Tech’s Appetite For MBA Graduates Explodes

The University of Washington’s Foster School of Business benefits from its location in Seattle, home to two of the world’s biggest tech companies

In 2013, only six schools in the top 25 sent greater than one-fifth of their graduating MBAs into the technology industry. Five years later, that number has doubled (with another three schools barely falling under the 20% mark). In 2013, five schools were in single digits in percentage of tech grads; now there is none.

But what interests MBA candidates most about tech are the jobs. And recruiting is where the greatest changes have been seen — and felt.

Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange, a leading admissions and career consultancy, points out that leading technology association CompTIA projects growth of 5% for global tech companies in this $4.5+ trillion sector for the year 2018. Forbes more modestly projects a still impressive 4% growth rate. The bottom line is that its a sector that has been and remains hot. “Ongoing business growth means ongoing demand for talent to sustain that growth,” Min tells Poets&Quants, “which means good news for MBAs as tech icons including Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Apple are filling their ranks with more business schools grads than ever.”

He notes that since a key factor in the ranking of business schools is the employment status and compensation of their grads, campus career services professionals “roll out the red carpet” for tech firms when it comes to recruiting. Meanwhile, the companies themselves compete more aggressively than ever for top students, with the official recruiting season moving earlier and earlier — it now begins just a few weeks after students first get to campus. Min points to relatively recent trends that come as a response to the demand: “treks” to Silicon Valley to visit tech firms and meet in-person with their executives; specialized “tech MBA” degrees of the kind introduced at Cornell and NYU Stern; the opening of West Coast campuses, like Wharton’s and Babson’s San Francisco locations, that “give their constituents even greater proximity to tech firms”; and “pre-MBA programs” like the one at UNC’s Kenan-Flager Business School which start as early as July in preparing candidates for not only the classroom, but career planning as well. School-sponsored tech conferences are sprouting up everywhere, from Harvard to Dartmouth College; and school representatives are taking to the road, visiting companies to pitch their students. They also are reaching out to alumni at targeted companies for help in connecting current students with hiring decision-makers.


Alex Min, CEO of The MBA Exchange

Tech employers are getting on candidates’ radar in myriad ways. One is via social media, through which firms are identifying and reaching out directly to those they peg as appealing prospects. “Companies such as Amazon present online information sessions and even do virtual first- and second-round interviews before actually meeting students in-person,” Min says. Tech companies also participate in national conferences for MBA candidates, sponsored by such nonprofits as the National Black MBA Association and the National Association of Women MBAs, that feature “career expos” where candidates and employers interact. Poets&Quants launched its own career expo, the annual Pre-MBA Networking Festival, in 2016; this year’s event is slated for May 10-11 in New York City.

“Eager employers in the tech arena are not sitting back waiting to be escorted the campus gate,” Min says. “They are making themselves known to prospective hires early and often.”

And MBA grads are benefiting. According to career site TransparentCareer, median pre-MBA compensation for students who later join tech companies is $97,675. Their first post-MBA job in tech boosts the annual comp to $178,250. MBAs working in tech earn $35,000 more per year than the median packages in consumer products, while enjoying a comparable work/life balance.

In the last five years, pay has gotten better for new tech grads, too. According to P&Q’s analysis of school employment data, tech MBAs from 18 of the top 25 schools saw an average median salary increase of $9,901 between 2013 and 2017. The biggest jump: at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, base median salary grew from $84,000 to $123,000, an increase of $39,000. Unlike some schools, MIT Sloan also reports salary averages; for tech MBAs, the average salary ballooned from $79,152 in 2013 to $126,058 in 2017, a $46,906 difference.


UCLA Anderson’s Robert Weiler

One of the schools with the highest percentage of tech grads is, unsurprisingly, UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, which, like big players Stanford and UC-Berkeley enjoys the benefits of its West Coast location. But that’s not the only reason UCLA Anderson sent nearly one third (31.1%) of its Class of 2017 into tech, says Robert Weiler, associate dean for the full-time MBA program at Anderson. In fact, his school benefits more from being a “first mover” in the space — and he adds that there is every reason to believe the numbers will keep going up, at UCLA and elsewhere.

