It's a different landscape at job fairs

College programs are attracting fewer recruiters

February 19, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF


An article Tuesday mentioned Arthur Andersen, the accounting firm, as an example of a firm that used to recruit at the Johns Hopkins University but isn't doing so this year. Actually, the entity referred to is the management consulting branch of Andersen, which is now an independent company known as Accenture.

Daniel Kelley is pursuing a double degree in computer engineering and physics at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, but this year he's learning a hard lesson not covered in either subject: the importance of timing.

Kelley's twin brother dropped out of UMBC a couple years ago to take a programming job in Baltimore. He's earning more than $50,000, with good prospects for advancement.

And Daniel Kelley, who stuck it out in college? He's standing in a long line at the Raytheon table at a recent UMBC job fair, one of many students struggling to find a good summer or post-graduation job.

"He's getting paid good money, and I'm not," said Kelley, of Pasadena, who is wrapping up his computer engineering degree but has two years left for his physics degree and needs a job to tide him over. "Now, a lot of dot-coms aren't around anymore. I'm not going to make as much money as he is."

In contrast with only a year or two ago - when recruiters competing with dot-coms for young talent plied students at area colleges with lucrative offers - today they're often not bothering to show up on campuses.

A recent spring job fair at the Johns Hopkins University drew 35 companies, down from 100 last year and an average of 80 over the past six years, said Adrienne Alberts, acting director of the college's career counseling office.

"This is the smallest turnout we've ever had in the history of job fairs," said Alberts. "Recruiters are being picky about where they go."

At UMBC, the career development office was able to persuade almost as many companies as last year to attend its fair last week. But the school has received fewer calls from employers looking for new hires than in past years, so career development officers have started paying unsolicited visits to companies to find out what skills they're seeking.

And at a multi-college job fair at Towson University last month, 2,300 students swarmed in to find 124 companies - a far different ratio than last year's event, which drew 1,700 students and 175 employers.

"We're telling students they have to be a little more open, not as specific as they may have been in the past," said Mona Martin, Towson's associate director of on-campus recruiting.

During any recession, of course, college students find it harder to land a good post-graduation or summer job. What is unusual this year is the extent to which the list of recruiters visiting colleges - and those who are not - reflect specific current events beyond the general state of the economy.

Most noticeable at job fairs is the absence of dot-coms after the Internet bubble burst and the absence of investment banking and consulting firms, traditionally a favorite destination for college graduates. Arthur Andersen, the consulting and accounting firm embroiled in the Enron debacle, skipped the Hopkins fair and hasn't been recruiting individual students through the school's career office, Alberts said.

"They've definitely stopped all hiring activity. They just have no need," Alberts said. "They used to be a strong presence. They were one of our loyal employers, and students loved them."

Taking the place of dot-coms and traditional business firms at the job fairs are defense contractors flush with money - thanks partly to the war on terrorism. At UMBC, the longest lines of students were at the tables for Raytheon and Lockheed Martin; at the Hopkins fair, students flocked to Northrop Grumman and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

With so few other employers hiring, defense contractors are being deluged with applications from highly qualified engineering and computer science students, said Tanya Pershin, a recruiter for Lockheed Martin, which recently landed a $200 billion contract for the Joint Strike Fighter.

"Last year, the creme de la creme students had their pick of the litter, whatever job they wanted," Pershin said at the UMBC fair, where she received 100 resumes per hour. "Now, they're grabbing whatever they can get."

The changed landscape has students rethinking career plans and lining up at job fair tables for employers they know little about.

Daniel Rohr, a senior international studies major from Chicago, was hoping to meet investment bank recruiters when he showed up at the Hopkins fair in a gleaming suit. Finding none, he wandered over to a table pitching civilian jobs in the Air Force.

"The dot-com threat is no longer there, so there's less demand" for graduates, Rohr said. "Most interviews I've gotten were through my own initiative. That's how you have to play it."

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