Google Tops Grad Picks for Top Employers

Having captured the hearts and minds of undergraduate business students, Google is still No. 1 in the latest Universum ranking of the most popular employers rated by young people. But it shouldn't get too cocky: The competition is getting fiercer.

Google (GOOG), along with the Big Four accounting firms—KPMG, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Deloitte—respectively make up the top five on the 2010 ranking compiled by Universum, a research firm in Stockholm. The list is based on the responses of more than 130,000 business and engineering students in 12 major global markets who told Universum where they dream of working.

The accounting firms fared well among business students in the ranking because their training programs are highly regarded and they have been on a hiring tear when jobs for college grads have otherwise been difficult to come by. Google, which took the top spot among both business and engineering students, benefited from a unique corporate culture that includes free food and haircuts and lets employees bring their dogs to work. Kyle Ewing, talent and outreach programs manager for Google in Mountain View, Calif., said in an interview that many are attracted to the company because of its sense of mission.

"Google is a place where you can tackle big problems," she said. "For all employees, there's a real sense that people are working on things that could change the world."

Procter & Gamble (PG), Microsoft (MSFT), Coca-Cola (KO), J.P. Morgan (JPM), and Goldman Sachs (GS) respectively round out the top 10. Finance firms in the banking and investing sectors, management consulting, and oil and gas companies have become less appealing to students, according to the list.

Standouts during the economic crisis

HSBC (HBC), which ranked 22 in 2009, dropped out of the top 50 in 2010. And Intel (INTC), Nokia (NOK), and ExxonMobil (XOM) fell out of the upper 30 to the bottom of the list. Among companies new to the list, Apple (AAPL), Bank of America (BAC), IKEA, and Adidas (ADS:GR) broke into the top 30.

Universum asked students to select the five employers for which they would most like to work from a list of more than 120 that was based on Universum's 2009 top employers ranking. Respondents could write in employers that were not on the list. A company's ranking is based on the percentage of business students who designated it among their top five. Of the top 50, eight are Universum consulting clients.

The economic crisis that left fewer undergraduates able to find jobs fresh out of college changed the recruiting game, says Universum Chief Executive Officer Michal Kalinowski. Employers that continued to communicate with potential hires and promoted both their consumer brand and the benefits of working at their organization scored with students, he says.

Keeping up a dialogue with talent, regardless of hiring needs, proved beneficial to KPMG, which moved from eighth to second on the list, says Blane Ruschak, executive director of campus recruiting for KPMG in Montvale, N.J.

"You have to keep yourself in the front of the pipeline of students so when things do turn around, they remember you," says Ruschak. One way KPMG did that was to enhance its website, which features tips on the interview process and videos about real employees and what their jobs are like, he says.

"We have a great campaign of helping students better understand our culture," says Ruschak, who added that KPMG will hire more people in 2011 than in 2010.

"fantastic career-launch vehicles"

Today's undergraduates, says Kalinowski, are looking for employers who will cultivate their talent and help them grow. This, he added, is a strength of the Big Four accounting firms and might have helped them reach the top of the list. Among business students, nearly 80 percent said professional training and development was a priority—one they particularly associated with the Big Four.

"They are perceived as fantastic career-launch vehicles," says Kalinowski. "Undergraduates are looking for employers who will keep them attractive in the job market."

Deloitte, which moved up five places to No. 5 on the list, sees itself as a "career accelerator," says Kent Kirch, the firm's global director of talent acquisition and mobility. Deloitte, he adds, provides hard-working, deserving employees with rapid advancement, training and educational opportunities, and the chance to work with high-caliber clients. Although hiring volume dropped slightly during the economic crisis, things have already begun to pick up, says Kirch, and Deloitte plans to hire about 250,000 new employees globally over the next five years.

Corporate social responsibility is another top priority of the Millennial Generation, says Ruschak. The first of the millennials, born in 1980, entered college in the mid-1990s and have been joining the workforce since the early 2000s. Ruschak says KPMG had interns come up with ideas to develop a literacy project that would get books into the hands of underprivileged children as part of a contest. The winners built a Habitat for Humanity house in New Orleans.

The Universum survey found that employers perceived as having a friendly or creative work environment, such as Google, won points with undergrads, while a positive work-life balance, another millennial priority, helped propel companies such as Ernst & Young up the ranking. Dan Black, Americas director of campus recruiting for No. 3 Ernst & Young, says the company offers formal, flexible work arrangements, such as reduced hours at a pro-rated salary or working from home certain days of the week.

"We want employees to be as successful at home as they are at work," says Black.

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