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With a Tight Job Market, Campus Recruiters Are Suffering Labor Pains


With graduation just weeks away for hundreds of thousands of college students, these are nervous days at campus placement offices around the country.

But in many cases, it's not the kids or their career advisors who are jittery. Instead, the anxious ones are corporate recruiters struggling to fill job openings in a tight labor market.

"Employers are hiring, and they're hiring in large numbers," said L. Patrick Scheetz, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, which tracks campus recruiting trends. "They still have openings to fill for as soon as May and June."

Scheetz said demand for new graduates has been the strongest he has seen in his 27 years of following such hiring.

Many students graduating this spring from top schools have already landed positions, and that means employers who are still on the prowl for talent on campus are coming up short. As a result, more of the big-name companies that dominate on-campus recruiting are hurrying to schedule visits for October and November in an effort to get a jump on the competition for graduates from the class of '99.

"You want to get there before the students have made their decisions," explained Mark Neynaber, a recruiter with the Disneyland Resort unit of Walt Disney. He said he used to schedule his on-campus visits for the spring but that this year he concentrated his efforts in the fall.

Andersen Consulting has expanded its efforts to attract college graduates for technology-related jobs by conducting video interviews with prospects at campuses that the firm's recruiters don't visit personally. The firm has also boosted its summer internships to 250, up from 200 last year, in hopes that many of the successful interns will want to join Andersen after graduating.


Although they typically don't make on-campus recruiting visits or offer many internships, smaller employers are stepping up their hiring of fresh college graduates too. Jobtrak, a 10-year-old Internet-based job-listing company that links employers of all sizes with more than 750 campus career centers, said its employment postings this year are up 27% from the same period in 1997.

The intensified demand, coupled with a demographic shift that has reduced the number of graduates this year, is driving up starting salaries. For the most sought-after graduates, employers also are offering signing bonuses and other perks such as help in paying off tuition loans.

At the bachelor's degree level, Scheetz said, the top starting salaries are going to students in chemical and electrical engineering. The latest survey from his institute projects average starting salaries nationally of $44,557 for chemical engineers and $41,167 for electrical engineers.

A variety of computer-related fields are hot too, with computer science graduates expected to receive starting salaries of $38,741. Employer demand also is boosting pay for liberal arts majors, although their prospects aren't nearly as rosy as those of students with technical degrees.

The Michigan State survey projected even higher average salaries for those with a master's in business administration--$44,666--but graduates from first-tier schools such as UCLA are doing far better.


Take, for example, Yasushi (Yosh) Nakahara, who will graduate from UCLA's business school in June. Nakahara, now 28, was earning $45,000 a year as a biotechnology lab researcher before enrolling in UCLA's MBA program in fall 1996.

After graduation, he will join Merrill Lynch in Toyko as an investment banker and will receive a pay package consisting of a $25,000 signing bonus, an annual salary of $75,000 and a guaranteed year-end bonus of $25,000.

"I was lucky," said Nakahara, who also speaks Japanese and Spanish. "It's definitely an MBA's market right now."

What's more, Nakahara by early November had received offers from three other investment bankers, including one that dangled a salary and bonus package totaling $145,000, or $20,000 more than the one from Merrill Lynch. He said he accepted the Merrill Lynch job largely because of the good working relationship he developed with his future boss during an internship with the firm last summer.

At times, the most sought-after graduates deserve failing grades for professional courtesy, some recruiters lament. Ed Kennedy, who handles college recruiting for San Jose-based Aspect Telecommunications, said a growing number of students are failing to show up for scheduled on-campus interviews.

"There's a noticeable change," Kennedy said. In past years, he said, "students took their appointments very seriously. Students today don't have the same frame of reference."

But not all graduates, even ones with technical degrees, can afford to be cocky about their job prospects. Charles V. Day, a headhunter with Snelling Search in Lafayette, La., who specializes in finding jobs for engineers, said some students lacking hands-on experience or specialized knowledge are having a tough time.

"There are plenty of people in the market, but there aren't plenty of specialists, and companies are buying specific talent for specific needs," Day said.


Times staff writer Stuart Silverstein can be reached by telephone at (213) 237-7887 or by e-mail at

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