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Tech Industry

Class of 2001: Finding that dream tech job

Talk about the difference a year makes. But recruitment expert Jeff Daniel says you can still kick the job-hunting blues.

    Downturn, schmownturn.

    Despite the economic slowdown that has produced massive layoffs and hiring freezes, recruitment expert Jeff Daniel says young technology workers remain hot prospects who can command starting salaries greater than their parents' incomes--and simultaneously avoid the 80-hour work weeks that burned out their predecessors.

    But new tech graduates have to be clever in their negotiations and realistic about their titles. Daniel, chief executive and founder of Austin, Texas-based high-tech recruiting firm CollegeHire, is helping the current crop of spring computer science and engineering graduates land lucrative offers.

    The 31-year-old recruiter is also helping to bridge the gap between managers and young employees, many of whom differ dramatically from previous generations. Known on college campuses for his peppy "How To Find Your Dream Job" speech, the 31-year-old former director of college recruiting for Trilogy Software discussed recruitment, generational shifts and the dot-com meltdown with CNET News.com.

    Paint for us a broad portrait of the job market for the undergraduate college class of 2001. Because of the dot-com implosion, what are they facing that the classes of 1999 and 2000 did not?
    I hear the words 'balance' and 'easy' all the time. (New college graduates) don't want to spend 45 hours a week on the train. They're definitely more limited. I liken the hiring that's been going on now compared to the past 18 to 24 months to a rager that went on all night. The sun never came up--it was just a huge party. Now it's a huge hangover, and everyone has a splitting headache.

    A lot of hiring managers today are scared of their own shadow. Once Boo.com failed there was blood in the water; then Amazon started laying off people, and the party went from a bunch of rock stars playing all night to a lot of bad news...Now even the big companies are scared to hire new people because they may have to lay them off.

    Who is immune to the hangover, and who is feeling it most acutely?
    If you're a journalism or English or any liberal arts major, the jobs that the dot-coms brought for you are not there anymore. The frenzy across all parts of all college campuses is not there anymore.

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    Tech grads still desirable
    Jeff Daniel, CEO, CollegeHire.com
    If you're graduating from Stanford, Berkeley, Cornell, Harvard--any top 20 engineering school--with a degree in engineering or computer science, you're fine. You're still getting multiple offers. The frenzy is still going on in the engineering and computer science departments, and I don't see that changing for a while...We'd have to have a depression before you're really not going to get a job if you're an engineer coming out of Stanford. We'd have to have massive, massive derailment of the economy for the top tech talent not to have fantastic opportunities. Technology will be here recession or not, and companies will be hiring to implement that technology.

    Let's say I'm a history major from a decent state school with a 3.5 grade point average, smart and reliable with several good internships under my belt. What are my prospects for landing an interesting job with a respectable salary?
    It's not hopeless, but the search will be lengthier. Last year, I was joking with kids from Cornell graduating with organizational research degrees...They were getting job offers left and right, getting snapped up by the best dot-coms with high salary and founder status. That's just not the case anymore. Last year, if you were a Latin American studies major out of Harvard, you could have worked for Quepasa.com or Mitierra.com. The dot-com world isn't going to help you as much as a year ago.

    Please enlighten the employers of the world about what the average college senior--the leading edge of so-called Generation Y--wants in his or her first job out of school.
    I call this the "shift to simple." It's not, "I'm going to work 95 hours a week and sleep at the office." They see their friends who graduated last year making $85,000, but it was really only $7 an hour because they worked so much. Now it's more about quality of life. I hear the words "balance" and "easy" all the time. They don't want to spend 45 hours a week on the train. There are people who live close and walk to work. They'll trade in the fully stocked kitchen for an ISDN line and work at home.

    I was talking recently to one of the top five college grads at Harvard, this guy from New Hampshire. For the first half of the interview, we talked about nothing related to technology--it was all about lifestyle. His family lived in New Hampshire and he liked to ski, and that's where he wanted to live, even if he wouldn't be working at a top company because they're all in the Silicon Valley.

    That's nice, but companies don't want to hire a bunch of New England ski bums, do they? Even if they won't admit it, don't employers want a group of workaholics willing to put in 90-hour weeks, who don't have sick children or dogs that need to be walked or dependent parents who need dinner by 6:00 every night?
    Yeah, they want that. You'd be fooling yourself if you thought Microsoft was built on 40-hour workweeks. But what's going on is the new candidates are a little more feet-in-the-ground; they're just not going to make all the sacrifices that the employer wants.

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    Got work? Class of 2001 sounds off
    Person on the street
    I know this one guy who was working at a tech company, drinking soda and eating Doritos every day, not exercising or sleeping because he was constantly at work. He was killing himself. He went home for Christmas and his parents said he just reeked--not because he didn't shower but because he was just feeding himself junk and not getting outside. New grads see that and...they don't want to be driving the psycho train.

    You're always going to have people who want to be VP by the time they're 28. But the overall trend is that people want to work hard but not insanely hard. But they don't want to work 100-hour weeks for 10 months straight. They just won't do it.

