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New Business Grads Want It All--and They're in a Position to Get It

May 18, 1997|MARLA MATZER

Business degrees in hand, this year's young graduates are looking for good wages and opportunity for advancement from their first employers. No surprises there.

They're also looking for companies with responsible business practices and family-friendly policies that allow them to balance work with "real life." Tradition says that for people just entering the working world that's asking a lot. Fortunately for these newcomers, they are in a seller's market.

That's because today's labor market is tight. Armed with a bachelor's degree in economics or business administration, 1997 graduates are commanding starting salaries 4% to 6.2% higher than last year's crop, according to the most recent salary survey from the National Assn. of Colleges and Employers. The Bethlehem, Pa.-based professional group also reports that universities saw a 27% increase this year in the number of firms recruiting on their campuses.

In this climate, top grads can pick and choose among eager employers. So competing companies are asking: What do graduates want?

They want the chance for a successful life inside and outside the office, according to another recent survey, this one commissioned by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand. The "ability to achieve a balanced lifestyle," "competitive salary" and "opportunities to reach managerial levels" were ranked as the three most important considerations in looking for a first job by 1,200 business students in 10 countries.

Business graduates today want it all. A decade ago, "having it all" was generally a code phrase for women putting off or sacrificing family concerns in exchange for long hours at the office. The difference today, says Iris Goldfein, vice chairman of human resources for Coopers & Lybrand, is that young people genuinely expect to be able to have a full personal life along with a rewarding work life. And--surprise--young men are just as concerned as women about achieving this balance.

"Two-thirds of the students in our survey were men," says Goldfein. "They were from all over the world [including the U.S., Japan and Germany]. So this idea that there are very different attitudes about work around the world may actually be more of a generational issue than a cultural one."

One measure of generational differences involves the eagerness of younger workers to take advantage of technological advancements such as laptop computers and cellular phones that give them the flexibility to work from remote locations. This sometimes creates tension between them and their older bosses, who may consider "face time" at the office the measurement of how hard someone is working.

Goldfein says Generation X grads expect to work hard and be challenged, but their interpretation of productivity doesn't always involve sitting at a desk.

Also high on students' wish lists is "work which benefits other people and the society." The Coopers & Lybrand survey and a separate one issued by San Francisco-based Students for Responsible Business show that to today's business students, doing good is as important as doing well.

"Environmental responsibility" and "family-friendly programs and benefits" were among the top attributes of a socially responsible business, as defined by 2,100 master's of business administration students in the SRB study. Rounding out the top three requirements for employers: No "isms," such as sexism, racism or ageism.

Nancy Katz is executive director of SRB, a 4-year-old, 1,100-member organization that has chapters at 36 business schools throughout North America. A 1993 graduate of Stanford, she saw firsthand the competitive edge employers can gain by offering things like flexible hours and child care.

"A number of consulting firms came to campus. One emphasized that they encouraged their consultants to balance their personal lives with work in various ways. It wasn't necessarily a top-tier consulting firm, but it attracted a lot of interest for that reason," she recalls. Katz likens a company's investment in pro-individual and pro-family policies to a commitment to research and development. "It can help set a company apart among the most competed-for students."

An important factor motivating the search by today's grads for a balanced life, Katz and Goldfein agree, is what these students have seen their parents go through.

"Most of these students come from homes where both parents worked," says Goldfein. A "pendulum swing" back to valuing personal time is natural, she says.

Then there's the death of job security. Not many 1997 graduates expect to stay at a single company their entire career.

"Today's students have seen that you can work your whole life and you may not get rewarded" when companies are sold or downsized, Katz says. It is one more reason young graduates want to make sure they get rewarded all along the way for hard work.

Marla Matzer can be reached by e-mail at

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