Big Four dominate BusinessWeek's 'Best Places to Launch a Career' list

Accounting firms once again dominate BusinessWeek's third annual ranking of the "Best Places to Launch a Career": Ernst & Young jumps two spots to No. 1, followed by Deloitte and PricewaterhouseCoopers in second and third place. Deloitte held the top spot in last year's ranking, followed by PwC in second place. The last of the Big Four, KPMG, moved up six spots to No. 5.

Chicago, Illinois-basee Grant Thornton appeared in 76th position on the list, Bloomington-Minnesota-based McGladrey & Pullen weighed in at number 104.

While the economy has taken its toll on middle management, many companies are continuing to hire entry-level employees - in some cases at a blistering pace. Even those that are hiring fewer employees for entry - level jobs are competing more intensely for the very best. While traditional perks such as pensions and health insurance still have their place, more companies are finding inventive ways to attract, retain, and motivate their youngest employees - using everything from work-from-home programs to faster promotions to financial benefits that kick in a few years down the road.

No one recognizes the importance of perks more than Ernst & Young, where average salaries haven't increased substantially in at least three years. The Big Four firm still attracts more than 3,000 highly sought-after accounting students each year with extensive training and mentoring programs, performance bonuses, and the promise of face time with top executives - including an annual trip to Walt Disney World for all U.S.-based interns. It's perks like that, along with a recruiting machine in overdrive and near-certain advancement to a supervisor-level position in just two years, that landed Ernst & Young atop BusinessWeek's third annual Best Places to Launch a Career ranking this year, unseating rival Deloitte.

While accounting firms again dominate the top of the list, owing to decent salaries and intense demand, one of the most surprising things about this year's ranking is just how well the investment banks fared. With five banks in the top 50, including Goldman Sachs at No. 4 and J.P. Morgan at No. 10, it was the industry's best showing since the inaugural ranking in 2006, at least in part because the surveys were conducted before the full extent of the turmoil on Wall Street had become apparent. High pay and an otherwise excellent reputation on campuses propelled four of the five banks - including beleaguered Lehman Brothers - higher up the ranking.

The Best Places to Launch a Career ranking is based on three separate surveys: a BusinessWeek poll of career-services directors at U.S. colleges; a survey of 40,000 U.S. college students conducted by Universum USA, a Philadelphia research company; and a BusinessWeek poll of the employers themselves. With a greater number of qualified employers participating, BusinessWeek ranked 119 this year, up from 95 in 2007. The increased competition, along with shifts in sentiment among students and career-services directors, sent several newcomers, including No. 14 Target, No. 17 Boston Consulting Group, and No. 19 Anheuser-Busch, vaulting up the ranking, while several favorites from last year came off their pedestals. Microsoft slipped seven spots, to No. 13; Disney fell 20, to No. 27; and Accenture dropped 39, to No. 47.

BusinessWeek's Best Places to Launch a Career ranking is in the September 15, 2008 issue, on newsstands September 5th. Expanded content is available on BusinessWeek.com, including the full methodology, profiles of each employer, an interactive table, slide shows, and a video roundtable with recruiters from top companies.

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