Where the jobs are

Even the most tech-savvy students in the class of 2002 will need good marketing skills to land a job this year. In this slow economy, employers are selectively choosing their campus recruits including entry-level IT applicants, says Camille Luckenbaugh, employment information manager for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) in Bethlehem, Pa.

“Recruiting for IT positions has diminished compared to previous years,” says Lonnie Dunlap, director of university career services at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. Indeed, many firms are slashing their entry-level hires by 20 per cent this year compared with 2001, according to a NACE survey of 230 companies.

Employers want a range of IT skills, from Web development to software programming and mainframe experience. And as students compete for jobs with their peers as well as downsized IT workers they’ll also need good networking skills, relevant internships and smart job-hunting strategies.

Although IT spending has declined industrywide this year, companies still need “people to manage the systems and networks and develop applications in a company’s IT department,” says John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Challenger says hiring managers are looking for IT workers who can develop and manage enterprisewide e-commerce and customer relationship management (CRM) applications.

Helen Anderson, a computer consultant at American Management Systems Inc. in Fairfax, Va., who graduated in 2000 from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, agrees that experience working with Java and CRM applications is a big asset.

For its part, Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate Insurance Co. needs software developers who are proficient in C, C+ and C++, as well as Cobol programmers and systems analysts, says senior IT manager Lorraine Balun.

Charlottesville, Va.-based SNL Securities LLC will hire four or five entry-level IT graduates who have a mix of Web development, Web design and technical support skills, says Barbara Kessler, human resources director at the financial publishing firm. “Some accounting knowledge, such as a class or two,” is a big plus for someone who wants to work at a financial services firm, she says.

As companies extend fewer offers to computer science graduates this year, students with relevant internship experience will make a greater impression, say employers. A student applying for a position at Fairfax, Va.-based SRA International Inc. should ideally have had an internship at an IT consulting firm or a government contractor, says Amanda Schutz, college recruiting manager at SRA. The IT services firm provides systems integration and consulting services primarily to government agencies.

“If they liked [the internship], then there is a good chance they’ll like it at SRA,” she says.

Schutz says that SRA will hire 10 college graduates this year, compared with 20 last year. Most of these new recruits will be computer science, electrical engineering or information systems majors, says Schutz, who adds that her firm needs employees with well-rounded technology skills, including hands-on experience with several programming languages, such as Java and C++.

“Most of our contracts are with the government and involve a little bit of everything” in IT, she says, adding that new hires “start with one project and move around the company.”

At Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente Health Plan Inc., most of the available entry-level IT positions are in the help desk and technical support areas, says Matt Capaci, college and diversity project manager for the company’s IT division. Capaci couldn’t say how many graduates Kaiser Permanente will add to its 4,000-person IT staff this year.

Downwardly Mobile

Those students lucky enough to land job offers are seeing lower salaries and fewer perks compared with last year. According to NACE, the average salary offer for a computer science graduate has dropped 3.6 per cent this year.

Lockheed Martin Corp. is “not losing as many students to inflated offers” from competitors this year, says Teri Matzkin, lead recruiter for the Bethesda, Md.-based aerospace and government contractor. While salaries remain “competitive,” the company doesn’t need to extend other perks such as signing bonuses to entice the engineering students it wants to hire, she says.

The economic slowdown forced the company to slash its original college hiring projection in the Washington metropolitan area by 40 per cent, from 227 students to 142, Matzkin says.

Students have been forced to become less picky about quality-of-life issues such as location. In the past, enticing entry-level IT graduates to move to Charlottesville was a problem for SNL, says Kessler. “For someone in a bigger city, coming to Charlottesville is not on their to-do list,” she says. And many graduates from the University of Virginia shunned the idea of remaining in the town of 40,000, she says.

But thanks to the soft labour market, SNL can now draw from a more talented pool of students, says Kessler, who recently waded through more than 100 r