As IT Pay Rises and Students Pursue the ‘Big Names,’ Mid-Size Firms Work Harder to Hire

Starting salaries NACE computer 2014This year, U.S. colleges will graduate somewhere around 124,000 information technology majors.

Most of them (61 percent) will head straight into the workforce, where the average starting salary for these new grads averages $59,000. Those with masters and PhDs, and those in high-demand specialties like security, will earn much more.

Where they want to work is not much of a surprise: Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, and Facebook top the list of their ideal employers, according to a Universum survey.

Besides having the advantage of an internationally known brand — of the 100 employers on Universum’s list, not one can be considered even a mid-sized company — the biggest employers have been scouting colleges for months; a few began nurturing their future candidates when the kids were still in high school. Now, with graduation looming, these employers have largely completed filling their incoming IT class of 2014.

Competing with the big name firms is not easy, agree Chris Jenkins and Lindsay Kulla. “It’s always tough competing with the Facebooks, Google, Amazons,” says Jenkins, who is senior recruiting manager for kCura, a young Chicago software firm that serves the legal industry.

Visiting colleges, hosting tours, meeting with students, “Whatever we can do to keep our brand and company image” in front of them, says Jenkins.

Kulla, the firm’s campus recruiting lead, spent a good part of the fall and winter at Chicagoland colleges. Hitting all the job fairs and career days is part of showing the flag, she says, building awareness among the tech students, few of whom will otherwise have heard of kCura.

kCura logoThat, though, is only the beginning of the firm’s recruiting efforts. When you have 150 new jobs to fill in a matter of months, you use all your assets. Besides the on-campus activity, kCura’s recruiters are involved in Chicago’s tech community, Jenkins says, attending events and hosting tours at company headquarters.

Last fall, 80 students toured kCura, meeting with members of the various teams who could be their future colleagues and engaging them in Q&A about the culture and the projects they work on. The projects may not have the visibility of a Facebook feature or a new Google app, but, says Jenkins, “From a tech perspective we are dealing with some pretty technical projects.”

And, being new and rapidly growing, new hires get involved from day one. “A lot of people want to work in a more entrepreneurial environment,” says Jenkins. Those tours help communicate that culture and show kCura as an exciting place to work. When they start work, each new hire is assigned a “buddy,” sort of an immediate friend, who helps them acclimate and immerses them in the company culture.

That culture gets a knock on Glassdoor, where the company has a middling 2.5 rating, and fewer than half the reviewers say they’d recommend the company to friends. It’s a challenge that Jenkins and Kulla say the company has been addressing. “We take all of our feedback (seriously),” Jenkins says, and have made some adjustments to the company’s policies to create a better work/life balance.

Despite what the rating might suggest, a big part of kCura’s recruiting success is due to the employees and hiring managers who spread the word about the company. Kulla says one of her recruits first heard about the company from “a gentleman at a coffee shop.” Employees are involved in the greater tech community and often refer people to the recruiting team.

Hiring managers work closely with recruiters, not only encouraging referrals but routinely providing feedback on the candidates they interview to help refine the recruiting process. “Our hiring managers are team players,” Kulla agrees. “They are extremely receptive.”

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Uniquely, kCura trains nearly everyone in interviewing skills and techniques. So far, 215 of the company’s 375 employees have gone through the training, which includes reminders about referrals. Managers are active participants, says Jenkins, because “it’s understood that recruiting has to be a top priority.” It also helps that that the CEO and company leaders are not only in agreement, but drive that process.

Barely two months into the year when we spoke, Jenkins says it’s a strong measure of kCura’s recruiting success that more than 50 positions were already filled. To be sure, the company doesn’t win all the students it pursue, but three out of every five offers it makes are accepted. It shows, Jenkins says, “That you can be successful recruiting against the big boys.”

Graduating IT candskCura’s formula is straightforward; there’s no “magic bullet,” as Jenkins put it. Perseverance is part of it, as is the relationship-building of the recruiters; it also makes a difference to pursue students at colleges that aren’t being trolled by the top companies, the same way they do the Stanfords, MITs, and other big name schools.

For every computer science major at those schools, hundreds more graduate from schools like the University of Maryland-University College.

