IN 2003, REAL ESTATE STUDENTS AT THE UNIVERSITY of Southern California (USC) were beating the bushes for jobs. This year, they're being courted—and most of the suitors are home builders. In a field that once primarily relied on word-of-mouth and referrals to fill openings, real estate companies, including home builders, have increased their visibility on college campuses.

“We are seeing more recruiting,” says Sonia Savoulian, director of alumni and student services for USC's Lusk Center for Real Estate, in Los Angeles. “In the past, we had very few employers [who wanted] to come on campus for interviews and information sessions. They're beginning to realize if they want the best talent, they need to formalize their recruiting processes.”

A survey of 2003 graduates found that 55 percent of USC's real estate students went on to work for home builders, including Shea Homes, KB Home, and Greystone Homes. The next highest industry, at industrial, followed by retail, mixed use, hotel/ resort/theme park, and land development. At the master's degree level, builders most often looked for graduates to work in project management or land acquisition. Graduates with bachelor's degrees often were placed as financial analysts, Savoulian says. In addition to setting up interviews and information tables, builders have offered students internships and part-time jobs as ways to get them ready to hit the ground running after graduation, she adds.

Roy Black, a professor in the real estate program at Georgia State University in Atlanta, says he hasn't seen too many home builders come calling at his program, but he notes that the “pace of hiring has accelerated in other areas that indicate that new commercial product will be under construction soon.

“Job offers are coming in from commercial developers, who have not been hiring for years,” Black says. “Broker/consulting firms are hiring as they acquire new contracts and listings.”

The interest from home builders in college recruiting isn't limited to real estate programs. John Wood, vice president of human resources at Atlanta-based John Wieland Homes and Neighborhoods, says his recruiter looks for talent in building science and architecture schools, as well as in real estate and general business programs. “We're building relationships with students and administration so we're the first builder of choice,” Wood says. “We're on campus constantly.”

For career fair visits (where they regularly see competitors Centex and Pulte), Wieland's booth staff usually includes a graduate of the university the builder is visiting, Wood says. “It's good for them to see a success story, someone from their school who signed on and did well,” he says.

Pulte Homes aggressively recruits college graduates because those employees tend to stay with the company. “College recruits are some of our best resources,” says Pulte marketing manager Leslie Norvell. “They have a significantly lower turnover rate and great loyalty over time. We've seen college recruits turn into amazing superstars, especially in sales and construction.”

While Pulte works closely with construction programs for construction positions, it looks at graduates with liberal arts degrees for openings in sales and customer service. “One of our greatest success stories is a customer service person in Las Vegas,” Norvell says. “She's a theater major.”

Jon Tattersall, vice president of land in Morrison Homes' Sacramento, Calif., office, says his company is making a concerted effort to recruit from the country's military academies. “They do their military commitment and come into the marketplace with no job experience, but they can manage projects, and they have people skills,” Tattersall says.

Builders are having more success at recruiting college graduates these days, adds Tattersall, because the companies are making more money and becoming more well-known with the continuing growth in housing starts. “We weren't very sexy in the '90s,” he says. “Then, it was the tech firms. If you look at the top 10 to 20 builders and look at the revenues, these are real big business companies. We're getting our names in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, [and] on the S&P 500. We're getting the public recognition.”

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.