Tellabs shares secrets for scouting students

Anyone who believes that twentysomethings have an inflated sense of entitlement may change that opinion after chatting with Julie Cunningham, manager of global college relations at Tellabs Operations Inc. in Bolingbrook, Ill.

Cunningham said you don’t have to make grandiose promises or give in to whimsical demands to bring tech-savvy recent college graduates on board. Rather, Cunningham – and recent graduates – say the key to luring students includes offering hands-on internships as well as providing opportunities for professional development, challenging work and a casual work environment.

Recruiting the Interns

The success of Tellabs’ college recruiting program depends largely on the success of its internships: one fifth of recent graduates hired by Tellabs were previously interns at the company.

Cunningham revamped the internship program when she joined the firm five years ago. At that time, the program was a “little bit on the fluffy side,” she said. By ensuring that managers viewed the program as an avenue for recruiting full-time employees, Cunningham changed its image.

“It’s not a friends-and-family program,” she told managers.

Managers have to submit a request for an intern detailing the type of work that the student will perform. Cunningham makes sure that interns aren’t assigned “grunt work.”

If a manager’s request “didn’t look meaty,” she would send the application back to be reworked, she said. And there’s no room for students to slack off either: At the end of their internships, students must give a presentation on a project they completed.

Tellabs’ internship program has left a lasting impression on some recent graduates.

Purvi Shah, a software developer, said she likes the fact that Tellabs assigns mentors to interns. Having a mentor meant that she “knew whom to go to and whom to ask, so I wasn’t completely lost when I got here,” she said. Having a support network is important for students who are hundreds of miles away from family and friends, said Shah, who attended Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

Recent graduate Anoop Mathew, a software developer, said he liked the career supervision he received during his internship. At Tellabs, interns are given “constant feedback about what you’re doing,” he said.

Former interns say Tellabs offered hands-on assignments. For Shah, this included writing a new graphical data-driven language and setting up configuration management tools. Mathew designed protection systems for telecommunications equipment. “I was impressed because it’s a very complicated field, and I was actually thrown into that,” he said. “I really liked that.”

Room for Growth

Recent graduates also cited Tellabs’ opportunities for professional growth. Mathew chose Tellabs over Big Five consulting firms because he wanted to get a master’s degree while working full time. He thought this pursuit would be easier at Tellabs – which is reimbursing his education – than at a consulting firm that would require constant travel.

Shah said she likes the fact that the company offers a diverse work experience. “If you get bored or tired, you can stay within Tellabs and move around,” she said. Cunningham echoes this theme: recent graduates develop expertise in a particular area, such as software development or hardware design, she said. They can then choose between two career paths – technical or managerial – but they can decide to switch gears later.

For many recent graduates, selecting a job boils down to the kind of work they will perform. Sarah Freda said writing Web programs that run telecommunications equipment holds a more promising future than the work she completed as an intern at a health care company.

“[The health care firm] had me program in a language I’d never heard of before,” Freda said. “I thought, ‘Where am I going to go with this program?'”

Most of these graduates say they chose Tellabs because of the security of working at an organization with an established reputation. “You hear about other companies with huge layoffs. Tellabs has never had that,” said hardware developer Parmveer Singh.

But the firm “still has a small-company mentality,” Mathew said. The company “allows you to think and come up with your own ideas. There’s not a lot of paperwork. You decide what you want to do and do it,” he said.

“[Tellabs] is laid back, yet work still gets done. Even managers sit in a cube, [and] they wear jeans,” Singh said.