Growing Marketplace Seeks ISU Ag Business Majors

Starting salaries are up as demand strengthens for ag business graduates.

Almost 100% of Iowa State University agricultural business graduates land jobs right out of school, according to ISU officials. Mike Gaul, director of ISU's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Career Services, says that demand for these graduates is rising rapidly and ISU is happy to provide the supply. "One of the best indicators that ag business students are in demand is that starting salaries are up," says Gaul. "The last few years, salaries had been pretty flat. Now, salaries are up and we've even seen a return of signing bonuses, which we hadn't seen in a number of years." Greg Twist, senior vice president of marketing for soy and corn processing at Ag Processing Inc., a company that recruits ag business graduates, agrees. "There is an increased need for ag business majors," he says. "Agriculture is being asked to fulfill its traditional role of feeding the world while also lessening the dependence on fossil fuels through renewable energy like ethanol and biodiesel. The need for both food and fuel from the same crops has increased employment opportunities in agriculture."

Companies are using signing bonuses

Gaul says companies are using signing bonuses strategically in order to get students to commit early to job offers. One example is a $5,000 signing bonus recently offered to an ag business student. If the student accepts the job offer by mid-September, the student gets all $5,000. If the student waits until November, the bonus is cut in half. If the student waits until December, the bonus won't be given. "They want these students to get on-board early," says Gaul.

With the widely documented national interest in biofuels, biorenewables, food and other ag-based and green initiatives, companies working in these fields want to recruit the best and brightest. One of the best avenues employers use to recruit prospective employees is through the Fall Ag Career Day sponsored by Gaul's office. This annual event serves as a way for students to meet with company representatives who are actively looking for employees. "We'll have 1,200 students go through our fall fair," says Gaul. "It is the largest of its kind in the nation. Freshmen to graduate students come to it. We also have students from Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and other areas coming here to meet with employers."

ISU invites students from other schools

Iowa State invites students from all Iowa community colleges and other Midwest colleges that may have interested students. This year's event is 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 21, in the Memorial Union at ISU in Ames. With 160 companies at the fair looking for students, it may be the largest Ag Career Day ever at ISU.

"The average ISU Ag Career Day attendance has been about 150 companies, which is very large compared to other agriculture career fairs across the country," says Gaul. "Last year we had to put a few companies on the waiting list. This year we could have more than 20 companies on the waiting list that unfortunately we just don't have room for. This year there will be 148 companies in the Union - that's the most we can squeeze in there - and 12 more companies will have their exhibits in tents on the north side of the Union. This type of demand was one the major reasons we added a Spring Ag Career Day last year."

Companies also trying other strategies

More and more companies are trying to get into the career fair and also trying other strategic avenues to gain the attention of students on campus. Firms are sponsoring club meetings on campus, pre-career day discussions, job shadow opportunities, industry visits, picnics, golf tournaments and a host of other activities to get noticed by students. "I talked to a rep from a company in Omaha," says Gaul. "Our students are so highly thought of that he wanted to know if we would ever consider moving our career fair up a month. He says he wanted to meet with our students before he met with other students from around the country because he uses our kids as the standard for what type of student is available." "ISU does a nice job of preparing students for the real world," says Scott Goodew, regional underwriting manager at Federated Insurance, a company that recruits ISU students. "The students I've worked with bring a lot of energy and passion to the position. They are very capable of multi-tasking and time management, and they communicate well."

Market is good for all ISU ag graduates

"We've got great students here," says Gaul. "It all comes down to the quality of students in our programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the quality of the programs we have that get our graduates prepared for life after college and out in the working world. It is a good time to be a student in our college, but there is no guarantee that a job is waiting for anyone at the other end of the stage when they graduate. We would like to think that most of our students understand the equation for success and have positioned themselves well for that first job upon graduation." Gaul and ISU ag business professor Ron Deiter try to keep employers aware of the students coming out of ISU's program. They are also eager to know what employers are looking for. Every summer, they visit ag-based companies in the Midwest to ask the firms what skills they are seeking in graduates. They also let employers know what ISU students are doing to prepare for the job market. The companies that attend the ISU ag career fair include government agencies, food companies, horticulture firms, natural resource organizations, traditional ag companies and many others. For a complete list of the companies attending the career fair at ISU, go to

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