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Frequently Asked Questions


In response to requests for more information about how we conduct our rankings, BusinessWeek is providing the following answers to frequently asked questions. Please refer to this document before calling or e-mailing BusinessWeek editors with methodology-related questions. If you have a question that is not addressed here, please send an e-mail to lindsey_gerdes@businessweek.com. We'll try to answer it directly or add it to this FAQ.

When is the "Best Places to Launch a Career" ranking published?

How does BusinessWeek determine who is eligible for rankings?

If an employer has never been ranked before, how does it get considered for ranking?

What sources of data does BusinessWeek use to rank employers?

When does each survey get distributed? How long is it available for completion?

How is the survey of career-services directors conducted?

How is the student survey conducted by Universum Communications?

How is the employer survey conducted?

What happens if an employer does not answer a question?

How are the various factors weighted?

What do you do when there are no career-services survey data or student-survey data for a company in the ranking?

Do employers ever get dropped from the rankings?

Why would an employer's rank change from year to year?

How can an employer or other interested person determine the reason for a specific change in rank?

Why do you rank only 50 employers in the magazine?

What role, if any, do companies and other organizations play in the surveys, beyond completing the employer survey?

Do the employers contribute to the content of the surveys?

Are copies of the career-services survey or the student survey conducted by Universum ever provided to the employers?

Do employers receive any additional information after the rankings are over?

Are the data collected from the employers for the online statistical profiles used in the ranking?

What happens if an employer doesn't fill out the survey for the statistical profile by the deadline?

How do you find employees to interview?

When is the "Best Places to Launch a Career" ranking published?

BusinessWeek plans to publish the "Best Places to Launch a Career" ranking annually in September.

How does BusinessWeek determine who is eligible for rankings?

BusinessWeek conducts a national survey of career-services directors to determine which employers should be considered for the ranking.

If an employer has never been ranked before, how does it get considered for ranking?

Unlike our rankings of MBA programs and undergraduate business programs, which allow schools to nominate themselves, the "Best Places to Launch a Career" ranking does not permit self-nomination. To be considered, an employer must be identified by the career-services directors who respond to our national survey as one that is among the best organizations in the U.S. for entry-level employees.

What sources of data does BusinessWeek use to rank employers?

BusinessWeek uses three sources of data—a survey of career-services directors, a survey of employers, and a student survey conducted by Universum USA, a market-research firm based in Philadelphia.

When does each of the surveys get distributed? How long are they available for completion?

The survey of career-services directors is distributed in February and is available for approximately one month. The employer survey is distributed in April and is available for approximately 6 to 8 weeks. The student survey is conducted by Universum over a three-month period starting in December.

How is the survey of career services directors conducted?

First, BusinessWeek identifies undergraduate career-services directors at approximately 250 large public and private schools in every region of the country—everything from liberal arts colleges to engineering schools. The survey, which is distributed by e-mail and conducted online, asks each director to identify five top employers for entry-level workers in each of 17 industries. BusinessWeek then scores the industry picks by awarding 5 points for every No.?1 ranking, 4 points for every No.?2 ranking, and so on. The five employers that fare the best in each of the 17 industries are eligible for the final ranking, as are the employers with the top industry point totals overall.

In addition to asking for industry picks, the survey also asks career services directors to choose from their industry picks the 20 top employers for new college graduates overall, and to rank them 1 to 20. Each No.?1 ranking is awarded 20 points, every No.?2 ranking 19 points, and so on. Each employer's point total in this portion of the survey is used, along with the employer survey and student survey, to determine its final ranking.

How is the student survey conducted by Universum?

