Job-shoppers eye old-line, not online, firms

Dan Shanoff bounced his way through five Internet companies before landing at Harvard Business School this fall.

After he graduates, Mr. Shanoff says he'll look for work at a consulting or investment-banking firm.

"I'm going totally traditional," he says. "There's something to be said for traditional companies and what they offer."

While interest in high-tech jobs remains strong, many business-school students and placement directors nationwide say last year's frenzied rush toward Web-based start-ups has cooled.

Tumbling stock prices and dried up venture capital have diminished the appeal of Internet start-ups. Instead, more MBA students are looking to Old Economy companies. And those who are seeking Internet jobs are more cautious about where they might wind up.

"The interest in the digital economy is still there," says Robert Bonner, director of MBA career management at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. "Whether it means working for a dotcom is a different story."

A national survey by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business last spring found one-quarter of students at top business schools sought jobs at Internet start-ups and 10 percent accepted their offers. Respondents cited the dotcom culture and the potentially higher financial reward as the biggest draws.

But job seekers who are due to graduate next spring say they are carefully scrutinizing business models instead of just jumping at what seem like good ideas with potential for big payoffs. "People want to make sure they're going to work for a winner," says Ian Rosi, a second-year student at the University of Texas' McCombs School of Business.

Stephanie Beard, recruiting director at Vignette, an e-business application firm in Austin, Texas, says she notices the difference when students visit. "They're asking tougher questions," she says. "They're taking more time to evaluate what the company's story is."

Students are also asking for guaranteed base salaries and signing bonuses instead of stock options.

Jamie King of the University of Texas's MBA career-services office, says several graduates this spring found their stock options worthless and their employers went out of business by the time they showed up for work. "Students were burned last year," Ms. King says.

Internet start-up veterans now at business schools say they gained a new appreciation for the traditional companies' resources and seasoned managers.

"You're missing the stability of a large company [and] the management experience to allow you to grow ... that you get at a large established company," says first-year Harvard student Shanoff.

Wharton student Steve White, who worked in investment banking before jumping to an Internet start-up, says more-experienced managers and more-certain financial rewards will bring him back to banking after graduation.

While Mr. White says he enjoyed being able to bring his dog to his more laid-back start-up workplace, he adds that the hours and the money weren't much better than at his banking job. "You can reach that kind of [financial] return with more certainty," he says.

Banking and consulting firms, which last year were losing recruits to Internet start-ups, are now touting their own e-commerce opportunities and stability.

"What we're trying to do is give people opportunities that are every bit as exciting as working for a start-up," says Robert Victor, a senior manager at Boston Consulting Group.

Chicago-based Andersen Consulting offers potential recruits the chance to work with new start-ups at its 25 business-launch-center incubators, says associate partner Erik Olson. Andersen also introduced a new investment fund in September in which the company takes equity stakes in clients and then gives employees shares in the investment.

The Internet-job falloff may be welcome news to manufacturing and consumer-goods companies that had already seen their share of business-school graduates eaten away over the past decade by investment banks and consulting firms.

General Mills saw a 25 percent decrease in the number of business-school students interested in jobs there last fall, says Jim Beirne, MBA director of recruiting. In response, the Minneapolis-based company went after more undergraduates and sold students on its work/life balance.

Yet the tech downturn hasn't dissuaded a core of entrepreneurial-minded students. Despite the downturn, building new online businesses remains a strong draw.

Ravi Haldipur, a second-year student at Purdue's Krannert Graduate School of Management in Indiana, interned last summer at the e-commerce division of air-conditioner manufacturer Carrier in Hartford, Conn. But he says he'd prefer helping build a young dotcom after graduation. "It would be that much more challenging," Mr. Haldipur says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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