Given the tight labor market, what can manufacturers do to attract the best talent? Here are some suggestions: 1. Recruit early. Many top students like to have their jobs firmed up by the middle of their final year in school. Often manufacturers begin interviewing later in the fall and don't get to a second round of interviews until after the holiday break. 2. Offer internships. These can convey the excitement of a manufacturing environment, says John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based recruiting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. Nancy Gioia, chief program engineer with Ford Motor Co., was planning a career in law. Then she accepted a summer internship at Ford, working on advanced technology in engine systems. "I said, 'this is kind of cool stuff,'" says Gioia, who switched career plans. 3. Discuss all the challenges facing the company -- technical, managerial, and strategic -- and outline the candidate's role in helping to meet them. Students say they're drawn to manufacturing because of the variety of challenges it offers. 4. Know the competition. To recruit top students it's not enough to compare your offers with those of other manufacturers. Look at high-tech, finance, and other business sectors. 5. Retain the personal touch. Personal contacts and follow-up can make a difference in convincing a recruit to join your company. 6. Have line managers take an active role in recruiting. Maury Hanigan, president and CEO of Hanigan Consulting, recommends sending a mix of senior, junior, and midlevel people to campuses. Senior executives give credibility to companies' claims that people are important to them, while the others can give the inside scoop on jobs and divisions. 7. Structure job opportunities and pay scales to reflect the people you're hiring. Observes Maia Singer, a Stanford University M.B.A. student, "One thing manufacturing companies can do is to [give business units] more responsibility so that people have the opportunity to run their own business within the context of a larger company." 8. Look for the contrarians. Today it may be the ones who want to break from the crowd who choose manufacturing as a career. "There are some brave, unconventional students," says Kent Bowen, professor of technology and operations management at Harvard Business School. "They're very interested in companies that make things."