Wanted Analytics recently compiled a list of the schools with the most graduating tech students, and released the top four with their numbers:

  • University of Phoenix-Online Campus (5,765)
  • University of Maryland-University College (1,494)
  • Ivy Tech Community College (only associate’s degrees are awarded; 1,083)
  • DeVry University-Illinois (859)

Most IT graduates complete coursework in computer and information sciences and computer systems networking and telecommunications, Wanted reports.


Some of the Related Conference Sessions at the ERE Recruiting Conference in San Diego:

  • Revamp Your College Recruiting Program Now: An Imperative Given the New World of Higher Education, Wednesday, April 23, 2 p.m.
  • Recruiting Tech Talent: Critical Strategies, Tools, and Technologies for Winning the Toughest War for Talent, Wednesday, April 23, 2 p.m.

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


7 Comments on “As IT Pay Rises and Students Pursue the ‘Big Names,’ Mid-Size Firms Work Harder to Hire

  1. That 2.5 GD rating is apparently holding despite employees being ‘asked’ to go to the site and leave positive reviews. It’s a bit of an underhanded strategy. And how much of their hiring need is driven by their apparently legendary turnover? The hiring effort is commendable, and at least acknowledging the GD score as a problem is nice. Only time will tell if they can differentiate themselves from other companies and not only hire talent out of school, but also keep it. A good approach would be to earn a good GD rating by addressing issues rather than asking for more positive reviews from people who may then feel compelled to give them regardless of how they actually feel about the place.

  2. These “most admired” type lists should be read with caution. The survey methodology typically consists of providing a long list of company names to the student (or whoever is being surveyed) and asking them which of those companies they admire. Mid-sized and small companies typically aren’t on the list and only show up if a huge number of survey takers write-in the name of the company. That’s incredibly unlikely to happen.

    Even if the survey does not provide a list of companies, the surveys tend to result not so much in a “most admired” result as they do in a strong brand name result. Look at any of these survey results and you’ll see that the companies which perform the best are also the companies with the strong consumer brands.

  3. I think this is a good illustration of my point that even if a company sucks, you can get people (and probably some very decent ones at that) to come work for you- particularly if you’re going after people who have large, non-dischargeable student loans very quickly. I wonder why more companies don’t say: “we’ll pay your student loan for as long as you work for us”?

  4. @ Keith,

    Same reason many don’t offer tuition reimbursement. They can’t own their employees, much as they would like to, so when employee X whose tuition/loans you’ve paid for a while decides to leave before they feel they’ve recouped a decent ROI, they will try and reclaim that money. And, generally speaking, they’ll fail, though I’m sure counterexamples exist.

    Point being it’s really no different than offering more salary in the end, and we all know companies just jump at the opportunity to do that.

  5. Thanks, Richard. I vaguely recall a case in the ’90s (?) where ESL tried to claw-back the cost of training, and IMSM: lost.

  6. @ Keith,

    Yup. I’ve seen companies try to reclaim such funds before, you have as much of a chance of recovering it as getting the salary you paid back. You really have two options, pay more in salary or continue such ‘development’ investments in your employees and, here’s the kicker and why it rarely happens, manage to a standard that ensures you’re getting your money’s worth as soon as possible. Most companies do not have managers who can do that, and even when they do they’re usually tasked with lower end work that cuts into their ability to manage. And in the end most companies simply don’t want to spend that much on talent, either directly or on the resources to manage it properly.

    That last isn’t exactly shameful. Most people don’t drive BMWs or Porches, they drive Hondas and Toyotas because they’re not willing to spend extra for the diminishing return gotten. Companies take the same approach to labor. The problem is this admission isn’t in line with marketing hype of every company being the best, employing only the best, but curiously never offering the best in terms of comp, benefits, opportunities, etc.

  7. Yep. I have no problem in Honda/Toyota-type companies, as long as they don’t expect to hire (or pass themselves off as) Lamborghinis or Rolls-Royces and SO MANY companies do that, encouraged by arrogance, vanity, and hype….

    You know what I’ve said about the “War for Talent: it’s hype offered by ****-mongers to take your money. Well, I do think there actually IS a kind of “War for Talent: it’s for the kind of otherwise-intelligent, knowledgeable people who are so stupid (in this one area), ignorant, naive, self-deluding, or desperate enough as to believe the lies, half-truths, and mis-directions that many companies put out about themselves (and in some cases- EVEN BELIEVE).
    If P.T. Barnum were alive today, he’d be very proud of what goes on re: staffing.


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