After writing an article last fall on whether an MBA makes sense for prospective students interested in tech careers, I received several emails wondering how b-school fits into the hiring plans of specific tech firms. For example, if your dream company is Facebook, will an MBA provide a big boost to your candidacy?
To get to the bottom of the matter, I joined a group of MBA career services professionals (representing Kenan-Flagler, McCombs, Goizueta, Darden, and Ross) who visited business school recruiters at 10 hot tech firms across the Bay Area this spring. And while our visits ranged broadly in terms of both organizational maturity (from 40-year old Apple to 9-year old Airbnb) and audience focus (from enterprise-oriented Salesforce to consumer-driven Pandora), there were some clear trends I’d like to share with both current and prospective MBA students: MBAs are in demand, just not at scale
Here’s the good news: Every single one of the firms we visited plans to hire at least a few MBA interns next summer (from a few at Pandora to as many as 50 at Adobe). But here’s the bad news: Those numbers pale in comparison to more established MBA employers.
AMAZON, MICROSOFT & GOOGLE ARE NOW THE BIGGEST MBA TECH EMPLOYERS
For example, McKinsey, BCG, and Deloitte each hired more interns from Fuqua alone last year than Airbnb, Pandora, and Workday plan to hire from all B-schools combined next year. Thus, as mentioned in my original article, B-school is no golden ticket into a smaller, earlier-stage tech firm.
Of course, if your idea of a great tech job is more along the lines of tech giants like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, there’s definitely more opportunity to be had. Just don’t assume that an MBA will open all tech doors equally.
While it may be tougher to break into tech than into a more traditional MBA industry such as consulting or finance, our visits did reveal that there is one best opportunity to do so: At the internship stage. Because while every one of the 10 firms planned to hire at least a few interns, many had no plans to hire for any full-time roles straight out of B-school.
RELUCTANT TO TAKE A CHANGE ON UNPROVEN FULL-TIME HIRES
What’s the reason for this discrepancy? Well, given that an internship is a chance for a firm to “try before they buy” and that many have historically high intern-to-full-time conversion rates (e.g., 80% at both Facebook and Salesforce), there’s just not as much of a need to take a chance on unproven full-time hires.
These stats don’t include the many times that these firms hire MBA2s through the off-campus process (i.e., a graduating MBA applies online vs. through their school’s special hiring system). But that process is typically more competitive (since you’re going up against experienced industry hires) and later in the game (just-in-time in the spring vs. sewing up an offer in the fall on-campus), so it does involve more patience and risk tolerance.
While some of the largest tech MBA employers (e.g., Amazon and Microsoft) are generally open to all-comers, regardless of background or work status, we found that many of the firms we visited are actually much more restrictive. This is particularly true in three areas:
TECH FIRMS WANT EXPERTISE
Of all the firms we visited, only Saleforce explicitly mentioned that they were open to hiring people from all sorts of functional backgrounds. Whereas most of the others specifically wanted their Product Managers to have a Computer Science background and their other MBA hires to have at least some relevant experience from their prior roles (e.g., Airbnb likes their brand marketing hires to have agency experience).
TECH FIRMS WANT DIVERSITY
While the tech industry has been hammered for a lack of diversity across the board, changing the face of their workforces has been especially difficult on the technical side, where there’s a limited pipeline of diverse candidates. Given that the business school world has at least been quicker to embrace the mantle of diversity than their engineering school peers, tech firms see their MBA hires as an important way to address this issue.
Thus, pretty much every firm we met with expressed an interest in hiring students from diverse ethnic backgrounds and life experiences. In particular, they see the various affiliation organizations/conferences as the best way to build their talent brands with these audiences. So if you’re interested in these firms and have the chance to participate in Consortium, MLT, Reaching Out, ExecuVets, or similar opportunities, definitely do so!
TECH FIRMS WANT TO HIRE WITHOUT A HASSLE
Although Adobe and Salseforce were notable for their plans to still provide sponsorship for most roles despite the various H1-B challenges looming on the horizon, many of the firms we met with either don’t sponsor at all (e.g., Facebook and Workday) or have very limited sponsorship opportunities (e.g., Pandora only for Product, LinkedIn only for BizOps). Thus, if you’re an international student considering an American business school, know that while some parts of the US tech world are still wide open to you (again, the bigger employers like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Dell tend to sponsor widely), there are others that may not be quite as available right away.
BOTTOM LINE: TECH CAN AFFORD TO BE PICKY
To get a better feel for each of these specific firms, check out my complete guide to their hiring plans – from the exact roles they’re looking to fill to precisely what they look for in candidates.
But the clear pattern across all the firms is that they very much enjoy the balance of power in the MBA labor market. Because while more and more MBAs are expressing a desire to work in tech, there are just many fewer MBA tech roles available right now than in consulting, finance, or CPG. And so, at least for the time being, the tech firms get to call the shots in terms of whom they hire.
Thus, if you’re deeply passionate about Airbnb, Facebook, or any of the firms discussed here, by all means follow that passion. Just be to prepared to work hard to get your dream job and don’t make the mistake of waiting for it to be served to you on a silver platter!
Jeremy Schifeling is the Founder of Break into Tech, a site to help any MBA launch an awesome tech career, regardless of background. Get the 7 secrets that helped him go from being a former kindergarten teacher at Ross to working at Apple, LinkedIn, and startups!