Where Undergrads Dream of Working

Universum USA's annual ranking of prospective employers is filled with surprises despite several companies that haven't budged from the top of the list

Google (GOOG), Walt Disney (DIS), and Apple (AAPL) once again grabbed the top three slots in research firm Universum USA's annual survey of more than 40,000 U.S. undergraduates' top five dream employers. Major shake-ups, however, abounded on the rest of the list.

Universum has given BusinessWeek.com the first look at its complete findings, which include the overall top 100 employers and breakdowns of the top employers for liberal arts, natural science, IT, engineering, and business majors. The firm also provides data for the student popularity component of BusinessWeek's Best Places to Launch a Career ranking, based on employers' reputations with career services directors (25%) and detailed statistical analysis of the employers (50%).

Ups and Downs

Ernst & Young, which jumped from No. 12 to No. 4 on the list, was aided by its Internet efforts, says Universum USA CEO Claudia Tattanelli. (The firm launched the first company-sponsored group page on Facebook in 2006.) "They're branding themselves with social networking…trying to communicate to the new generation in a new way," says Tattanelli.

Defenses contractors like Raytheon (RTN) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) dropped precipitously, most likely because of the lack of transparency often required with their top-secret work, which is increasingly a turnoff for today's plugged-in students. "That's not appealing to a group that wants a lot of clarity," notes Tattanelli.

Gen Y Goes Beyond Cachet

However, the Defense Dept., unranked last year, came on the radar at No. 50, which may be because the stability of government employers is appealing to risk-averse, savvy Gen Yers, many of whom have student loans to pay off and are entering a precarious job market in a shaky economy. From a list of nine career goals, 45% of those Universum surveyed chose job stability as one of their top three, behind only the 64% who placed work/life balance in their top three (the latter was also the most frequently mentioned top priority in the 2007 results.

Gen Yers have also continually showed a willingness to serve the greater good (BusinessWeek.com, 5/11/07): 16% of students listed government/public service as the ideal industry in which to work, making it the No. 1 pick. Lucky for them, "government is out there stronger than ever because of the baby boomer shortage," recruiting some 5,000 or 6,000 new employees a year, according to Tattanelli.

A big-name brand in itself is not enough for today's savvy students though—No. 21 BMW (BMWG) and No. 24 Sony (SNE) each dropped eight spots from their places on the 2007 list. Employers such as NASA and Google are increasingly popular because they combine the power of a well-established, gold-plated reputation with aggressive recruiting of certain types of students (NASA ranked No. 1 with engineers, while Google was tops with IT students), providing new and improved Web sites and building relationships with specific departments and professors on targeted college campuses, says Tattanelli.

Seeking Polymaths

Certain technology, engineering, and business degrees (namely accounting) are particularly sought-after today. "The IT job market hasn't been this strong since the late 1990s," says Laurie Friedman of IBM (IBM), which ranked No. 4 with IT students.

However, liberal arts majors can take heart—if they are "intellectually ambidextrous," that is. "More companies are looking for polymaths of all kinds—such as meteorologists, biologists, or even psychologists who understand computer systems," says Friedman, citing environmental engineering and health-care informatics as two of the so-called hybrid job openings she increasingly sees.

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