How Recruiters Rank Business Schools

MBA students are the customers. They pay for tuition. Their recommendations sway applicants. As alumni, their gifts fatten the endowment. While business schools dote on their MBAs, they also cater to another base.

Recruiters may not fund the next center, but their opinions weigh heavily on decision-makers. Simply put, they dictate pay and placement – the numbers that often tip rankings up a coveted spot or two. Their hiring choices reinforce the notion that an MBA is a solid investment, one worth moving across the country and sacrificing two years of pay.


Which schools do recruiters love? You won’t get anyone at McKinsey or Goldman Sachs on record for that. Like proud parents, they love each child equally – or so they say. Over time, you notice trends. Want to work at Amazon? That’s Michigan Ross territory. JP Morgan? Never hurts to be a Stern alum.

Fact is, every highly selective business school is a hunting ground for talent. Sometimes, employers develop an affinity for particular programs. The reasons may range from relevant programming to successful career paths from alumni. In the end, some schools possess a special something, the kind that drives recruiters to drive three hours to rattle off another PowerPoint and brave the dreaded circle of death.

Those business schools are reflected in Bloomberg Businessweek’s recruiter survey. Each year, BW takes the pulse of the world’s top employers on full-time MBA programs. Not surprisingly, certain results correlate with expectations. This year, for example, Stanford GSB and Yale SOM ranked among the ten-best in three of four categories. Then again, so did Georgetown McDonough and Georgia Tech Scheller. In fact, you’ll find Washington Foster among the Top 10 in every single category.


In 2019, Bloomberg Businessweek reached out to 985 employers worldwide for their opinions on 131 business schools. On March 19, Bloomberg Businessweek released results from four questions, which measured brand equity, innovation, diversity, and entrepreneurial mindset. To do that, survey respondents scored schools on a scale from 1-7, with 7 being the highest possible score. The results reflect opinion from 2,863 recruiters – down from the 3,698 respondents who participated in last year’s survey.

Alas, this methodology is certain to stir detractors. For one, this year’s highest average came in at 6.0 (IMD in Brand Value). Compare that to last year’s result, where the highest score was 4.69 (Stanford GSB in, again, Brand Value). In other words, Bloomberg Businessweek applied a five or six-point scale last year, making it difficult to make apple-to-apple comparisons in performance between years.

What’s more, the results include multiple responses from members of the same company (i.e. 2,863 responses from 985 companies). The major flaw? According to John A. Byrne, Editor-In-Chief at Poets&Quants, many recruiters tend to more highly regard their own alma maters when they fill in the survey forms. Beyond the inevitable bias, these recruiters also lack context to compare their programs against peer schools. Another flaw: multiple employer responses can contradict each other, whereas a summary score from the chief decision-maker flattens a potential scoring curve. Then there is the matter of 985 employers, meaning larger consumers of MBA talent don’t wield greater influence on the results.


This year’s results also include two fewer categories, as BW removed Best-Trained MBAs and Entrepreneurship Training from the mix. That said, a key measure –Innovative and Creative Graduates – remains intact. That was good news for Georgetown McDonough, which climbed from 3rd to 1st in this category. Washington Foster jumped from 8th to 2nd, while Georgia Tech claimed 3rd – after being unranked the year before.

What draws recruiters to Atlanta’s Tech Square. Katie Lloyd, assistant dean at Scheller, touts the program’s hands-on, technology-driven curriculum. “Drawing from our heritage as engineering institute, Georgia Tech Scheller College of Business has a rich tradition of technology-focused curriculum, experiential learning, and interdisciplinary opportunities,” she tells P&Q in a 2020 interview. “Unlike other MBA programs, we include core courses in IT management, digital strategy, and analytics in our students’ first semester. These offerings competitively position students to leverage data in internships across any industry of interest and set them up for success in our applied practicum classes.”

Last year’s #1 – Stanford GSB – slid to 7th in Innovation and Creativity. Their Bay Area rival – Berkeley Haas – also tumbled five spots to 10th. In contrast, Virginia Darden rose from 15th to 5th. The takeaway: just three Top 10 programs – Stanford GSB, Yale SOM, and Berkeley Haas – produce students deemed to be highly inventive. The rest came from outliers like Brigham Young Marriott, which ranked 3rd in Innovation and Creativity, but 27th overall.


Not surprisingly, Brand Value scores align closely with ranking…with some surprising deviations. That starts at the top. Last year, Stanford, Harvard, and Wharton ranked 1-2-3, just like you’d expect. Reputation has its privileges, after all. This year, IMD knocked Stanford GSB to 3rd, with Harvard holding its runner-up spot and Wharton sliding down to 5th. Washington Foster – a recruiter darling – elbowed its way into 4th. Certainly, Foster benefits from Seattle’s white-hot tech sector…just look at its 99% placement rate and record pay. However, it is the small cohort experience, with its feedback-heavy “We > Me” culture, that prepares Foster MBAs for the demands ahead.

“Foster MBAs are expected to lead, and to leave the Foster MBA program better than they found it,” explains MBA admissions director Amber Janke in a 2019 Q&A with Poets&Quants. “Being part of a   small cohort gives students opportunities to own significant leadership roles in multiple areas to make a big impact on the MBA program, and its relationship with the larger community.”

The headline, however, isn’t who made the Brand Value list. Instead, it is which programs failed to crack it. Start with MIT Sloan and Yale SOM – proverbial Top 10 programs with historically high application-to-seat ratios – dropped out of the Top 12 after ranking 5th and 6th respectively here last year. The same is true of Berkeley Haas, Columbia Business School, and Chicago Booth (the latter suffering the added insult of watching rival Northwestern Kellogg snag its spot). After ranking 4th last year, Georgetown McDonough – a plucky underdog if there ever was one – also dropped out of the ranking.

To see the most diverse and entrepreneurial programs, go to the next page.

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