Career Talk

Credit Suisse First Boston. Intel. Robertson Stephens. All big names in corporate America, and all known for their extensive recruiting efforts at the country?s top colleges and universities. But with the economy?s rapid deceleration after more than a decade of extraordinary growth, these companies have all been forced to rescind job offers or push back start dates for some of the young professionals they hired earlier in the year.

With the plans of prospective bankers, consultants, and chip designers now dashed against the shoals of economic instability, many have begun making new plans, demanding “unsigning bonuses” from their short-lived employers, and have even begun thinking of careers in alternative fields.

Formerly ambitious grads are exploring other interests, says Kathryn Hutchinson, the associate director of the career services office at Dartmouth College, where “a handful” of students have had offers revoked or start dates postponed. “Some are taking up side interests. I?ve talked to a couple of folks who?ve said they?ve always wanted to take a trip to wherever and do some volunteer work. Now might be a time to do that.”
The number of companies that have rescinded or pushed back their start dates remains small. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, a non-profit group that tracks college recruiting, an informal telephone poll in May of 106 employers revealed that just four percent had revoked offers. NACE declined to say which firms these were, but said they were prominent employers in the telecom, software development, and computer and business equipment manufacturing fields.
NACE also surveyed college career centers and found that 21 of 70 college career centers had experienced revoked job offers.

“Most of the companies explained to us that they tried very hard not to revoke an offer,” says Melanie Gold, a NACE spokeswoman. “But some of them were put in a position where they had no other choice, and the companies that maintained a really good relationship with the schools where they recruit kept career centers in the loop, and offered students something.”

Rescinding or altering job offers can certainly damage students? perception of that firm. At Dartmouth, several of the firms that rescinded offers will not be welcome to recruit on campus this fall unless they can demonstrate that they are once again strong enough to extend job offers that last.

“When you rescind an offer, that would imply a longer period of time of uncertainty,” Hutchinson said. “If job offers are rescinded and that employer has scheduled an interview date on campus in the fall, we?re likely going to say it doesn?t make sense to do that. We need to have confidence that the company is back on its feet.”
At Intel, which is trying to reduce its total headcount by 5,000 employees, a few students were asked to hand back their job offers in exchange for two months salary and their signing bonuses. A company spokesman emphasized that the deal was voluntary, so students were free to start work instead. (However, the staffing crunch means Intel can no longer guarantee new hires that they will actually work in the departments for which they had been originally recruited.)

On the other hand, students who took the package remain on a shortlist for full-time jobs once the company starts hiring again.

“We would certainly track them,” said Chuck Mulloy, an Intel spokesman. “If things turn and we started hiring again, we would look for these people again. Clearly we thought they were good candidates in the past and believe that going forward.”
Credit Suisse First Boston offered all its incoming investment banking analysts a little less than half their regular salary, or $20,000, to push back their start dates a year to July 2002. A CSFB spokeswoman emphasized that the firm didn?t rescind any offers-analysts were free to turn down the money and start work as scheduled-and compared the $20,000 to other quality-of-life programs offered by the firm, such as paid sabbaticals.

“The CSFB Analyst Fellowship Program is a completely voluntary program which enables analysts an opportunity to pursue a personal goal or professional development which would otherwise not be available to them as a result of working a full-time job,” said Cristina von Bargen, a CSFB spokeswoman.

The program also gives CSFB a hold on the talent it has already recruited. The firm looks on the $20,000 as sort of a loan, which it forgives once the analysts report to work. But anyone who takes money and doesn?t show up in a year will have to pay the money back.

So what should you do if your offer has been rescinded or your start date pushed back?

? College students or recent graduates should first consider job offers they had turned down earlier in the year. “I wouldn?t be so prideful as to avoid picking up the phone and calling one of the firms I turned down and say ?Here?s the deal,?” said David Bloom, a spokesman for The Empower Group, a London-based headhunting firm. “If you?re a talented employee and there are other organizations still interested in you, that?s the first thing I?d do.”

? Next, students should contact their school?s career services offices for guidance. “We have a lot of contacts with employers and know who interviewed in the spring semester, and who?s posting jobs with us currently. So we encourage [the students] to come in and see us for help with all these leads with all these employers,” said Ray Easterlin, the director of career services for the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin.

? If your offer is rescinded or your start date is pushed back, and you don?t think you?re being treated fairly, work with your career services office to win concessions from the firms. At UT Austin?s College of Natural Sciences, Easterlin said Intel, Dell, Ericcson, and Sapient all rescinded full-time offers. Cisco and Dell also rescinded summer internships. All ended up offering something, either “apology bonuses,” or reimbursement of moving expenses, though one firm, which Easterlin declined to name, did so only after gentle prodding from the career services office.

“One of the employers didn?t offer anything initially, and then I let them know what the others were doing and they did come back with a couple week?s salary,” Easterlin said. “It was letting them know what the other companies were doing, but it was also letting them know, in a diplomatic way, that it was expected that they would do something in line with what others were doing, and it would affect their future recruiting.”

? Students should also start tapping their peers whose offers weren?t rescinded. There are employers who have undershot their yield. If you have friend who took a job with GE Power Systems and they?re aware that it?s a growth situation, then you should call that recruiter who got your friend that job.

? Stay in touch with the company that rescinded your offer. Having navigated the challenges of recruiting to the point of winning an offer once makes you a logical candidate for a job once a company starts hiring again. And of course, if you defer a year with CSFB, there?s the matter of the $20,000 you owe them.

? Consider jobs in fields that have less regimented recruiting and hiring schedules than banking or consulting, such as public service, teaching, marketing, or the media. “Some fall recruiting students wanted a job in their pocket as soon as possible and were aggressive in taking part in the recruiting program,” said Hutchinson, the career services officer at Dartmouth. “Now that it?s several months later, they?re seeing more diversity. Some of them are just plain changing their minds” about their desire to work 100 hours a week at an investment bank, high-tech firm, or consulting firm, Hutchinson added.

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