Who on Earth Wants to Work at IBM?

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 4.39.24 PMWho on Earth wants to work at IBM these days? Or for that matter, any other Fortune 500 corporation? That seems to be the sentiment among a huge number of millennial business school graduates these days.

“For the first time ever last spring – top investment banks (Goldman Sachs) and consulting firms (McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group) were not filling their on-campus recruiting interview schedules with enough interested candidates,” according to Ellis Chase at the Career Management Center of the Columbia Business School.

And there is good reason for millennials to turn their backs on Fortune 500 firms. As Reid Hoffman points out in his book The Startup of You, the traditional corporate career escalator simply does not work anymore.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 4.47.19 PMAs Hoffman states, “that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed or jobless.” Unpaid internships now seem to be a part of the “career path” of many college grads.

Is there anything large Fortune 500 firms and other old-line prestigious firms can do about attracting and retaining the best and brightest millennials entering the job market?

They might start by focusing on what’s important to millennials these days when it comes to considering a potential employer. According to a recent survey of American college students by HR consulting firm Universum, students focus on employers that will offer:

  1. Respect for their employees.
  2. Secure employment.
  3. A creative and dynamic work environment.
  4. Professional training and development.
  5. A friendly work environment.

Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 4.49.51 PMIt’s little wonder that startups present themselves as such an attractive alternative career path to large corporations. Millennials came of age during the Great Recession, a time when headlines were rife with mentions of massive headcount reductions, cutbacks in training programs, and reports of generally staid and often boring work environments.

Hoffman later advocates in his book that people should adopt the same principles that have propelled the massive success of Silicon Valley startups: take intelligent and bold risks to accomplish something great; pivot to a breakout opportunity.

Savvy Fortune 500 firms are adopting this philosophy with the rise of employer branding initiatives.

The Harvard Business Review reported the trend earlier this year. The HBR states: “As the global economy picks up, there is a growing concern among CEOs about finding and keeping the best talent to achieve their growth ambitions.” Many firms reported talent shortages and are concerned about the availability of new skills.

So what are Fortune 500 firms actually doing about this recruitment problem?

IBM is a company in transition, moving from mainframe computers to a new set of strategic imperatives including data management, security, cloud computing, mobile technology, and cognitive computing with IBM Watson. But it is a safe bet that most college graduates are unaware of this shift, or even what it is like to work at IBM.

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IBM Instagram Post.

IBM has wisely adopted the lingua franca of millennials: social media. They’ve developed surprisingly attractive content that is driving their reach, engagement, and message amplification. All of these elements are key to successful employer branding in 2016.

“While we certainly enjoy widespread brand recognition, we need to help overcome their murky perception of what IBM does…we need to communicate our strategic imperatives: Data management, security, cloud computing, mobile technology, IBM Watson,” noted Jennifer O’Brien, Global Candidate Attraction & Social Media Recruitment leader at IBM.



Screen Shot 2016-01-28 at 4.50.22 PMOther companies, GE for example, have taken to using expensive, high production value TV advertising for their employer branding. This new campaign from Madison Avenue ad agency BBDO uses humor to explain how GE is evolving as a company, and that it is a great place to work. This message seems contrived, less than authentic, and potentially easy to ignore, or for the viewer to feel “talked at” with hype rather than being engaged with a relevant message.

Even companies that rank near the top of the “Ideal Employer Rankings” are finding it necessary to address the concerns of potential employees. Take for example consulting giant McKinsey. While consulting has always been considered a great career path for top business school graduates, it comes with a well known cost: 70+ hour work-weeks and the constant need to be on the road.

McKinsey has countered this problem with its “Take Time” program that allows consultants to take off between 5-10 weeks per year between engagements to pursue personal interests and passions. And they are aggressively promoting this program on social media and with digital marketing.

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Looks like savvy Fortune 500 firms are embracing the new world order of employer marketing that attracts and engages their millennial audiences, and using smart phones, social media, and employee generated content to make their message authentic. Pity the firms that miss the boat on this trend, as they will need to endure fast thinning ranks of qualified recruits to build their futures.


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