For The Class Of 2000, The Sellers' Market Intensifies

Offers include high pay, bonuses, options, and venture equity

The rites of spring. For most college grads-to-be, that traditionally means blowing off classes, playing frisbee, and, of course, panicking about the future. Is really the route to lifelong happiness and security?

You'd be hard-pressed to find much of that kind of angst on today's campuses. With jobs going begging for both undergraduates and grad students, few are stressed about their careers. These days, all the anxiety seems to be on the side of overworked corporate recruiters as the always-grueling season has become even tougher. "It's very competitive--more than we've ever seen it," says Joe W. Forehand, managing partner and CEO of Andersen Consulting, which is hiring some 1,000 MBAs and 4,000 college grads in the U.S. in fiscal 2000.

For students, opportunities continue to bubble up like beer spilling out of a frosty mug., a large job Web site aimed at college students, says it has seen a 50% increase in postings since last March alone. And according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, salaries are up across the board. Technical folks are averaging nearly $50,000--and that's before signing bonuses, now offered by 56% of recruiting companies to some new hires. Then there are the increasingly common stock options. "People are throwing things at us left and right," says Jessica S. Palatka, an undergraduate member of the Class of 2000 at the University of Maryland's Smith School of Business.

A decision and information-technology major, Palatka considered Arthur Andersen before settling on Eye Street Software Corp., a 25-person outfit in Columbia, Md., where she worked last summer. She's already working there full-time while finishing up school. And despite removing her resume from a job board months ago, she still gets two or three calls and e-mails a week.

Even the choicest employers find they have to up the ante. At Andersen Consulting, new hires are eligible for the "e-units" program, which gives them a chunk of the company's venture fund if they do well and stay at least three years. That's on top of an average $2,000 signing bonus, overtime pay, and four weeks of vacation.

And forget about locking in candidates early. With offers aplenty--and potentially better ones to come--recruiters say students are in no hurry to decide. Melissa C. Thompson, MBA program manager for Dell Computer Corp., says Dell gives stock options to summer interns who commit by early February to come on full-time upon spring graduation. Yet many students chose to hold off making a decision until March--and forfeited the options. So far, 41 of the 82 college interns Dell hired last summer have signed up.

STARTUP ALLURE. In part, that's because of growing competition from nascent pre-initial-public-offering companies. Despite market jitters, the allure of startups seems to have waned only slightly. Thompson says a couple of MBAs who initially turned down Dell's offers in favor of dot-coms have suddenly changed their minds. Ditto for some summer interns at American Express Co., says Deborah L. Hickey, AmEx' director for campus recruitment. Yet when David Fisher, president of, a Denver startup that helps online retailers expand offline, sent out an e-mail to several B-schools announcing jobs in mid-April, he received some 75 responses in the first week alone. "It's astounding to me that we can actually recruit credibly" without an established reputation, says Fisher.

Moreover, many graduates--particularly MBAs--are still eagerly plunging into cyberspace on their own. "I still think the Internet space is the place to be," says Joshua Li, a graduating MBA at the University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School who is launching a startup called "If I take a job in a consulting company," he says, "it's going to pay me, but I'm basically selling my soul, and six months down the road, I'm going to go to an Internet company anyway." For many frustrated recruiters, those words ring all too true.

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