Universum conducts an e-mail survey of more than 70,000 undergraduates in every academic discipline at more than 200 U.S. colleges and universities, asking them to list the five employers they'd most like to work for. The most popular employers are ranked by the percentage of students who listed that company or organization among their top five. BusinessWeek uses the percentages supplied by Universum to create a student survey rank for each of the employers in the ranking. Since the employers identified in the Universum survey are not necessarily the same as those ranked by BusinessWeek, the BusinessWeek student survey ranks will not necessarily match those distributed by Universum on its Web site and through other channels. (For example, if Google, IBM, and Lockheed Martin were ranked 1, 2, and 3 by Universum, but IBM chose not to participate in the BusinessWeek ranking, the student survey ranks appearing in the BusinessWeek ranking tables would be 1 for Google and 2 for Lockheed Martin.) This is necessary to create consecutive student survey ranks for the employers in the ranking. Furthermore, employers that are not ranked by Universum—because none of the students surveyed listed it as a top-five employer—are assigned the lowest student survey rank in the BusinessWeek ranking. This rank varies from year to year depending on the number of employers in the ranking and the number of ties in the Universum data.

How is the employer survey conducted?

Using the list of employers that were eligible for final ranking as a result of the survey of career-services directors, BusinessWeek distributes by e-mail an extensive survey asking for information on recruiting, pay, benefits, training and mentorship programs, retention, and advancement. Some of the information requested in the survey—approximately 50 questions—is used for ranking purposes; those questions are equally weighted. However, since several topics—including pay, retirement benefits, and training programs—are covered in a series of questions, those topics are, in effect, weighted more heavily than others that are covered in a single question. All of the information provided in the survey (with the exception of names and personal e-mail addresses) will appear in the employer's online statistical profile at BusinessWeek.com.

For the ranking questions, each employer is compared with others in the same industry. For each question, the "best" answer receives the maximum award for each question, 10 points, while the "worst" answer (and no answer at all, or NA) receives zero points, with all other answers receiving 5 points each. For example, if three accounting companies complete the survey, and all three answer the question regarding average pay, the one that pays the most gets the most points for that question (10), the second-highest-paying company gets fewer (5), and the third company gets none. In addition to awarding zero points for the worst answer, employers that do not answer a question get zero points for that question. So, for example, if five companies in a given industry answer the question regarding their maximum 401(k) match—8%, 6%, 4%, 2%, and NA, respectively—10 points are awarded for 8%, 5 points are awarded for 6% and 4%, and zero points are awarded for 2% and NA. If all employers in an industry fail to answer a question, or answer it identically, the question is eliminated.

When all the questions are scored, an employer survey score is determined for each organization by dividing the total number of points earned by that employer by the total number that it was possible for an employer in that industry to earn.

What happens if an employer does not answer a question?

If the question is one that is used for ranking purposes, the employer will be penalized in the ranking. For example, if three accounting companies complete the survey, but two of them decline to answer the question regarding pay, the one that does answer will get 10 points; the two others will receive none. The only exception to this is when all employers in an industry decline to answer a question. In that case, the question will be eliminated for that industry.

In some cases, BusinessWeek will make an exception to this scoring method. For example, if an employer does not answer the question regarding its five-year retention rate because it is less than five years old, that employer will not be penalized.

How are the various factors weighted?

The employer survey counts for 50% of the final ranking. The survey of career-services directors and the Universum student survey each counts for 25% of the final ranking.

What do you do when there are no career-services survey data or student-survey data for a company in the ranking?

If there are no career-services survey data for an employer because none of the career-services directors surveyed included them among their top 10 companies overall, the employer forfeits 25% of its final ranking and will be ranked on the remaining 75% only. The same is true when there is no Universum student-survey data. If, however, both sources of data are unavailable for a given employer, that employer will be placed at the bottom of the ranking, its place determined entirely by its performance in the employer survey.

Do employers ever get dropped from the rankings?

An employer who does not submit the employer survey, or who fails to answer an adequate number of ranking questions, will be dropped. These employers will not be identified in the magazine or online.

Why would an employer's rank change from year to year?