“There has definitely been an increase in the interest in tech across all MBA programs, and West Coast schools have a bit of a first-mover advantage, as the interest hit here earlier,” Weiler tells Poets&Quants. “But there is plenty of room in the tech space. In the earlier years, we spent time working with tech companies to help them understand the ‘value’ of bringing on MBAs in large numbers, so some of that heavy lifting has been done, and it is now widely recognized in tech that MBAs bring valuable skills and experience, so the demand is healthy from our recruiting partners.

“Back in 2011-12, as we saw the student demand for enhanced tech employment preparation really manifest itself, we had discussions with students about what resources they needed to be competitive,” Weiler continues. “Classes were vital, as were seminars to cover industry happenings. As you might imagine, ‘Technology’ is not a traditional academic area in business schools, so we had to go out more broadly to find practitioners who could supplement what our faculty were able to teach. We offered an important foundational tech course series called Emerging Technologies in spring 2012, and out of that grew a much broader technology curriculum.”


The breakneck pace of change in the tech sector translates to a breakneck pace in business education, Weiler says. And that’s certainly been the case at UCLA Anderson, where “there is so much to learn, and very few ‘experts,’ relatively speaking.” Key to the school’s keeping up has been the transformation of its Easton Center, which shifted in 2015 from merely a program whose mission was to teach leadership and managerial skills to students with more technical backgrounds, to a “hub” for all tech-bound MBAs. It was a shift triggered by interest in technology, Weiler says. Now Easton sources classes, seminars, the Easton Tech Fellows Program, the Easton Certificate in Technology, and much more. “The technology ecosystem here at Anderson is centered on Easton,” Weiler says. “Of course, our Parker Career Management Center still serves as the focus for technology recruiting. The sheer number of students interested in technology has forced Parker to adapt as well, and we also found that all of our advisers have to have a basic understanding of tech recruiting, because student demand was so high.

“All of these changes came because of our close partnerships with our students. They told us what they needed, and it was very clear that our location would position the school well to be at the forefront of MBA education in technology, so it was full speed ahead. The beauty, and challenge for us, of the tech space is how quickly it changes!”

Change happens so rapidly in the tech space that it won’t be long before the current focus on AI, driverless vehicles, and blockchain is replaced by new subjects, Weiler says. “It will always be a race to stay current and to deliver a cutting-edge education to our students,” he says. “This is a huge benefit of the Easton Center, because of where it sits — directly between the tech business community and our academic expertise. It is so well-positioned to be current and to offer our students the pertinent information they need to be competitive candidates for technology jobs. That is exciting — and keeps us moving!”

Washington Foster’s Naomi Sanchez, forecasting changes to come in the next five years: “We’ll probably use a number of assessment tools — like Amazon’s online assessment — prior to selecting interviews. That will mean algorithms associated with assessing candidates. I think you’ll see more virtual information sessions where companies and schools will be providing information back and forth … I think there will be a consolidation of information into a much more organized way of accessing companies, so you don’t have to do a Google search — there will be information that is very targeted to specific interests of students and their career paths, so if I’m interested in being a product manager at Microsoft or Amazon, I can find information in one place, I can find everything I want about the company: what they’re asking for in their employees, what kinds of questions they have. It will be consolidated and much more organized than it is today.

“I also think as well as B2B, B2C — just really focusing on the consumers — is going to be very much in our view of things going forward,” Sanchez continues. “What Foster’s strength is, is high-touch, and so we look at the world through the lens of how people feel about what we do. It’s not only about being skilled up — which we also are, we have the skill sets — but also being aware of what the world is thinking and feeling. I think that’s what I see our operation continuing to focus on. Our strategy has always been around developing the talent and creating that professional development and creating demand for our students. So everything that we do really is focusing on those things. And creating demand is really knowing who your companies are, what they’re doing – and who our students are and what they need.”

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