Why New Grads Love Cisco

When Cisco Systems (CSCO) brings young hires on board, the process is less like a typical corporate orientation and more like a sorority rush. Instead of being hired into a specific business unit and assigned a manager, the new employees get to do the picking.

This innovative approach may seem unusual—why should a 22-year-old have 30 managers vying for her attention?—but it gets results.

More than 2,500 newbies, mostly engineering grads, have gone through this process, called Cisco Choice, since its inception in 2006. Of these, 98% were still with the company after two years. That's an astonishing retention rate, as studies show few Gen Yers last that long in their first jobs. And Cisco's staff engagement levels are off the charts. "When you provide options aligned with a student's interests and skills, you're going to get more productivity and excitement than by allowing them to interview with one manager for one position," says program head Monica Perez.

The matchmaking system, used for interns as well as permanent hires, also gives Cisco an advantage in recruiting. Ralph Mobley, career services director at Georgia Institute of Technology, says the program is a big reason why Cisco could hire more than 50 of its grads in three years. "Students really like that they're going to get some input," he says. "If they have two offers, that's what might sway them."

Cisco Choice participant James Reavis, 23, is a fan. Although only in his fifth week on the job—testing new features on Cisco's TelePresence videoconferencing product—he is already seeing how connections forged with other departments during program interviews are invaluable. "Normally [new employees] just know what their department does and what their specific product is," he says. "When we collaborate, I already know what the other department does."

The Santa Clara University alum started with 95 other Cisco Choice participants in late June. After a week-long overview of the company and a week of presentations from managers at more than 30 business units, Reavis' group spent a final week meeting with the managers and employees in each participant's five favorite business units. Each employee then selected his or her top three managers and awaited placement. Reavis, like most new employees, got his top pick—managers are eager to accept the additional manpower because most of the training and salary costs come out of the corporate budget, not their own.

If employee engagement and retention aren't proof enough of success, Perez says some competitors are even looking into developing programs modeled on Cisco's. That doesn't bother her a bit. After all, she says, "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery."

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