MBA Jobs: From Dark Days to Present

MBAS ARE AGAIN BECOMING MORE CONFIDENT TO LAND THE IDEAL JOB.

With a recovery beginning last year and showing greater strength now, the mood on business school campuses has turned upbeat and even confident. “Students feel supported and confident, but not cocky, that things are going to work out for them,” says Julie Morton, associate dean of career services for Chicago’s Booth School of Business. At Chicago, on-campus interview slots this past fall were up 22% and job postings for MBAs and alums have risen nearly 30%.

At Stanford, adds Sanghvi, some students took themselves out of the heavy recruiting this past fall, preferring to wait longer for opportunities that are a better match for their careers. And at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, some students came back from their summer internships last fall with offers they’re not immediately accepting.

“They’re really being thoughtful about the opportunities now,” says Roxanne Hori, assistant dean of Kellogg’s Career Management Center. “It seems like it’s back to normal levels again. When times were really bad, people were going to take whatever they could. There is a comfort level now and some students are willing to say, ‘I think I’m going to pass on this because it’s not what I really want to do.’”

Hori says she is seeing a significant increase in hiring in consulting and the return of the investment banks. “Across the board, all the major consulting firms have indicated that their numbers will increase this year,” she says. “They are coming back with a vengeance, with aggressive hiring targets because their business has picked up.”

The same is true in technology. Just before Christmas, Hori led a group of 15 Kellogg students to the Bay Area to meet with technology startups and was surprised at the level of interest. “We had more interest than we had time available on our schedule,” she says. “The appetite for talent has increased. It’s very healthy.”

More broadly, a new (Jan. 13) survey of career officials at 79 business schools worldwide showed a complete reversal of the recruiting outlook from last year. Some 63 percent of schools report an increase in on-campus recruiting for full-time students, a dramatic change from 2010 when 79 percent said they saw a decline in the number of corporate recruiters at their schools. The  survey, by the MBA Career Services Council, also found that 70 percent of the schools reported an increase in full-time job postings, compared with 48 percent who reported a decrease at this time last year.

And yet another recent survey of executives, managers and recruiters by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) found that 64% of them plan to hire new MBA grads this year, an increase from 60% last year. Dave Wilson, chief executive of GMAC, attributes the increase to the recovery in the economy as well as strength in the technology and energy industries. But the rise in hiring intentions also reflects, he says, the high value that many companies continue to place on the degree. “When you talk to recruiters, they talk about value for money,” says Wilson. “They argue that there is incredible value for money when they hire an MBA. Last year, about 99% of employers reported being satisfied with the MBAs they hired. That is the highest level of satisfaction ever.”

IBM Corp., which will hire more than 250 new MBAs this year, agrees. “We are hiring more MBAs for two reasons,” says Ted Hoff, IBM’s vice president of learning and development. “One is we are growing as a company and we are particularly looking for globally oriented people, people who are willing to work and live in different countries around the world. The second reason is that our strategy to provide integrated solutions to clients means we need leaders who understand our client industries. Those two trends lend themselves to more MBA-type thinking.”

Mel Wolfgang, who is in charge of MBA and PhD recruiting in the Americas for the Boston Consulting Group, says that what he is seeing in the MBA marketplace bodes well for the Class of 2011. “We have gone from having almost no competition in the fall of 2008 to a big ramp up this past season,” he says. “This past fall, four months ago, the banks really started coming back. We also saw not only a resurgence of consulting but private equity, venture capital, and hedge funds, which had been sleepy for a two-year period, began to push very hard.”

Wolfgang said the early signs of a recovery in MBA hiring could be spotted a year ago when many MBA recruiters starting coming back for interns for the summer of 2010. “They were seeing the light at the end of the tunnel then,” he says. But as MBA recruiters began extending offers to Class of 2011 students late last year, the competition for the best and the brightest has really ratcheted up.

THE RISE IN MBA OPPORTUNITIES IS ALSO CAUSED BY MAJOR CHANGES IN CAREER SERVICES AT MANY SCHOOLS.

The uptick in hiring also is being aided by more sophisticated networking and outreach efforts on the part of the business schools. The recent downturn forced career service officials to be far more creative in getting their students jobs. Chicago’s Booth School, for example, put a career management staffer in Hong Kong and is about to put another in London this March to gather job opportunities for Chicago-based graduates in Asia and in Europe.