U.S. Jobs for International MBAs?

In the fall of 2007, Megha Agrawal left India and came to the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business full of energy and optimism. Like many international students, she was looking to take advantage of a job market hyper-friendly to MBAs from top schools. Megha originally came to the U.S. for her undergraduate studies and joined Citibank in its global capital markets technology group. Her purpose in attending business school was to position herself for greater opportunities within global organizations like Citi and initially, her interest post-graduation was management consulting.

After her first year, Megha did her summer internship in Citibank’s investment banking group and came back focusing her full-time job search on investment banking again.

Suddenly, with the collapse of the financial markets in 2008-09, two things happened. First, the largest banks scaled back or cut entirely their full-time hiring. Second, the majority of the boutique investment banks did not sponsor H1B visas. As Megha recalls, “I was left with limited options and the train had left the station to transition to recruiting for management consulting. I waited too long to widen my search or change focus.”

Megha’s journey is a great lesson for non-U.S. work-authorized individuals who want to work in the U.S. after getting an MBA.

Mumbai and Madrid. Sao Paolo and Stockholm. Tokyo and Tel Aviv. Johannesburg and Jakarta. Berlin and Bogota. Paris and Prague. Abu Dhabi and Amsterdam. Moscow and Mexico City. If these or other international locations are the place you consider home, you are among the 30% to 45% of each MBA class at top schools from outside the U.S.  And, if you are in this group, I bet you are asking yourself and others: “What is the hiring climate like right now for internationals?”

No doubt, you are excited about attending a top U.S. business school.  But also you are nervous about employment prospects. Job opportunities for top MBAs is improving from the market that Megha experienced. Yet, if you want to stay in the U.S. to work and require sponsorship, there is a lot of uncertainty. Business schools don’t formally report the percentage of international students who remain in the U.S. to work, though Harvard Business School notes on its website that about 50% of their international students take positions in the U.S.

Today’s Climate for International Students

Business schools actively seek international students out. A diverse talent pool is great for MBA programs and companies by providing a wealth of experience and varied perspectives. With the economic downturn, however, we have seen less walk than talk about this view by hiring organizations.  Let me share a couple of examples:

  • Impact of the economy – For some companies, the recession motivated a change to visa sponsorship.  Yes, it is a supply and demand issue, as well as a cost issue.  Then, there was TARP, where companies made decisions to forgo sponsorship based on the interpretation of compliance criteria with the U.S. government’s bailout.
  • Long-term progression – A management consulting firm recently stopped sponsoring visas after an internal study determined that non-U.S. employees had lower retention rates and less progression to the firm’s top ranks.
  • Professional development – Another organization looked for employees who were globally mobile and found that among recent hires, those from outside the U.S. were less willing to relocate to non-U.S. locations because they wanted longer-term U.S. work experience.  This made is more difficult to achieve some of the strategies of the global rotation program and the professional development plans for leaders at the company.
  • Global knowledge – One of the most selective MBA rotational programs had a track record of hiring international students. The company views international recruits as a huge asset to serve customers who were global and wanted people who could speak multiple languages and build multi-cultural relationships.

What I conclude from these and other examples is that human capital decisions are firm specific. Each organization adopts a hiring strategy that fits its business strategy and distinctiveness. In the current environment, hiring strategies also can be very dynamic.  For example, for fall full-time hiring, firms might recruit students who require sponsorship. But when they return in the spring for internships or later post a position, this may change.

Does this volatility and ambiguity suggest that international students should avoid a U.S. business school? Absolutely not.  But it does mean that you want to go in with both eyes wide open and be ready to adapt.

About the Author...

Pam Schilling

Pam Schilling is an Executive and Career Coach, and Founder of the Career Advisory Services practice with The MBA Exchange, which serves pre-MBAs through MBA graduates, particularly those focused on career change and pursuing career passions. Formerly, as Associate Director of Career Management at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Pam guided hundreds of students and alumni on their job search. She holds an MBA from Chicago Booth and has 17 years experience in management consulting and financial management. She also serves as a faculty member at North Park University’s School of Business and Non-Profit Management in Chicago.

  • sheetal

    Is it possible to find job in us for international studies.

  • sheetal


  • Sid

    4 of my friends went to top business schools in US and came back to India to work because they were not able to secure jobs in the US. I think US MBAs are a very risky bet.

  • Tom

    So despite a good MBA degree from a target school the international graduate is left with a non-target job at an educational company?! Doesn’t seem worth the effort.

  • Raymond120

    and after three years, again, things proved that only ONE school that truly has the lead on the international stage, INSEAD.

  • Jeffrin

    Hi John,
    What are the job prospects in US for Supply Chain MBA s ? Are firms open to hiring international talent..

  • Joe

    Any updates on what the scene is now for US jobs for international students? Has it got better or still the same?

  • Lim,

    Now i see one of those top schools most important values. Thanks! If only the spectrum of ‘top tier’ category is as broad as top 15 or 20…. I need to work hard!

  • Lim, technically, no, students do not pay for career services. Students do not pay per use (e.g., when you use the services). However, one of the reasons that the tuition of top business schools is what it is…these type of services. The value of MBA career services is tremendous. I talk with students and career services professionals at other schools and the resources/programs at other schools are not at the same level. This is not why you attend a top tier MBA program, but, it is absolutely one of the competitive advantages of these schools. Cheers, Pam

  • Lim,

    Thanks John. Do students have to pay for school’s career services? Or do students pay only when they have secured a placement? (I apologize for my ignorance)

  • Lim,

    Pam is referring to the career services office of the business school. This tends to be a major difference between going to a top school, such as Chicago, where a lot of resources are devoted to career services which can provide invaluable help to a job-seeking MBA.


  • Lim,

    Insightful, but were the ‘career services’ in the article referring to b-school’s career service or external career service?