Most MBAs Say They Are Unhappy With Their Recruitment Experience

RelishCareer’s latest survey shows widespread dissatisfaction among MBAs with their personal recruitment experience. RelishCareers photo

By a wide margin, most MBA students walk away from their job recruitment experience dissatisfied, according to a new survey, and nearly half say they ended up taking a job in an industry that wasn’t their first choice — resulting in greater unhappiness across the board.

RelishCareers, which helps grad school students and alumni connect with employers, released its annual Candidate Survey Report on Monday (July 15). The survey of 136 mostly full-time MBA students found that only about one-third of respondents rated themselves “happy” with their overall recruiting experience, while another third reported feeling “neutral.” Meanwhile, nearly half — 46% — indicated they accepted an offer in an industry other than the one they initially targeted. These candidates, the survey shows, reported lower satisfaction in every facet of the recruitment process.

“It’s something that we’ve found in previous years,” says Zach Mayo, RelishCareers COO and co-founder. “Particularly for candidates who didn’t get offers in their preferred industry, it’s not very surprising to see low satisfaction rates.”


Contrary to impressions arising from reports of widespread recruit dissatisfaction, the signs of a healthy recruitment landscape are plenty. For newly minted or soon-to-graduate MBAs, there are jobs to be had. So it could be that the disaffection captured in the survey is a function of the sample of graduates who responded to the survey. After all, it an MBA was satisfied with their choice of job and career, it’s likely that they wouldn’t be on the Relish platform looking for new opportunities.

“The recruiting market for MBA and specialty master’s students remains solid, reflecting the strength seen in the global marketplaces,” Rebecca Cook, executive director of the MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business, told Poets&Quants in May. “We continue to see changes in how employers are choosing to recruit, in terms of on/off campus and live versus virtual recruiting, but the important thing is that employers are still finding value in hiring students with MBA and other graduate business degrees.”

But unhappiness among MBAs and MBA candidates in the recruitment process is high, and highest among those who ended up missing out on jobs in their preferred industry. Unsurprising? Perhaps, yet the data still contains an important insight for candidates entering the MBA job market: They are likely to be better off if they receive an offer in their first-choice industry, so they should carefully consider which industry to prioritize, Zach Mayo says. They may be popular targets, but recruiting for industries like consulting and private equity is highly competitive — and respondents to the RelishCareers survey reported a high failure rate: 65% of respondents who had consulting as their first-choice industry ended up accepting offers in a different industry; for private equity, the rate was 75%.

“One of the things we emphasized in the report is that a lot of people try to go into finance or private equity or consulting and end up not getting an offer, and they have to go through it again, so I think it’s understandable that those people are unhappy,” Mayo says.

This graphic displays the happiness of candidates as a function of their preferred industry (y-axis) vs. their actual industry (x-axis), with green circles representing happy candidates and blue circles representing unhappy ones. RelishCareers

The overwhelming majority of survey respondents (83%) were enrolled in a full-time MBA program during the past year’s recruiting cycle, with the remainder distributed across part-time MBA, executive MBA, and other graduate business degrees. About one third, or 35%, were still seeking work when they filled out the survey for RelishCareers. The median reported age is 29 years old; 46% of respondents identified as female, and 36% were international students who are or were seeking visa sponsorship.


Recruitment is time-intensive, RelishCareers found. Class of 2020 candidates reported spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on recruiting activities — including company briefings, networking calls, research, and applications — and a reported average of just over six months between their first recruiting activity and their last. This means that first-year MBAs can expect to spend a total of 226 hours on recruitment over the course of the school year. Second-year MBAs reported a lower but still substantial average of 156 total hours spent recruiting, owing to previous experience and existing networks.

Imagine, then, spending all this time and still not getting an offer. Among the Class of 2020, the least happy group, unsurprisingly, was those who spent the most hours per week on recruiting (15+ hours) — but the second least-happy group was those who spent the least hours on recruiting (0-3 hours). The middle ground, RelishCareer reports, produced the most consistently happy candidates: 10-15 hours per week represented the “ideal” time commitment (66% of respondents reported being happy with their recruiting experience). For the Class of 2019, the least happy group was those who spent the least time (0-3 hours), and again the happiest were those in the middle (7-9 hours per week). The data, therefore, suggests that a moderate time commitment is the best strategy.

When it comes to the overall length of the recruiting process, candidates should prepare for a roughly six-month process, RelishCareers says. Among survey respondents, the average Class of 2020 member spent 6.6 months recruiting, while Class of 2019 members spent 5.1 months. There was, again, a strong correlation between the length of the recruiting process and candidate happiness, with 76% of respondents who spent less than six months on recruiting reporting that they were happy with the experience, while only 47% of those who spent more than six months were happy with their experience. Meanwhile, 71% of respondents reported spending an equal or greater amount of their time on off-campus recruiting targets; only 1.5% of respondents participated in no off-campus recruiting activities.

This chart shows candidate happiness as a function of the start month (y-axis) and the final month (x-axis) of recruiting activities. Green circles represent happy candidates, and blue circles are unhappy candidates. Those who finished in April or were still seeking employment at the time of the survey are the least happy group, and their unhappiness is more pronounced the earlier they began recruiting. RelishCareers

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