Bet you can rattle off a list. You can start with soft skills, cultural understanding, and leadership. Then, tack on entrepreneurial spirit, technical aptitude, and strategic thinking (among others). And don’t forget about their gut reactions to personality and attractiveness (along with making that ever-elusive ‘connection’).
Of course, “fit” is the ultimate differentiator. Yet, what surveys of MBA recruiters consistently show is that they are as impressed with a school’s brand as applicants are. The bigger the brand, the more likely they are to want it to be among their target sources of incoming talent.
HOW U.S. NEWS’ RECRUITER SURVEYS REVEAL CORPORATE PREFERENCES
So which programs are most attractive to recruiters? Here, the much-maligned U.S. News and World Report rankings offers a glimpse at least. Each year, U.S. News surveys corporate recruiters and company contacts for an assessment score, which is weighed at 15% of a school’s total ranking. Using a five-point scale, with 1 being “marginal” and 5 being “outstanding,” recruiters are asked to appraise the quality of various MBA programs. Once the surveys are returned, U.S. News averages the scores for each school. For the latest rankings, published just last month, 18% of the sample responded to this survey.
As you can imagine, critics have identified flaws in this approach, from how U.S. News draws its sample of recruiters to survey to which companies actually respond to it. But the poll does provide a means to compare schools, along with tracking how recruiters’ opinions shift over time. And don’t kid yourself: The opinions of employers matter most. So which schools earned the highest marks from recruiters? And which programs are rising (or falling)?
YALE AND TEXAS RISE IN RECRUITER OPINION
In the Top 20, the best recruiter scores generally correlate with school rank. For example, the highest average – 4.6 – belongs to Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton, which also tied for #1 in the overall rankings. Look deeper into the numbers and Wharton comes out the clear winner, with the highest starting salary in the Top 100 ($141,243) and a higher three-month placement rate (93.4%) than either HBS or Stanford.
MIT Sloan, which is tied with Booth at #4 overall, also notched the second highest score from recruiters at 4.5 (higher than Booth’s 4.4 average). Although Booth produced a higher placement rate, MIT grads earned nearly $1,500 more per year starting out.
Despite ranking #13 overall in the 2015 rankings, Yale is a recruiting darling with a 4.3 average, which ties them with Columbia and ranks them above such higher-ranked programs as Berkeley (Haas) and NYU (Stern).
The University of Texas (McCombs) also carries weight with recruiters. Their 4.1 average places them above stalwarts like Michigan (Ross), Virginia (Darden), and Cornell (Johnson). And McCombs’ 93.4% placement rate is equal to Wharton.
In fact, recruiters are increasingly impressed with Yale and Texas, with their assessment scores rising by 0.2 and 0.3 points respectively over the previous year. Overall, 13 schools in the Top 20 enjoyed a higher recruiter score over the previous year, with only Kenan-Flagler seeing a slight decrease.
TEXAS-DALLAS STILL PUNCHING ABOVE ITS WEIGHT
Looking for a diamond in the rough? Look no further than the University of Texas-Dallas (Jindal). Despite its #37 ranking overall, recruiters gave it a 4.0 score, equal to Virginia (Darden) and Dartmouth (Tuck) (and higher than Indiana (Kelley) and Carnegie Mellon (Tepper).
The University of Buffalo, ranked #74 overall, isn’t a best-kept secret to recruiters. Their 3.6 average is higher than schools like Emory (Goizueta), Georgetown (McDonough), and USC (Marshall). However, their $56,187 average starting salary relegates them near the bottom of the top 100. The University of Cincinnati, which had already leaped 39 spots in the overall rankings, also tacked 0.5 points onto its recruiter score, making them a top 50 school in the eyes of employers (and an equal to Arizona State (Carey), Brigham Young (Marriott), and the University of Wisconsin.
Other schools benefited from their recruiter scores too. Texas A&M (Mays) ranked above Vanderbilt (Owen) among recruiters, even though they were 12 spots below them overall. Despite the turmoil surrounding its potential partnership with Laureate Education, Thunderbird secured a #31 ranking overall among recruiters, with its assessment score jumping 0.7 points in the process. While Texas Tech squeaked into the top 100 at #87, they’re already a top 50 school among recruiters.