waiting for AT&T, is one of thousands of college seniors who had their pick of jobs this year. The booming economy and low unemployment rate are putting graduates, especially those with technology skills, in a comfortable position while company recruiters try to fill jobs.

The crunch for personnel has brought rising salaries, better benefits and more aggressive attempts by companies to woo students. College career-development coordinators talk of sky-diving trips, generous bonuses and wining and dining.

"Some of the larger companies are really going to extremes to get technical grads," said Camille Luckenbaugh, employment information manager at the National Association of Colleges and Employers. "They're offering concierge services and dry cleaning on the premises, all kinds of things. I saw a report of one recruiter hitting the clubs at night and handing out business cards to entice students to her organization. They're really trying to be unique in their efforts."

International Business Machines Corp. hired 3,000 recent graduates last year and is looking to hire another 3,000 this year. With traditional job fairs, IBM recruiters are trying to reach students anywhere they can.

They built a 20-ton laptop computer in the sand on a Florida beach last year to get the attention of students on spring break. This year, the company hired an airplane to fly over the students with a banner touting employment at IBM. Bathing-suit-clad students climbed into a virtual-reality machine and took a three-minute "ride," during which they went everywhere from an archaeological dig where researchers used IBM laptops to outer space where they witnessed a cooperative program with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

"It's really an arms race, so to speak. Companies are trying to outdo each other on campus, and we also take a comprehensive approach to relationships at schools by getting involved in student groups," said Maribeth Voss, program manager for IBM's national recruiting organization.

`Drive and energy'

While businesses want to hire the cream of the crop, they are considering those with less than stellar grades.

"We are definitely going a little deeper than we would have before," Voss said. "A smart company knows it's not only the students with a 4.0 [grade point average] that do well, but those who have proven themselves by working their way through school and shown they have drive and energy. Definitely companies are going a bit further than before."

Career advisers on campus say the hiring environment is more favorable than it's been in recent memory.

"Within the last five years we've seen a marked increase in the assertiveness of companies recruiting students," said LaVern Chapman, associate director of the undergraduate business career center at the University of Maryland, College Park's Robert H. Smith School of Business. "Nine years ago, the economy wasn't as sound and students were knocking on employers' doors. Now employers are knocking on students' doors and they [the students] love it, they absolutely love it.

"Think about it: You're 21 years old and you feel like you're in the driver's seat."

CreSaundra Sills, director of Loyola College's career development and placement center, said students there are "doing quite well."

"Regardless of their major, 70 percent find full-time jobs within nine months of graduation and another 20 percent go to graduate or professional schools," she said. "At any given time 4 to 6 percent are still looking, and the rest are traveling abroad and not looking."

Mini Nunna, recruiting service coordinator at the Johns Hopkins University, said the competition among firms on campus can be fierce.

"When companies call to schedule interviews, they want to know when the other companies will be there," she said. "There's a subtle pressure, for example, with Microsoft and Compaq who are obviously pushing for the top computer science students."

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, computer and data-processing services is the fastest-growing industry for jobs, with 1.2 million in 1996 and a projected 2.5 million in 2006. The other fastest-growing industries are health services, management and public relations, transportation services and residential care.

`Very competitive market'

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