Google, Apple Tops With College Grads; Detroit Beckons

Photograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

Buried in debt and scrambling for jobs, college students can’t be blamed for gravitating toward employers that offer the security of big names, decent salaries, and promising career prospects. And in Universum USA’s latest ranking of favored employers they did just that—particularly business students, who elevated white-shoe strategy consulting firms such as McKinsey and Bain and such financial powerhouses as Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, and brought Apple to within a stone’s throw of first-ranked Google.

But the real surprise this year has nothing to do with jet-setting consultants, investment bankers, or the new iPhone. It has to do with cars. After being all but left for dead by college graduates during the recession, Detroit is back, with all Big Three American carmakers surging in the ranking. Among business students, Ford Motor and General Motors both scored double-digit gains to reach No. 84 and No. 100, respectively, while Chrysler Group—unranked in 2011—landed at No. 74 among engineering students. Volkswagen and BMW also had sizable gains among business students.

Damian Zikakis, director of career services at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, says students are responding to the auto companies’ ramped-up recruiting efforts and desire to innovate. Chrysler and GM returned to Ross last year, and all Big Three automakers hired Ross students this year—13 in all—for the first time since the recession.

“It seems like the auto companies are making good decisions, and they’re making money and listening to their young customers,” says Zikakis. “They have effective marketing, which helps on the recruiting side because students are more familiar with the product and therefore relate more to the company.”

In its annual survey of U.S. college students, Universum USA asked 59,643 students, including 20,269 business majors, to identify the five employers they would most like to work for. Among business students, the top five remained virtually unchanged from the 2011 ranking. Google once again took the top spot, with Apple a close second. Nearly 19 percent of students surveyed wanted to work for the maker of iPads and iPhones, an extraordinary 3.2 percent gain that brought the company to within 2 percent of overtaking Google. Apple was followed by Walt Disney, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte.

Universum also grouped business students into seven “personality types” based on what they’re looking for in an employer. Google was No. 1 with every personality type except careerists, who chose Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Ernst & Young (in that order) ahead of the online giant, and idealists, who put Ernst & Young on top. There was little movement from the 2011 ranking by personality type.

Among business students, the the Big Three automakers didn’t crack the top 50 for any of the personality categories. But among engineering students, Ford had the biggest gain with leaders, who ranked the company No. 14, up from 26 in 2011, while GM fared best with “harmonizers,” who Universum says value work-life balance. Kortney Kutsop, employer branding consultant for Universum USA in Los Angeles, says the improvement is the result of the industry’s efforts to personalize its approach to recruiting and to tailor its message.

At GM, for example, recruiters answer questions from interested students in real time on its website. And Zikakis says he holds Ford up as a model to other recruiters for its mini career fairs, which allow students to attend specialized on-campus information sessions hosted by different departments. It doesn’t hurt that the companies give students a chance to work on solutions to problems involving energy, sustainability, and the environment.

“Contributing to a better world is something to which young people respond,” says Tiffani Orange, manager of U.S. recruiting strategy and programs for Ford. “Young people are going to have the chance to make a difference here.”

Allowing students to hit the ground running is beneficial for employers, as well. “Our product programs are planned five to seven years ahead, so we’re designing products for the Millennial Generation,” says Mark McKeen, talent acquisition, employment branding, and social media manager for GM. “Who better to get into the company than the consumers who will buy the product?”

Click on our slideshow featuring the top 50 employers among business students or visit Universum for the complete ranking, including engineering, IT, natural sciences, and liberal arts.

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