New York Times. By Christopher F. Schuetze. Oct. 27, 2013.
In an increasingly globalized employment market, Laura Altamirano Saenz’s story could sound routine. After studying at the Xalapa campus of the Anahuac University, in Mexico, Ms. Altamirano, 23, a computer science graduate, traveled to Germany last year to take an internship with the automaker BMW. Once there, she realized just how fertile Munich’s job market was for software engineers, so she decided to stay on and continue her studies in Germany.
Her search for a university master’s program quickly brought her to the Technical University of Munich. A once traditional German technical college, T.U.M. has in recent years developed into a global player that, as part of that development, now offers many courses in English.
The school “is really well known,” said Ms. Altamirano. “When you have this in your curriculum vitae, they really take this into account,” she added, referring to potential employers.
According to a recent survey of university graduate employability, Ms. Altamirano could scarcely have made a better choice.
The third annual Global Employability Survey, designed and commissioned by the French education consulting firm Emerging and carried out by the German market research firm Trendence, asked recruiters and senior international executives to profile an ideal university graduate — and the ideal university producing such graduates.
Analyzing the responses, the Emerging/Trendence survey, published Oct. 28, ranked 150 top universities according to the employability of their graduates. Ms. Altamirano’s choice — the Munich technical school — ranked number 11, up from 50th place a year earlier, a rise that Emerging says may point to a changing mindset among recruiters.
“Recruiters are more and more acting and thinking globally,” said Laurent Dupasquier, associate director of Emerging. Multinational companies are increasingly widening their recruitment pool, he said: Although the ranking’s top 20, led by Oxford, Harvard and Cambridge, still reads like most conventional academic listings, institutions that focus on providing graduates with a broad skill set are winning more recognition, irrespective of their country or region.
“It’s a complete globalization of the system,” said Mr. Dupasquier: not only are more recruiters looking across borders for hires, but national recruiters are increasingly looking for the same thing in graduates: work experience and practical knowhow, social and communication skills, motivation and willingness to learn, rather than narrowly focused academic qualifications.
Still, even if recruiters are looking at a wider pool, the survey suggests that past experience with graduates of specific universities remains an important determinant in hiring. Overall, 21.8 percent of recruiters surveyed said that the university attended by an applicant was the main criterion for selection, while another 45.1 percent cited it as an important factor. That compared with 33.1 percent who said they focused on the candidate’s skills and experience.
Recruiters in France and Brazil were most likely to consider the university in hiring decisions, with only 17.6 percent of recruiters saying it was not a major factor. In Mexico and the Netherlands, in contrast, nearly half — 49.6 percent in Mexico and 48.5 percent in the Netherlands focused on other factors.
More significantly, nearly two-thirds of the recruiters said they regularly used university lists provided by their company as a reference point for hiring.
The survey initially tallied online responses from more than 2,700 recruiters in 20 countries to build a profile of the ideal graduate employee. Respondents had a minimum of four years’ experience and the survey targeted those aiming to hire internationally. Countries covered were Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, Britain and the United States.
The top-150 university ranking was derived from their responses, combined with those of a subsequent poll of 2,300 top executives in a total of 30 countries.
Critics challenge academic rankings, often questioning their metrics and underlying assumptions. While the Emerging/Trendence study’s focus on employability bypasses many of the issues associated with conventional rankings, its conclusions may be influenced by weighting anomalies in the respondent group in terms of factors including geographical location and sector of activity.
For example, of the 20 countries covered by the initial recruiter survey three together provided more than 25 percent of the respondent group — the United States, China and, perhaps surprisingly, Italy. Of 20 sectors surveyed, information technology hardware and software companies provided 14 percent of respondents; and of all respondents, nearly 24 percent were recruiting for I.T. departments.
Still, setting aside questions about the sample base, the survey offers some insights into recruitment attitudes. While about half the recruiters said that teaching practical knowhow, the ability to combine theoretical with practical knowledge and soft skills were the most important characteristics of an ideal university, they put surprisingly little value on the school’s international exposure and outlook.
Internationalism is something recruiters say they look for in the individual jobseeker, not the institution.
“We look for people that have a global mindset,” said Dan Black, the Americas director of recruiting at Ernst & Young. “It’s people that are open to and excited about working with people from other cultures.”
According to the survey, in which Mr. Black did not take part, graduates from the United States, Britain and Germany were most favored by recruiters.
Respondents said China was their fourth most favored source country for recruitment — and five Chinese universities made it into the top 150 list, along with another three in Hong Kong, a combined total equal to Germany’s. China’s rise was one of the most striking trends identified in last year’s survey.
The United States still dominates the employability ranking, with 45 U.S. universities in the top 150 list, but its dominance has been slightly reduced since the first survey three years ago, when American schools held 56 of the top spots. Britain has 14 schools in this year’s top 150; France has 12; Germany 8; Switzerland 7 and the Netherlands.
“Traditional small countries are punching far above their weight,” said Mr. Dupasquier.
Mexico, where Ms. Altamirano did her undergraduate degree in systems engineering and information technology before heading to Munich, has two universities in the top 150.
MOOCs — massive open online courses — also figure in this year’s survey, with a majority of recruiters viewing their use in postsecondary education favorably, according to Emergence.
While graduation from a top university plays a role in many new hires, Mr. Black, of Ernst & Young, stressed that the crest on the diploma should not be the only factor for talent scouts.
“We firmly believe that talent exists at large and small schools, private and public universities,” Mr. Black said. “I would encourage other employers to be very open about where they recruit from.”