Graduates entering the workforce are doubling down on financial security and innovation. 

According to Universum’s World’s Most Attractive Employers 2020 rankings, 'high future earnings' is the number one priority when weighing a potential employer for about 47% of both business and engineering/IT students.

This was followed by 'a friendly work environment' for business graduates (chosen by 40.64%), while the engineering/IT graduates prioritised innovation (chosen by 46.65%).

Top 10 ideal employer attributes (business graduates)

  1. High future earnings 47.58%
  2. A friendly work environment 40.64%
  3. Secure employment 40.51%
  4. Professional training and development 40.39%
  5. Market success 38.06%
  6. Respect for its people 37.51%
  7. A creative and dynamic work environment 36.86%
  8. Competitive base salary 35.9%
  9. Encouraging work-life balance 35.24%
  10. Good reference for future career 35.08%

Top 10 ideal employer attributes (engineering/IT graduates)

  1. High future earnings 47.14%
  2. Innovation 45.65%
  3. A friendly work environment 41.53%
  4. Secure employment 40.97%
  5. A creative and dynamic work environment 40.68%
  6. Professional training and development 39.68%
  7. Competitive base salary 39.21%
  8. Embracing new technologies 37.38%
  9. Encouraging work-life balance 36.43%
  10. Respect for its people 35.94%

The research noted that while students say they prioritise high compensation, this priority may weaken as the economic downturn moves into 2021. At the same time, while 'high future earnings' is currently the top priority for both business and IT/engineering students, Universum predicts this ideal will likely face pressure as the newest cohort of graduates search for jobs during a recession.

This year, tech and automotive industries rose significantly as destination industries for students. 

On the engineering and IT side, students gravitated towards jobs in the tech industry. But as more and more industries invest in next-generation advances in AI, natural language processing, automation and robotics, talented engineers are in demand across nearly every industry.

Top climbers among students included tech, automotive and manufacturing, all of which gained points in 2020. The top five industries were:

  1. Computer Software and Technology
  2. Aerospace and Defence
  3. Mechanical and Industrial Engineering
  4. IT and Engineering Consulting
  5. Automotive

For business students, professional services, banking and strategy consulting once topped the list as gold-standard, career-making places. However, over the last few years,  these industries have faced increasing competitive pressure. 

Among business students, the tech and automotive industries were the biggest winners, each rising four points over the last 12 months, while the top five industries were:

  1. Marketing, Advertising and PR
  2. Management and Strategy Consulting
  3. Financial Services and Technology
  4. Banks
  5. E-Commerce

Richard Mosley, Chief Strategist at Universum, explained: "This year we witnessed interesting shifts in industry preferences among students across the globe. Careers in professional services, banking and strategic consulting all dropped in prestige, while careers in IT, automotive and even manufacturing rose significantly. What we are witnessing is a strong desire among students to work for industries which are more associated with tech innovation which are shaping the future.”

Google, Apple and Microsoft were the most attractive employers for all students 

For all students surveyed, Google, Apple and Microsoft were the top three employer brands.

On the business side, the top five were Google, Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Deloitte. While the most attractive to engineering/IT students were Google, Microsoft, Apple, BMW Group, and Amazon.

In 2020, the companies gaining the most points in the rankings include Amazon, Volkswagen, J.P. Morgan, Daimler AG, Philips and LVMH.

Notably, Amazon made huge strides over the last three years, rising 22 points among business students and 12 points among engineering and IT students. Universum noted that the company made a prescient switch to virtual recruiting of MBAs before the pandemic began, and its early efforts in virtual recruiting will likely continue to pay off in 2020. 

Other findings from the research include:

  • Employer branding leaders must rethink work culture in the work-from-home era. Among business students, over 40% say they prioritize a “friendly work environment” (second only to “high future earnings” as an ideal employer attribute).
  • For HR and employer branding leaders, the pressure is on to redefine company culture and community when the workforce is dispersed, and onboarding is done on-screen rather than in-person.

Universum CEO Mats Röjdmark, said: “When the pandemic hit, leaders in employer branding were in crisis mode, reacting to a situation that was entirely new. Now we see a shift to long-range planning; companies are focused on how to build best-in-class recruiting and employer branding programs that not only tolerate the new normal of virtual work but leverage it in unique ways.”


Universum surveyed over 235,273 students in business and engineering and IT from the 12 largest economies between September 2019 to April 2020. The far-reaching survey asks students which employer characteristics are most influential as they consider future employment, and which employer brands they most admire.

Photo / 123RF

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