It was like almost any other house party — Girl Talk blaring from big speakers in the living room, boxes of pizza piled on the kitchen table, a keg and three beer pong tables in the basement. Except that everything but the beer was paid for by two college recruiters from Microsoft.

“It’s just a more casual way for us to hang out and meet them before the career fair,” said Keith Auer, a Microsoft recruiter who attended the party, referring to the students filing into the house Thursday night. The party was hosted by eight students studying Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, three of whom spent last summer interning at Microsoft in Seattle. Most of the guests were other EECS students.

“We do the traditional things … but you have to differentiate yourself a little,” Auer said. “One way to do that is just by kind of getting into the minds of the students. What do they want, what are they going to come to?”

While Microsoft has bulked up its recruitment here, the nation’s struggling economy has made it difficult for other companies to do the same. Lynn Sebille-White, assistant director of recruitment services for the Career Center, said financial service companies have suffered most during the country’s two-year economic downturn.

“The one that we’ve seen that has been hardest hit is banking,” she said. “Financial services, lending, to some degree consulting.”

Many analysts are now saying that the U.S. is facing its worst credit crisis since the Great Depression. Lehman Brothers, a financial services firm, declared bankruptcy last week, marking the largest bankruptcy filing in the nation’s history.

Al Cotrone, director of career development for the Ross Business School, said he is also seeing a sharp decrease in recruiting by financial companies this year.

“Around 400 schedules were reserved last year in the banking and finance industry,” he said, referring to sessions when companies interview students on campus. “There will be probably more like 300 schedules this year.”

Sebille-White said many companies have stepped up their approaches in lieu of the lessened competition caused by the economy.

“Those employers that want to be an employer of choice at Michigan are really branching out,” she said. “I think there are more creative ways employers are trying to connect with students.”

Some of the most popular strategies include reviewing résumés for students, running contests, and hosting day-long site visits for small groups of students, Sebille-White said. Some companies get even more creative.

“Several years ago, Bloomberg brought a mini version of their office to campus,” she said. “Complete with snacks and everything.”

Cynthia Redwine, director of the Career Resource Center for the College of Engineering, said she has also seen changes in the ways employers approached students on campus.

“They certainly will come to The Career Center, but that’s just one of the places an employer or company representative will come,” she said. “Many of the companies try to work more closely with the students through the student organizations so they get to know the students, not just on paper.”

When companies partner with student groups, they often go beyond making presentations and traditional recruiting events. Frequently, they hold mock interviews with members or partner with groups to sponsor larger events, as part of a branding effort on campus, Redwine said.

Recruiters often get to know students through interns who are University alums and have returned to campus. The three hosts of the Microsoft party invited a group of 35 University students who also interned at the company this summer. Those people were also told to bring their friends.

“Michigan is a pretty tight-knit group, and we did a lot of things together this summer,” Auer said. “We wanted to do a lot of events that would bring everyone back together, and also pull in their friends, because they’re going to be the best ambassadors for Microsoft.”

Microsoft may be better equipped for this method because of the large number of former interns they have on campus. But Sebille-White said offering internships to students and then tracking them to potentially hire the same people later is becoming an increasingly popular practice.

“By recruiting eligible candidates and having them work the summer between their junior and senior year, it really gives them an opportunity to get to know the student,” she said. “It’s like a three-month job interview.”

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