    Is corporate America listening to what these folks are saying? What are companies doing in response?
    I can only speak to high-tech recruitment, but yeah, it's definitely changing. Take career fairs. Three or four years ago, it was all these young recruiters decked out in company colors...all costumed up, the tables stacked with T-shirts and cool slogans. They had bumper stickers that said, "Founders wanted," and other buzz words and giveaway crap...Generation Y wants content: "Tell me why your company is good and why I should work there. I don't want your spider balls or T-shirts. Just give me the content."

    How much is the average engineering or computer science graduate getting in the first job out of school?
    (Last year) $68,000 was the average offer for a new grad in computer science in the spring. I don't have the final numbers for this spring, but the offers I'm hearing about are right there or a little higher.

    That's respectable. Why are people complaining so much about the hours, the economic slowdown, the worthless stock options if they're earning relatively high wages?
    The boom set the wrong expectation. You still see people wanting $100,000 base because their friends in the class before them got it. Meanwhile, I made $18,000 my first job out of college...What I tell these people is this: So what if you don't make that much in your first job? So what if you don't make as much as the guy in the dorm room next to you? There is actually an advantage to that...Let's say you lose your job making $125,000. How many other jobs are there for you? You just priced yourself out of the market. But if you're making $65,000, you can still find another job without having to settle for a big pay cut.

    You have said that the average college grad stays in his or her first job for 12 to 18 months. For employers who hire these young workers, what's the key to keeping them?
    They're saying, "Give me a decent salary and let me have a life." Maybe that means they get fewer stock options. They still want options as part of the compensation package, but they're going to let it ride and not bet the whole farm on that in exchange for a personal life. The reason kids bail out of certain jobs is because they're working way too much, the work is lame and they have no friends in the office. That's more the key to their happiness than just the salary.

    The trick is: Don't be afraid to ask. Money is the easiest thing a company can do to make itself more attractive to you.The tight job market may have warped their expectations, but it also forced companies to make the office a friendlier place: casual dress, on-site day care, flex time, stock options, telecommuting, etc. As the economy slows, are these perks evaporating--especially for entry-level drones?
    I think the most lasting impact is what the New Economy taught the Old Economy. The start-up recruiters were saying, "Why not come to us and employee No. 36 and sit next to the CEO?" The Old Economy companies were getting their butt kicked on talent, and they had to retool their message and boost salaries. They were saying, "We pay our entry-level workers $48,000, and it's not negotiable." Then the dot-com CEO calls and says, "It's $75,000 and $10,000 to start and options."

    The agility of the New Economy companies to laser in on the graduates was really amazing. The Old Economy companies could have surrendered, but they said, "Screw the standardized offers. We've got to go out and get the talent." To some extent, they're still doing that. Everyone's scaling back somewhat, but the Old Economy companies aren't going back to what they used to offer.

    How should soon-to-be graduates go about the job hunt? Just swing by the school's career center or go to a job fair?
    The college recruiting process in general is highly inefficient--very, very antiquated. As for job fairs, if you're a student or a recruiter, how do you stand out in a roomful of 500 companies? You can have can-can girls on fire and it wouldn't make a difference. That's why it's ridiculous.

    More than half of students surveyed said their ideal company they want to work for is not on campus during the job fair. Candidates say they get the best jobs by having a friend or an old TA (teacher's assistant) who now works at the company. If I'm a computer science grad and I want to look for companies, I'd take a proactive approach. Too many people apply a passive, "companies should come looking for me" approach.

    They should also get a headhunter; 99.8 percent of industry executives use headhunters. On college campuses, only 0.2 percent have engaged with someone on the outside to help them find a job. It's the exact binary opposite for the college student--and it shouldn't be that way.

    What's the biggest mistake that new grads make when they are negotiating their salary and benefits package?
    They don't think they have the power to negotiate. Most college students--and I don't want to do a sweeping stereotype, but most--feel highly uncomfortable haggling with someone over money. They're not very good at it. This is where recruiters have an enormous advantage over someone.

    The trick is: Don't be afraid to ask. Money is the easiest thing a company can do to make itself more attractive to you.

    What's the biggest mistake new grads make in the interview process--the thing that keeps them from getting their dream job?
    You don't show up on day one of the interview saying, "I'm the No. 1 grad from MIT and I'm not going to work on that project because it's beneath me." You want the guy saying, "I don't care if I'm supporting legacy systems. I'm just so psyched to be here, and I'm going to make you not be able to work without me."

    What's the hardest part of making the transition from college to the working world? What should managers keep in mind when the new kids start work?
    Dealing with other people is the biggest shock that they have. I'm not saying they don't know how to, but often you're coming from a small private school or even a big state school with your own group of friends, then you go into an organization with 30,000 employees and it's a completely different approach.

    In college, you're in a bunch of peer-to-peer relationships. When you go to a company, your peer is suddenly a guy who's been there for 15 years. Coming in and dealing with someone who might be your parent's age is a challenge. You can see it: the lack of maturity. And that's why lots of companies stay away--they're staying away from the dudes who cannot deal with reality.

    We've all been there. We were all jackasses at one time, making emotional, stupid, insane calls. But as a manager, you've got to try to give them the benefit of the doubt because they just haven't honed those skills and they take everything personally.