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Beachcombing for junior executives

Corporate recruiters congregate at surf side to woo college students onspring break

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- Ah, spring break.

for countless American college students, it's the most coveted week on the calendar. Time to ditch the books, don sandals and sunscreen, and head for the closest sunny spot.

Yet this spring break, students are finding they're not the only ones hitting the beach. Corporate recruiters are following students all the way to the sand, intent on scoping out young talent and gaining an advantage in the Lycra-tight labor market.

"With record [low] levels of unemployment, it's getting harder and harder to find top-tier students," IBM recruiter Marybeth Voss shouted on her cell phone from a recruiting fair last week at Lake Havasu, Ariz. "We're trying to meet students where they are."

Along with scouts from Big Blue, recruiters hitting the boardwalk represent AT&T, State Farm Insurance, America Online, and even the US Secret Service (looking less conspicuous than usual in their Ray-Bans). Hanging up business suits for shorts and sneakers, recruiters are setting up booths and handing out literature at some of the hottest spring-break spots in the country.

Under a 4,000-square-foot tent on the shore of Lake Havasu, some 40 companies hawked everything from company T-shirts to key chains. IBM gave away more than 1,000 miniature lava lamps in four hours.

Indeed, IBM came to play. The firm, which plans to hire as many as 4,000 college graduates in the US this year, brought eight recruiters. One team combed the beach; the other worked the lake on jet skis and wave runners. "This recruiting tactic is not something we would have done 10 years ago, but we're not the company we used to be 10 years ago," Ms. Voss says. "We're here to demonstrate to students that as a company we know how to have fun."

Spring-break recruiting started in earnest about four years ago, with just a handful of firms. Now, it seems, students have come to expect it.

When IBM went to Daytona Beach, Fla., earlier this month, it received 200 rsums from spring breakers. And recruiters for Lucent Technologies Inc., based in Murray Hill, N.J., spotted a few students in suits.

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