AT first glance, this looks like your typical college recruiting fair: Some 800 students, all donning the uniform of an interviewee - dark suit, white shirt, and black shoes - mill around a hotel ballroom while recruiters, wearing their friendliest faces, man information booths.
But look again.
This fair is for minority students only, and only the best and brightest are invited from 12 of New England's top universities, including Harvard, Dartmouth, Tufts, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The fair, in its fifth year in Boston, reflects a growing effort by companies to recruit more African-Americans, Asians, and Hispanics.
"Companies are very aggressively pursuing the recruitment of women and minorities," says Patrick Scheetz, director of the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University, East Lansing. And he says they're using every trick in the book to identify these candidates.
Companies are sending minority recruiters to campuses; sponsoring events held by minority student groups; hiring more minority interns; recruiting at traditionally minority schools; and bringing on diversity-recruiting coordinators.
Of the more than 60 companies at the job fair - most representing financial or consulting firms - more than half had a minority representative at their booths.
Florida Power & Light Company, for example, sent process manager Michael Harrison from Riviera Beach, Fla., to the fair. Mr. Harrison, an African-American and graduate of Brown University, landed a job with FPL after attending last year's fair.
Executives also are getting involved. A senior vice president manned the booth of BBDO World Wide Inc., a New York advertising agency. The "time and effort that it takes for him to be here talking to college students is very large," says John Kim, founder of Crimson & Brown Associates, which organized the fair.
"That kind of commitment ... was not commonplace five or six years ago," adds Mr. Kim, whose Cambridge, Mass., firm recruits women and minorities from the nation's top schools for corporations. Because of demand, it now holds similar job fairs in New York, Washington, Chicago, and San Francisco.
One-third of students who interviewed at last week's fair will get job offers, based on past results, he says.
Propelling much of the effort to recruit more minorities is demographics. Companies are slowly recognizing that it's in their best interest to have a work force that represents the population and their customers.
By 2000, 85 percent of new job entrants will be women, people of color, and immigrants; only 15 percent will be white, American-born men, says the Hudson Institute in Indianapolis.
"If your workplace is not diverse, there's no way you have the best tools," says David Clarkson, a principal at big-six accounting firm Arthur Andersen LLP, which has attended the fair all five years. And that, he adds, is a "competitive disadvantage."
Still, for many firms, diversity isn't a priority. Even with affirmative action, the financial-services and oil industries are among the weakest in hiring minorities because "they don't feel the pinch from or they don't care so much about their image within the minority community," says Lawrence Otis Graham, a corporate attorney and author of "The Best Companies for Minorities" (Penguin, 1993).
Even with a strong effort, building a diverse work force is not easy, experts say. "It's very difficult to achieve diversity through regional campus recruiting," Mr. Clarkson contends.
For one, recruiters need to develop a longer dialogue with minority students to understand their needs and how the company can help them fit in, Kim says. That's hard to do at generic recruiting fairs.
As to whether or not minority students are getting more job offers than other students, Kim says, "there may be isolated incidents, where a very strong minority candidate gets many offers." But the real question, he says, should be: Do minority students, in general, get more than 30 percent of all job offers? (Thirty percent is the minority proportion of the college-student population.) Currently, of new college hires last year, 21 percent were minorities.
"There still is a reality that it is difficult to gain access to entry-level positions," says Brian Butler, a black student who is a pre-law major at Amherst College in Amherst, Mass. "But the fact that these companies will come here is a good start."