Will Hire With Cash and Prizes

SAN FRANCISCO (05/15/2000) - Ming Maa is in demand. About to graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in computer science, he has received job offers from the top 10 investment banks as well as Walker Digital, the incubator created by Priceline.com Inc. founder Jay Walker. So badly do these companies want Maa that most made their offers in the fall and were willing to leave the positions open as long as seven months so he could decide.

Maa won't say how much he'll be making at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., where he accepted an offer, but he says offers made to MIT computer science and engineering students this year started with base salaries of $65,000 and peaked at $150,000. These figures, however, do not include healthy signing bonuses and stock options - something students have come to expect.

The "outrageous" rise in salaries for the top engineering and computer science students, as one recruiter described it, reflects how competitive recruiting has become on top college campuses. Companies are so eager to secure the services of star students, particularly in fields like computer science and engineering, that they're resorting to gimmicks to create buzz.

Recruiter-sponsored contests giving away sports cars and cool gadgets are now common at MIT, Stanford University and University of California at Berkeley.

"The pressure is definitely up. A lot of software companies are recruiting students through quick two-hour campus programming contests where prizes this year have ranged from Porches, ex-USSR night-vision goggles and DVD players," says Maa.

Examples abound. Opnet Technologies Inc. organized one contest with night-vision spy specs as prizes. Students were asked to register - giving the company their personal information - and then use Opnet tools to build the most creative database, says Maa. CollegeHire.com Inc., an Internet-based campus recruiting agency, has given away eight cars in contests for clients this past school year, including a BMW to a junior at Stanford, according to Jeff Daniel, CEO and founder of CollegeHire.

Companies that have partnered with CollegeHire include Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) , DoubleClick Inc. (DCLK) , McKinsey & Co. and Nortel Networks Corp. (NT) , to name a few. Besides doing on-campus interviews for clients, CollegeHire also conducts focus groups. For instance, the site is currently offering computer science and engineering students a $100 certificate at Amazon if they fill out a questionnaire about what they are looking for in a dream job. They will get an additional $100 for each student they refer - up to five people.

Gifts and prizes are one thing, but nothing speaks to a recruit like money, which starting salaries reflect. For two key positions at a startup that he wouldn't name, Daniel is offering college grads a base salary of $250,000.

William Odil Cain, a graduating computer science student at Stanford, reports students there are getting offers of $200,000.

Surprisingly, recent salary surveys show average base salaries for computer science and engineering grads to be much lower. For instance, the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) just released a survey that says starting salaries for engineering averaged $49,460 and computer science averaged $48,468. NACE's data may not be entirely accurate since the organization relies on campus officials, who might not have time to include every student's offer - and many offers may go unreported, according to Ken Ranberg, CEO of JobTrak Corp., the online job database used by most schools in the U.S. Ranberg adds that NACE's data covers all schools - not only the top engineering schools, whose students get the lion's share of the plum offers.

MIT, for example, recently released information on salary offers to its engineering students that paints a dramatically different picture. From those offers reported to the university's career center, base salaries, sans signing bonuses and stock options, were up to $110,000. The highest base salaries went for research and development positions; consulting positions were at $103,000; software design and development jobs listed for $100,000; and systems programming gigs paid $95,000. The companies paying the most for MIT students are software publishers, computer and electronic product companies, management consultancies, and computer systems design and programming firms. Along with these amazing salary offers, top students also get signing bonuses as high as $15,000, says Maa.

The princely offers do have a downside: Recruiters are ratcheting up the pressure. Jeff Bilmes, a recent Ph.D. engineering graduate from UC Berkeley who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington, says some recruiters push students to take these high offers by putting time limits on them: Candidates must take the job by a particular day or the offer is rescinded. But Bilmes notes students usually see through these "exploding offers" and call the recruiters' bluffs. Ranberg confirms he is hearing more about exploding offers being made earlier, sometimes before a student's senior year. "Recruiters are coming earlier to campus, which shifted last year. And they are making offers on the spot," he adds. "Employers are making offers that are only good for one week, but students are in the position of getting multiple offers and looking to see where the best fit is."

Not everyone's jumping into the extreme recruiting game. Hewlett-Packard Co.

(HWP) is taking a relatively quieter approach. Now in the process of revamping its corporate identity, HP is also reinventing its campus recruiting efforts for computer science and engineering students, according to Mike Nichols, HP's director of talent management. Since students now have many choices, including signing on with early stage startups, HP is campaigning on the message that it is the original Internet startup. "We are a dot-com company," says Nichols.

"The only difference is that we make a huge profit. We are offering anything a startup can."

To get this message to the top engineering and computer science students, HP is creating a new campus recruiting program this summer that will allocate more recruiters to five as-yet-unselected universities. "We are changing our complete strategy of college recruiting. We recruit at 80 schools now, but we are looking at the ones that we really want to develop a long-term partnership with through sponsored events, philanthropy and research sponsorships to be the employer of choice [on campus]," says Nichols.

And CEO Carly Fiorina will make regular visits to campuses to promote HP's "Rules of the Garage" philosophy, which advocates radical ideas and the cultural shift afoot at the company. While Nichols says he plans to emphasize HP's entrepreneurial work environment to students, he also notes that recruiters will be more assertive next year with on-the-spot offers and efforts to get students to make their decisions more quickly.

IBM Corp. is also pitching itself as a dot-com and a fun place to work, but it is not putting time limits on offers, according to Stephanie Malin, senior project manager for IBM's national recruiting organization. Big Blue recruits at 100 campuses for computer science and engineering students, and all the candidates interviewed are asked to visit IBM offices to meet with executives, managers and alumni from their schools before given an offer. While the process is more time-consuming, Malin says it is still the best way to get a good fit and reduce turnover.

Like HP, IBM is proving it is an Internet play by giving stock options as sign-on bonuses, although neither would provide a typical range of option amounts offered to students. The most important thing for these companies, however, is getting their message out - connecting with students and catering to their values.

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