There are several reasons why an employer's rank may change from year to year, including the following:

Facts change. Students and career-services directors report different top employers every year. With very few exceptions, being popular with either group in one year does not guarantee a good ranking the next. Even an employer's standing in the employer survey can change. If one manufacturing company holds the line on salaries while all others raise them, it could lose points on the employer survey, which could affect its ranking.

Competition increases. New employers entering the ranking could score better than those from the previous year, particularly at the industry level. In 2007 the size of the ranking nearly doubled, and in 2008 it increased again by some 24 employers, so this has been especially true in the first few years of ranking. Competition may also increase when the number of ranked employers shrinks, as it did in 2009. If an industry loses weak players that fared poorly on many questions in the past, the weakest of the remaining employers will do worse in the employer survey. For example, if three manufacturing companies report that their 401(k) match is 4%, 3%, and 1.5%, respectively, the one that answered 1.5% gets 0 points for that question. If that company drops out of the ranking in the following year, and the answers of the other two do not change, then the company that answered 3% gets 0 points, since its 401(k) match is now the lowest among manufacturing companies in the ranking.

Bigger rankings. Any time the number of employers in the ranking increases, an employer's rank may drop for no other reason. Consider a hypothetical company that ranked at No.?10 in 2006, when BusinessWeek ranked a total of 55 employers, and No.?15 in 2008, when 119 employers were ranked. While the employer's rank fell five spots, it's position relative to all other employers in the ranking actually improved—from the 18th percentile in 2006 to the 13th percentile in 2008.

Methodology changes. While BusinessWeek has retained the same basic methodology since it launched the ranking in 2006, we're constantly making minor changes that could have an impact on individual employers. Since the launch, we made changes in the questions that appear on the employer survey, the questions from the survey that are used in the ranking, the way individual questions are scored, and several other areas.

Lost or gained rankings. In rare instances, employers that one year registered on the Universum student survey and/or BusinessWeek's career-services survey no longer do: None of the students surveyed by Universum listed it among their most desirable, or none of the career services directors contacted by BusinessWeek included it in their list of the best employers for new college graduates. In equally rare instances, the opposite happens: Employers that did not register on one or both surveys one year do register in the next. If an employer suddenly lacks data from both surveys, it will be placed at the bottom of the ranking and ranked solely on its employer survey; if an employer that lacked data from both surveys suddenly has data from at least one, it will be moved off the bottom of the ranking and ranked with all the others. Either way, the result can be a precipitous rise or fall in the employer's ranking.

How can an employer or other interested person determine the reason for a specific change in rank?

The reason for a specific change in rank can be determined by comparing the data in the interactive table published by BusinessWeek.com with the same table published with the previous year's ranking, and by comparing the data in the employers online profile with the data in the online profiles of other employers in the same industry.

In the interactive table, the key data points are the three ranking measures: the Employer Survey Rank, Career Services Survey Rank, and Student Survey Rank. If an employer's performance on any of these measures improved or declined relative to all other employers in the ranking, that would explain a higher or lower overall ranking.

By examining the online profiles, the reason for a better or worse performance on the employer survey can be determined. For example, if an employer consistently performed better than its rivals on important questions relating to pay and benefits, that's probably one reason its Employer Survey Rank was as high as it was; if it consistently performed poorly, or declined to answer many questions, that's likely one reason its Employer Survey Rank was as low as it was.

Why do you rank only 50 employers in the magazine?

In most years we only rank 50 employers in the magazine because space is limited. However we provide a complete list of all ranked employers online.

What role, if any, do companies and other organizations play in the surveys, beyond completing the employer survey?

None.

Do the employers contribute to the content of the surveys?

The career-services survey and the employer survey are prepared by BusinessWeek. Employers and career-services directors, while they may provide input from time to time, do not decide which questions to ask or how to ask them. This is necessary to maintain the integrity and independence of the ranking process. The student survey is created and administered entirely by Universum.

Are copies of the career-services survey or the student survey conducted by Universum ever provided to the employers?

No.


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