The traditional recruitment season was going swimmingly last spring at the Owen Graduate School of Management. Then coronavirus happened.
As it did at every business school, the pandemic forced Owen’s career services operations into high gear as employers curtailed or rescinded job and internships offers. Many of Vanderbilt’s about-to-graduate MBAs needed help, and so did the school’s rising second-year students, whose internships were cut to fractions of their normal duration or canceled altogether.
It was the Owen Career Management Center’s time to shine.
Emily Anderson, the CMC’s senior director, says it was a difficult spring and summer for her team, but the results — presented this week in the newly released 2020 MBA employment report — show their hard work largely paid off.
“I don’t think anybody took a lot of vacation or did a lot outside of work,” Anderson tells Poets&Quants. “Of course we were all working remotely. Everybody worked all the way through the summer. The big difference this summer was, normally we’re working with any second years that just graduated that haven’t landed — so we’re still working with them. And then we’re onboarding through various means the incoming class. But this year we worked with the interns, the rising second years, the graduates, and the incoming students.
“We had a lot more workshops, alumni panels — we did a lot more steps with the rising second years than we normally do, because normally they’re off. They take a little trip and then they start their internships, and they’re on board until right when school starts. So they’re not looking for a lot of help — but this summer they were.”
FINANCE IS TOP INDUSTRY FOR OWEN 2020 MBAs
Vanderbilt Owen’s jobs report shows how hard Anderson and the CMC worked: 100% of Class of 2021 MBAs who sought internships found one. Nearly all — 98% — of the internships were paid, and the pay median was up 11% from last year, to a monthly salary of $8,333.
On the full-time front, of Class of 2020 MBAs seeking employment, 96% had offers by three months afterward, and 90% had accepted. That’s down from 97% and 95%, respectively, in the Class of 2019. This year’s MBA class made a median salary of $125,000, up from $117,500, with a median signing bonus of $25,000, identical to last year.
Financial services became the top employment industry for Owen MBAs in 2020, with 27% of the class going into banking at an average salary of $131,788; technology was second at 21% and $120,313, consulting third at 20% and $145,172, and healthcare fourth at 16% and $112,696. Last year, healthcare was second at 19% and $106,370; consulting was the top industry for the Class of 2019, at 27%, and an average salary of $136,050.
The final 2020 employment picture “came out okay, I think, largely because we had a very good fall and early spring,” Anderson says. “So we were in good shape before March came, so that definitely helped.”
Coronavirus set everyone back, she concedes, primarily in job acceptances.
“The story of how the Class of 2020 worked was, they came in in the fall with 59% of them having an offer from their internships,” Anderson says. “Normally, we’re around 50%, so that was the highest we had seen. By March, we were already up to an offer rate close to 80%. In March, I think there was 9% out of that 59% — 9% or 10% — who had declined their offers, their internship offers and had done a little bit of recruiting. But usually, when that happens, there’s usually some change in circumstance, like a student has a particular geography or they’re much more particular about where they want their full-time offer to be. And a lot of them were kind of waiting for the spring cycle and were just about to get active because it’s close to graduation in March when Covid hit. So those it hit harder than anybody because they had already declined an offer.”
A WILD SUMMER FOR INTERNSHIPS
Vanderbilt Owen is a small program, with around 150 job-seeking MBAs each spring. This year, Anderson says, the close-knit nature of the program was a key advantage, as alumni swooped in when some MBAs had nowhere to turn.
“We were fortunate to have a few alums that came in in May and June with some opportunities,” she says, citing Freedom Mortgage, which was building out a new platform at the time. The company “had had some familiarity with some Owen students, and had actually hired some of our MBAs, and so they wound up interviewing quite a few and they picked up nine additional people in May and June. So that was a huge help through an alumni connection. That helped quite a few people. Because our class sizes are under 200, each individual is important, in the numbers game of it, anyway.”
Through the summer, Anderson says, internships took up much of the CMC’s focus. Most were not rescinded, she says, but all were affected by the new reality imposed by the coronavirus.
“There was something like four or five folks that had their offers pulled,” she says, citing internships that had been agreed to by toymaker Mattel, which has a headquarters in Lewisburg, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive south of Vanderbilt’s Nashville campus. “So there were a few offers pulled, but it wasn’t widespread. And we were also in a position in March where the large majority of the class already had their offers as well.
“The main thing that happened with the internships, though, was just the change in format. Of course, they all went virtual. And then a lot of them had their projects altered and their timeframe shortened. I think companies at that point, nobody knew exactly how long this was going to go. Some were delaying start dates until late in June, thinking that maybe they could start in person. And that obviously didn’t happen.
“So there were some that went from a 10-week internship to a four-week internship. I would say the average was probably four to six weeks on an internship. And then the consulting firms did a variety of things. Some did their full internship; some, like Deloitte, really pared it back to two weeks and they didn’t do a project. It was much more of an academic experience and a network experience than it was a full project. But most of the consulting firms went on and made offers directly from their internship pool, so students wound up in the summer knowing that they had a full-time offer.”
‘THAT’S WHEN YOUR ALUMNI REALLY KICK IN’
Was there a time in the spring or summer when Emily Anderson thought the fall jobs report would look a lot worse than it does?
“Well, yes,” she says with a laugh. “We did keep track of the numbers pretty closely. I knew our offer rate for our full-time class would be over 90%. And I was hoping the accept rate would be somewhere around 90%. For the internships, I did not know that everybody would get something. But it wound up happening.”
By April, the CMC was working with “about 15 people” that didn’t have an internship. “So it wasn’t a huge number to try to find work for,” Anderson says. “Largely, at that point, you’re really relying a lot on alumni help in referrals and projects.”
Several found internship work through Vanderbilt University Medical Center, she says, which gave MBA students a chance not only to get work but to get meaningful work in a pandemic.
“Because we have a healthcare MBA, we have alums in the medical center, and especially for project work, they were able to pick up a couple of people that were kind of underemployed,” she says. “So there were some folks that their full-time or their real internship was pared down enough or short enough that they were able to do two things, which was nice. For the students, they just really wanted to stay busy. The thought of all summer not doing anything was a pretty big motivator for people to find something.
Hardship is nothing new for Anderson. Now it’s nothing new for a whole batch of Vanderbilt MBAs, too.
“This is my third economic downturn,” she says. “So that’s when your alumni really kick in and help with just referring people to project work. There were a lot of folks that were probably underpaid for the work they did over the summer. But they had to think about it in the sense of, ‘I want to get some work experience. And if I’m doing a job transition, I need some experience.'”