Placing more than half of a graduating class into any one industry is pretty much unheard of among top MBA programs these days. Placing more than half of a graduating class with technology firms? Even crazier. But that’s exactly what the University of Washington Foster School of Business has done for the past three years. Last year the rate ballooned, cementing Foster as a bona fide tech factory; since 2014, Foster’s tech placement has turbocharged 19 full percentage points from 41% to 60% for 2018’s graduating class.
The reason for the surge is two-fold. One reason is Seattle’s epicenter as a tech hub with top MBA-hiring companies such as Amazon and Microsoft. Another is how tech culture generally embodies what this generation of MBAs is looking for in employers.
“I think MBAs are looking for companies that have breakthrough business models that are changing life. They like the idea of innovation and creativity,” says Naomi Sanchez, assistant dean of MBA Career Management at Foster. “They want to work for an exciting, cutting-edge type of situation, with smart people. They want to be surrounded by this energy.”
The gain in tech popularity has come at a time when the consumer goods sector has dropped significantly in popularity among Foster graduates, from 18% in 2014 to 3% in 2018. After gaining in popularity and peaking at 27% in 2015, consulting also took a hit, dropping to 16% for 2018 graduates — the lowest percentage for the industry in the past five years.
Foster also has some of the highest employment rates three months after graduation among all top MBA programs. This past year, 99% of Foster grads seeking employment secured full-time positions within three months of grabbing their degrees. In a wide-ranging interview, Sanchez explains what exactly this generation of MBAs is looking for in employers; what employers, in turn, are looking for in MBA graduates; and what Foster does to maintain such high placement rates for its graduates.
P&Q: Are there any recent trends you’re seeing in employment interest among your students?
Naomi Sanchez: For the full-time MBA and even the evening MBA, I think the trend has been more towards the business analytics and the digital, like product marketing and management, but also leadership development. Leadership at the MBA level is very desired by employers and that’s what they’re looking for with the additional degree. I believe that a lot of the jobs now are demanding more collaborate skills — communication in particular — very quick problem solving, and an ability to escalate issues in directions cross-functionally, so that the MBA is expected to understand general management in some degree. Not to be a specialist, but more of a generalist with the ability to focus in on something like product management, operations, and supply chain, or finance.
We also have seen in the past seven years, since I’ve been here, many more go into consulting. Almost a quarter of the class now goes into consulting. For consulting and critical thinking and case interviewing we have a six-day pre-MBA program for incoming students. Even before they start class, this office provides six full days of career guidance and introduction to what interviewing will be like, and what they should think about. We instituted Design Your Life this year as an overlay for all incoming students — the book, the exercises, the framework of design thinking to your career. And then we are going to continue the design thinking into the winter quarter with a radical collaboration week for all of the first-years. That is going to focus on mainly the feedback we got from the employers. We have three employer advisory boards — one in the Bay Area, one in Shanghai, and one in Seattle — and all of them said that teamwork and team communication is absolutely essential in today’s tech world. Like more than anything. And I’ve heard that resounding across three boards.
So, we are sponsoring about two full days of radical collaboration where students come together and Bain Consulting is coming in to train them on critical thinking and framework thinking around what we call a case-prompt question. And then they will meet again in teams, they will collaborate and present to the company their ideation at the end of the week.
Companies have pushed us to do a better job of preparing our students for this changing tech world that we are in.