Big recruiters on campus?

For a second straight year, formal on-campus recruiting of IT graduates is way down, thanks in part to the slow economy, an abundance of unemployed IT talent and continued corporate belt-tightening.

          For a second straight year, formal on-campus recruiting of IT graduates is way down, thanks in part to the slow economy, an abundance of unemployed IT talent and continued corporate belt-tightening.

          Recruiters and IT executives from just about everywhere but Microsoft say there are simply too many experienced IT professionals available from businesses that have laid off workers in the past two years.

          Moreover, few new jobs are being created. In a December survey of 150 CEOs representing companies employing a total of 10 million people, 80% of the respondents said they would hold the line or reduce capital spending in 2003.

          "This will most certainly stunt job creation," says John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray and Christmas, which conducted the survey.

          The IT talent glut makes it unnecessary for companies to go fishing on college campuses for more IT personnel. "It's simply crazy to recruit workers without job experience when there are so many talented IT professionals available," says Rob Collins, CIO at business intelligence software provider Cognos in Ottawa.

          Downturn predicted

          A survey released in late December by the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania-based National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), which tracks college graduates for recruiters and human resources professionals, confirms the bleak job outlook for all college graduates. In August, NACE projected that employers would hire 3.6% fewer college graduates in 2002-03 than they hired in 2001-02. In December, 60% of 312 employers responding to NACE's latest survey reconfirmed their intentions to hire fewer new college graduates, and the rest said they plan additional cuts in college-grad hiring.

          Many businesses have no budget or mandate to hire on college campuses now, says Maria Schaffer, an analyst at Meta Group in Stamford, Connecticut Meta will publish the results of its annual survey of Fortune 1000 CIOs later this quarter. But Schaffer says that according to the raw survey data, fewer than 2% of CIOs will recruit on campus this year, down from 6% in 2001 and way down from a high of 18% of companies in 2000.

          "Many companies may end up sending a human resources person for a day to interview top candidates at leading colleges, but most aren't making immediate job offers," she says.

          In fact, most companies are counting on most of their competitors to forgo campus recruiting this year, says Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at Salary.com, a human capital management software and research firm. "That way every company will be on the same footing when the situation improves and jobs become available," he says.

          But there's a significant exception. Microsoft, which is expanding its campus recruiting this year, views the pullout by competitors as shortsighted.

          "We are committed to college recruiting," says Kristin Roby, Microsoft's senior director of college and MBA recruiting. "Companies that turn away now risk losing the relationships they will need when the economy fully recovers," she says.

          Over the past few years, Microsoft has recruited about 600 computer science students per year for full-time positions. This year, it will increase that to 800 new hires, though Roby admits the additional 200 personnel hired won't come from the computer science field. Instead, she says, Microsoft will hire more college grads from marketing, finance and human resources programmes. It attributes its hiring needs to overall continued growth. Currently, Microsoft has more than 53,000 employees and recruits from more than 250 schools.

          Some experts say Microsoft is smart to buck the no-campus-recruiting trend. "Right now, the last thing I want is to be in the same boat as my competition -- I want to smash and kill them. And that's why it's smart to build strong college campus relations now," says retired Elf Atochem CIO Bob Rubin, who is now president of Valley Management Consultants in Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania.

          "When the economy turns around, businesses will want to be back on campus in force, and that's difficult to do if you've severed your ties," says Marilyn Mackes, executive director of NACE.

          It's also a good idea to keep internship programmes up and running, because they are far less expensive than full-blown campus recruiting initiatives, says Mackes. Cognos' Collins says the company will continue to hire college grads using this method. If their interns work well within the company's corporate culture, they are often offered jobs after they graduate.

          Recruiters and analysts emphasise that a small recruiting effort is better than none and will likely reap rewards in a few short years. They say that barring a major terrorist strike or a long, drawn-out war, they're hopeful that the current jobless recovery will start to improve and create a need for more IT personnel in the second half of the year.

          DePompa is a freelance writer and editor in Germantown, Maryland.

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