Google (GOOG) is still the most popular employer in the world among business students, according to Universum’s latest global ranking. Drawn to the company’s culture of innovation, laid-back vibe, smart employees, and out-of-the-ordinary perks, undergraduates have seen Google as the world’s most attractive employer since 2009. In 2011, business students gave an edge not only to Google but also to other technology companies, while banks and traditional business employers continued to descend in popularity.
Although the top five companies on the global list for business remained pretty much the same as in 2010—Google, followed by the Big Four accounting firms KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young, and Deloitte—the rest of the top 10 experienced a shakeup in the ranking compiled by Universum, a research firm in Stockholm. For starters, Apple (AAPL) leaped from No. 18 in 2010 to No. 9 in 2011, while Coca-Cola (KO) dropped from 8 to 12. Rounding out the top 10 were Microsoft (MSFT) at No. 6, Procter & Gamble (PG) at No. 7, J.P. Morgan (JPM) at No. 8, and Goldman Sachs (GS) at No. 10.
The list is based on the preferences of more than 160,000 career seekers with a business or engineering background from the world’s 12 largest economies as measured by nominal GDP. The global ranking is separated into two lists—one based on the responses of business career seekers and the other on those pursuing engineering. Those respondents interested in business careers accounted for 82,830 of the survey takers.
Every generation has its own character, which is evident to some extent in the responses given in this survey. The latest crop of college graduates, says Kyle Ewing, manager of talent and outreach programs for Google in Mountain View, Calif., are seeking employers who help them feel connected to their work and give them opportunities to make a difference in the world. This might be why technology companies, with innovative products, are becoming more popular among business students, say experts.
“Students are interested in making an impact and tackling big problems, and they want an environment that empowers them to do that,” says Ewing. Google’s appeal lies in its culture—one of innovation and opportunity, which has grown since it has begun producing more products in the past couple of years, she adds.
Even though banks and financial firms have lost some of their luster in the wake of the U.S. financial crisis and continuing economic problems, accounting is still popular among students. Accounting firms have continued to hire throughout the Great Recession, providing some job security during a time when many young people are facing unemployment, and have begun to offer global opportunities as well, say recruiters at the accounting firms.
Ernst & Young, for instance, did not rescind a single job offer in 2008 or 2009 at the height of the economic crisis, says Dan Black, Americas director of campus recruiting for Ernst & Young in New York. While he admits the company hired fewer people than usual, it still hired new talent for the pipeline in various departments, including accounting, insurance, taxes, and transaction and advisory services, which handles mergers and acquisitions.
“In five to 10 years, these new hires will be our leadership,” Black adds. “If we don’t hire them now, we will pay down the road. When we make a commitment, we stick to it.”
Today’s career seekers are also looking for brand names that will help them enhance their networks both in the office and with the clients they meet as a result of their work, says Paula Loop, U.S. global talent leader for PricewaterhouseCoopers in New York. Indeed, Loop sees this as being among PwC’s greatest assets in attracting talent. After all, the company, she adds, provides services to almost every Fortune 500 company.
“The importance of our brand in the marketplace makes us unique,” says Loop. “We give you the opportunity to work with the most prestigious, fastest-growing companies in the world. This will help you increase your own marketability.”
While having a powerful name brand that offers opportunities for a large network is important, it is not the only thing young people are seeking in employers. They also want help—through mentoring and guidance—in creating a strategy for a long-term career, one that will be as close to recession-proof as possible, says Blane Ruschak, executive director of campus recruiting at KPMG in Montvale, N.J. That’s why KPMG provides new hires with a mentor and performance manager, who help them build a career plan for the future.
To quench young people’s thirst for adventure in this global economy, adds Ruschak, KPMG gives interns the chance to work in their home countries and abroad. U.S. students, for example, have spent one leg of their internship in places as far afield as Vietnam, Australia, Singapore, and South Africa.
Another attractive quality young people are looking for in a “perfect match” employer is flexibility. Work-life balance is a high priority for them, and employers have to respond, says Diane Borhani, director of campus recruiting for Deloitte in Chicago. Employees can talk to their superiors about how they want to mesh their work with their personal lives, and they will find the support they need, she adds. If they are eligible, there are programs for Deloitte employees who want to work on a reduced schedule or find ways to pursue outside interests.
Ultimately, today’s young people put these employers at the top of the list based on how well the companies meet their needs. Those companies with a proven ability to grow and innovate despite the world’s current economic woes are well-positioned to win the talent wars, says Karl-Johan Hasselström, global account director and Northeast U.S. regional manager for Universum in Philadelphia.
“Undergraduates are searching for softer attributes—creativity and innovation—in employers,” he adds. “Baby boomers and Generation X wanted to work and achieve material gain. This generation wants more work-life balance but also material gain. And they want security from their employer.”