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The ideal employers chosen by undergraduates interested mainly in the fashion, retail and apparel sector.

This academic year (2005-2006), an estimated 1.4 million students will earn their bachelors’ degrees — and in the strongest job market in five years, companies will compete hard to get the best new recruits. Branding specialist Universum Communications surveyed over 37,000 undergraduate students on their ideal employers; 1,464 students listed retail/fashion/apparel as their area of interest. Those students were asked to select up to five ideal employers — inside and outside the sector. Claudia Tattanelli, chief executive officer of Universum, pointed out the companies’ appeal: identifiable ad campaigns, community work, strong recruiting programs and a focus on diversity. “Students like companies that reflect a cool, relaxed atmosphere,” she added. “Think Gap, Nike, Google, Starbucks; many top-ranked companies are based on the West Coast.”

1. GAP INC.
Percentage of undergraduates interested in fashion, retail and apparel who chose this employer: 19.9
Gap offers extensive training programs for students through its summer internships and the chance to gain career experience in field management, distribution and merchandising. The discounts on Old Navy, Gap and Banana Republic merchandise don’t hurt, either.

2. L’OREAL
Percentage: 18.8
An international cosmetics powerhouse, L’Oréal recruits on campuses of engineering, business and fine arts schools. L’Oréal USA offers undergraduates scholarships, case studies and business games, day-to-day experience, job training and job placement.

3. WALT DISNEY
Percentage: 17.2
What college-age kids don’t remember trips to Walt Disney World when they were young? The company has operations in entertainment, media and retail, and offers scholarship programs, educational reimbursements, complimentary theme park passports and paid internships.

4. NIKE
Percentage: 14
The activewear giant gives its employees and interns access to company fitness centers and a 50 percent discount off merchandise. Undergraduates who head to Beaverton, Ore., have the chance to work in sports marketing and logistics, information technology and product development.

5. LIMITED BRANDS
Percentage: 13.7
The undergraduate population is an ideal target market for this retail group, which owns Express, the Limited, Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works. “This company is all over college campuses these days. They are working to emphasize all their brands, not just ‘Limited Brands,'” said Claudia Tattanelli of Universum.

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6. TARGET
Percentage: 13.4
Students want a piece of the successful discount retailer and migrate to its Twin Cities headquarters every summer to take part in department training programs and enjoy the campus-like environment.

7. APPLE COMPUTER
Percentage: 9.5
“Who doesn’t have an iPod these days?” asked Tattanelli. “Apple is one company that will fluctuate in the rankings, depending on the products that are coming out. The company also has solid recruiting policies on campuses.” Students interested in any realm of design follow the company’s products.

8. COCA-COLA
Percentage: 9.5
Coca-Cola, the world’s largest beverage company, is not just about soft drinks these days — among its brands are the energy drink Powerade, and Hi-C and Minute Maid. The Web site Vault.com states, “This international company is an empire unto itself, and Coca-Cola employees are fiercely loyal to their employer.”

9. BMW
Percentage: 9.1
This is yet another example of a “cool” company that consistently puts out sleekly designed products. BMW, based in Munich, is one of the most exclusive auto brands in the world, has been in existence since the early 1900s. Maybe students are hoping for big discounts on a new set of wheels…

10. STARBUCKS
Percentage: 8.7
Starbucks, based in Seattle, is single-handedly responsible for putting the coolness factor in a cup of coffee. Not too long ago, coffee was a necessity, and the most expensive cup cost less than a dollar. And socially responsible Starbucks backs community building programs and promotes conservation and recycling.

11. PROCTER & GAMBLE
Percentage: 7.9
Perhaps it’s the wide scope — so to speak — of products that keeps P&G on students’ minds when they think of employers. Since 1837, P&G has worked to create the everyday products — Cover Girl, Cascade, Folgers and Noxzema — that we all grew up with.

12. GOOGLE
Percentage: 7.4
Students probably wouldn’t mind living the lives of the masterminds behind Google, founded in 1998 by Stanford Ph.D. students Larry Page and Sergey Brin. The coolness factor of the company is its stock: Since an initial public offering at $85 per share in August 2004, the share price has jumped by 275 percent.

13. JOHNSON & JOHNSON
Percentage: 7.3
This company, based in New Brunswick, N.J., has over 200 subsidiaries in the pharmaceutical, consumer, and medical diagnostics and devices businesses. A section of J&J’s Web site devoted to undergrads says, “Much of our university recruiting is conducted through campus events at targeted universities throughout the world.”

14. HILTON HOTELS CORP.
Percentage: 7.1
“Surely the Hilton sisters are helping the popularity and awareness of this brand with the younger generation,” said Tattanelli. The Hilton empire, in existence since 1919, is publicly held, though Paris and Nikki’s grandfather, Barron Hilton, remains co-chairman. The chain has grown to over 500 hotels and resorts worldwide.

15. SONY
Percentage: 6.5
The Tokyo electronics giant’s portfolio consists of the PlayStation (the most powerful game console, the PS3, will launch later this year), a variety of digital cameras and computers, and more. Its entertainment division, Sony Pictures, is behind the much-hyped “The DaVinci Code.”

16. FEDERATED DEPARTMENT STORES
Percentage: 6.4
Federated’s Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s divisions have been in the spotlight for the past year, thanks to the parent’s acquisition of May Department Stores. Under Federated’s “Thanks for Sharing” initiative, Macy’s stores donate money to charities based on purchases made during the holiday season by program members.

17. TIME WARNER INC.
Percentage: 6.1
Just a few of the media and entertainment behemoth’s divisions are Time Inc., AOL, Time Warner Cable, HBO, Warner Bros. Entertainment and New Line Cinema. In 2005, Time Warner’s Turner Broadcasting System Inc. was ranked second in DiversityInc’s “Top 50 Companies for Diversity” list.

18. VIRGIN
Percentage: 6.1
OK, it could be the name of the U.K. company that piques undergrads’ interest, but they soon find out that they already are buying Virgin CDs, flying on Virgin planes and using Virgin mobile phones.

19. ANHEUSER-BUSCH
Percentage: 5.8
It’s not surprising that a beer company would sneak into the Top 20. But Anheuser-Busch prides itself on recruiting diverse talent and has “one of the most generous benefits packages you’ll find anywhere,” according to the company’s Web site. Anheuser-Busch has been on Fortune’s “America’s Most Admired Companies” list.

20. PEPSICO
Percentage: 5.7
Though a number of PepsiCo’s brand names are more than 100 years old, the company was founded in 1965 through the merger of Pepsi-Cola and Frito-Lay. PepsiCo was named one of “America’s 50 Best Companies for Minorities” by Fortune last year.

Source: Universum Communications, a research, consulting and branding specialist; *indicates a tie