RelishCareers MBA Recruiting Survey: Don’t Procrastinate

Every year at RelishCareers, we ask our user base about their experience with the campus recruiting process. We use this feedback to improve the user experience on our platform and to prioritize the development of new software functionality (like the job search tool we released recently). We also use the data we gather to deepen our understanding of the MBA recruiting process, and we want to share some of the insights from the survey with our friends here at Poets&Quants.

About The Respondents

The audience for this survey is a representative cross-section of students at top U.S. and international graduate business schools. Seventy-nine percent of respondents are enrolled in full-time MBA programs, with the remaining 21% distributed across part-time and executive programs along with other specialty business master’s degrees (accounting, finance, etc.). In terms of demographics, the average age of our respondents is 28.7 years; women account for 38.8% of respondents; and 30.6% of the respondents are international students.

When, Where, And How Long MBAs Look For Jobs

The MBA recruiting process has a reputation for being a long and sometimes tortuous process, and our survey results largely confirmed that this reputation is well-earned. Experienced MBAs often recommend an early start in the recruiting process, and it seems that most first-year MBAs get the message: Over half of respondents (54%) in our survey started their recruiting process by the end of September, while only 16% waited until their second semester to begin looking for an internship. Unsurprisingly, second-years reported an even earlier timeline, with nearly two-thirds (64%) starting the process by the end of September — and just like their first-year counterparts, only 1 in 6 (16.9%) second-year students waited until the second semester of their second year to start looking for a job. How did such a late start affect respondents’ reported satisfaction with the recruiting process? We’ll answer that question a bit later in this report. (Spoiler: if you start recruiting late, you’re probably going to have a bad time.)

Those first-years who reported having completed the recruiting process spent an average of 172 days (5.67 months) finding their internship, while second-years reported an average job search length of 167 days (5.5 months). That represents a nearly four-fold increase compared to the length of the job search process for the average American (43 days), and it’s more than twice as long as the average length it takes a company to hire for director-level positions (76 days) and C-suite positions (71 days), according to analysis by Jobvite. This discrepancy is at least partly explained by the fact that most of our respondents are full-time students, but even a full course load didn’t stop some students from devoting a healthy chunk of their weekly schedule to finding an internship or job. One in seven respondents (13.6%) said they spent more than 10 hours a week on recruiting; two-thirds (66%) spent between 4 and 9 hours on recruiting in an average week; and 1 in 5 (20.4%) said they spent fewer than three hours a week on recruiting. Did these casual recruiters come to regret spending so little time finding a job? Again, more on that later (spoiler: they did).

On top of time management, MBAs have to make other big decisions about how they approach the recruiting process. For instance, each student has to decide for themselves how to balance on- and off-campus recruiting activity; on-campus employers are easier to access and provide a more structured process, but they are dwarfed in number by the volume of opportunities available in the huge but highly fragmented off-campus arena. Most students in our survey choose a mixed approach — fewer than 1 in 4 opted to explore only on-campus employers (7%) or only off-campus employers (15%). The remaining three-quarters (78%) targeted at least some employers of each type during their recruiting process. The distribution is skewed slightly toward off-campus recruiting in our data, which likely reflects the fact that many candidates recruiting primarily or exclusively on-campus tend to eventually incorporate, out of necessity, more off-campus opportunities into their target list.

The recruiting experience of individual students also varies widely based on the industry or recruiting track they pursue. This is true both in terms of the timelines mentioned above and the outcomes each student sees. We asked our respondents to share both their preferred industry (where they initially wanted to work) and their actual industry (where they ended up getting a job or internship). Consulting was the most popular first choice among our respondents (31%), following by tech (18%), CPG (16%), healthcare (11%), private equity (7%), and investment banking (7%). Of course, even MBAs don’t always get what they want, and about a third of students in our survey (32.3%) did not take a job or internship in their preferred industry. The industry with the most defections should come as no surprise given its popularity and highly competitive hiring market: more than half of the students initially interested in private equity took a position in another industry.

What Separates Satisfied Job Candidates From Everyone Else

In addition to questions about the recruiting process and experience, we also asked candidates how they felt about the process in general — were they happy, unhappy, or ambivalent about their MBA recruiting experience this past year? Despite the fact that MBA recruiting is often described as a “firehose of opportunity” because of the volume of interested employers, our survey results indicate that this is far from a guarantee that candidates will be satisfied with their recruiting experience. A minority of respondents (35.4%) reported being “Happy” or “Very Happy” with the experience, the exact same percentage that reported feeling “Neutral.” The remainder, almost 1 in 3 respondents, were either “Unhappy” or “Very Unhappy,” and we saw this answer both from those who were headed to work in their preferred industry and those who were still seeking an offer.

What were the prominent determinants of candidate happiness? We cross-referenced responses on candidate satisfaction with the data we gathered on recruiting timelines and targeted employers, and we found some definitive results.

One of the strongest determinants of candidate satisfaction: the month that each respondent started recruiting. Seventy-three percent of candidates who began recruiting in August or earlier were satisfied with their recruiting experience; fewer than half (44%) of those who waited until September or later to start recruiting were satisfied with their experience. This is a striking piece of hard data to support significant anecdotal support for early recruiting from the recruiters and MBA alumni offering advice in RelishCareers webinars and other media.

More time = greater happiness

Candidates who dedicated more time to recruiting were also more likely to be happy with their outcome. You can see the results in the graph above. Those candidates who spent 15 or more hours a week on recruiting activity are the most satisfied, while those who spent 3 hours or less were far and away the least likely to be happy with their recruiting outcome.

And while not everyone can balance a 15-hour recruiting workload with a full-time student’s schedule, the data makes clear that more is better, and students should plan to spend an average of at least an hour a day on recruiting activities during the five- to six-month recruiting process.

The primary takeaway from this analysis of our survey results is this: Start early and put in the work, and you’ll probably end up where you want to be. Of course, this is precisely the sort of advice that career advisers and coaches have been giving to students for years; the challenge has always been convincing students to act on that advice. This report — a database of recruiting experiences and outcomes from real MBAs at top programs — can hopefully provide an additional impetus for students by providing hard evidence of the risks associated with recruiting procrastination.

Zach Mayo, co-founder of RelishCareers. Courtesy photo

Zach Mayo is the chief operating officer of RelishCareers, an online platform that helps master’s-level business school students connect directly with corporate recruiters. Available to students and alumni from network schools, RelishCareers gives candidates access to employer branding and MBA- and MS-specific career exploration resources (including exclusive webinars). Class of 2019 MBA and MS students (as well as other students and alumni) can sign up to explore company pages, build an initial target list, and engage with on- and off-campus employers (applicants can create an account here). You can also join the Relish Campus Ambassador program to get exclusive access to recruiters and other resources (email for more information).