Hello, Mickey

Where do college grads most want to work? Goldman Sachs (GS)? Bank of America (BAC)? Nope. The Walt Disney Co.(DIS), according to a new survey.

In the annual poll of undergrads by Philadelphia-based Universum Communications, Disney headed a list of the most desirable companies to work for. Other top places to work include Google (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Apple Computer (AAPL) and, believe it or not, the FBI. (See tables below.)


  The survey of 37,000 members of the class of 2006 indicated that there's more to life than the corner office. They listed work-life balance as their first priority and named companies known for their employee-friendly vibe as favorite employers. Other top priorities cited by undergrads were the pursuit of further education, a sound financial base, and contributing to society.

The laid-back culture of many tech companies is a reflection of the desires of this new generation, said Universum CEO Claudia Tattanelli. "The Google effect will happen more and more," she predicts. The companies that will succeed in procuring young talent, says Tattanelli, are those who are best able to accommodate the needs of young people.

The Universum ranking of ideal employers is based on students' selection of their five top picks from 189 companies that were frequently mentioned by students in the previous annual survey. The research company releases results for all undergraduate majors and also breaks out the preferences of liberal arts, engineering, science, and business majors.


  The lists provide a glimpse into the generational preferences, economic influences, and general "buzz factor" that contributes to a company's reputation as an employer. And undergraduate business majors, for the most part, followed suit with their counterparts studying other subjects. Disney was ranked both the top company overall and for undergraduate business majors, and it was the only company to make the top 10 on every list. "It's such a strong brand. It's always had a place in the hearts of a lot of people," says Tattanelli. She notes that Disney's ownership of Pixar, known for a culture of innovation, is also a key selling point. Companies such as eBay (EBAY), Amazon (AMZN), and Virgin also cracked the top 50 on the business majors' list.

But there were some noticeable differences between the business and other majors. The Big Four accounting firms dropped an average of almost 16 spots with all undergraduates after a particularly impressive showing in 2005, when all were in the top 15. Not surprisingly, accounting and i-banking fared better with business undergrads than with the overall population. Those kinds of companies comprised 50% of the top10 list for business undergraduates, while the two industries didn't make an appearance on the overall ranking's top 10 list.

Big-name businesses are appealing because of the future they can afford their employees. "I really wanted to work for a large company. You can't beat the opportunities," says John Morley, an accounting major who recently graduated from the Marriott School at Brigham Young University. "Right out of college, you really need to go for the best you can get because it sets you up for life." Morley is an associate consultant at Bain & Co. in its Dallas office.

As the "Google culture" catches on, more business students are looking at technology companies. Students say the tech industry offers other advantages as well. Aki Balogh, a junior at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, will be interning in marketing at Microsoft this summer and hopes to make a career in the tech sector. "The industry is something that has a high profit margin, so the companies I want to work for have a lot of financial resources," says Balogh.

B-schoolers, boosting the FBI from No. 20 to No. 10, seem to be intrigued by government agencies, too. (On the overall undergrad list, the CIA and the U.S. State Dept. ranked in the top 5, along with the FBI) . A well-known brand could partially account for the appeal of the governmental sector, which has recently been glamorized by such television shows as 24 and Alias. "[The shows have] highlighted a possibility in the government they never saw before," says Tatanelli. A government job also offers the chance to serve the greater good, another trait often associated with the current generation of grads.

SOCIAL CONSCIENCE.The 27% of undergrads who listed "contributing to society" as one of their top three career goals is a particularly telling statistic, considering this focus on community wasn't even on the radar a year ago. Universum added "contributing to society" to survey options for top career goals only after hundreds of students pencilled it in on the 2005 survey. As social entrepreneurship becomes more popular, business students are seeing this mindset presented in the classroom and in the corporate world.

Ethics courses and discussions might also be making a difference (see BW, 5/8/06, "Giving Back is an Expectation") Nearly 40% of undergrads in the survey chose high ethical standards as the most significant factor when determining what company to work for, whereas the financial strength of a company only received 26% of the vote. Money might not make the world go round after all -- at least not for the soon-to-graduate.

Gerdes is a reporter for BusinessWeek in New York. BusinessWeek Online Project Assistant Julie Gordon contributed to this report.

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