Riding the Wave of the MBA Job Market

Riding the Wave of the MBA Job Market

Back in 2009 when the global economy was stumbling like a Saturday-night partygoer, a joke going around business-education circles was: “What would you say to a new MBA in their first job?” The punchline, of course, was: “A Big Mac, fries and a vanilla shake please.” Well, the cynics have gone decidedly quiet since then, because the MBA jobs market is suddenly sizzling.

“The trend for the recently graduated class is extremely positive”, reports Katja Boytler, associate director of career services at Fontainebleau and Singapore-based INSEAD. “We’ve had a very successful on-campus recruitment campaign, continuing the turnaround that began in 2010.” In addition to record job placement and an overall mean salary of €87,400 (14% higher than the year before), the school also saw emerging markets continue to grow their stake in the MBA employment market. Boytler says 25% of its graduates ended up in one of 13 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, “while in Latin America, Brazil’s appetite for talent seemed insatiable”.

At the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) in Shanghai, 94.2% of the graduating class had a job within three months of graduation, which for Yvonne Li, MBA director of admissions and career services, reflects the country’s economic growth. “We have a huge demand for talent, so most of our students stay here. Last year we received 1,589 job offers for our 184 graduates, and because of the diversity of their backgrounds, they have career opportunities in a wide range of industries.”

The jobs market of 2012 looks like being a very different animal to its counterpart before the financial crisis. While the consulting industry is looking as strong as ever, the other traditional MBA career path – towards financial services – is under great strain. But since banks in Western economies have put the brakes on their hiring, business school students have been relieved to see a much wider range of opportunities on offer in technology and new media, energy, manufacturing, consumer and luxury goods.

“A fog has descended across Wall Street,” explains Jack Oakes, assistant dean for career development at the University of Virginia’s Darden School, “so it is great to see industrial firms like Boeing and 3M raising their game and increasing their MBA hiring, as well as hi-tech firms like Facebook and Amazon.” Oakes acknowledges that plenty of students will still look to land a job in financial services, particularly when the markets bounce back. “But banks will face stiffer competition for top talent from industry, who are doing a much better job of marketing themselves.”

Even though the overall jobs outlook is improving, business schools still point out that it is a tough and competitive market. “The key thing for students to remember is that they really need to have the right mindset when they go about their job search,” says Marieke Steffens, director of careers at Nyenrode Business University in the Netherlands. “They need to be focused and know exactly who they are and what they are offering employers.”

This view is shared by INSEAD’s Boytler. “Self-awareness, flexibility and perseverance are key, particularly for career changers, because companies tend to place safer bets on previous experience or market knowledge,” she says. “If you are intent on changing function, location and sector of activity, you will have to cope with a lot of change. So we ask our students to think hard more about what will be the first stepping stone.”

For those who really want to embrace change, and mindful of the competitive recruitment landscape, an increasing number of MBAs are looking at entepreneurial options after business school. “We are seeing more Nyenrode graduates being hired by start-ups in new economies such as the mobile apps business,” says Steffens, “or they are starting their own businesses, often through our business incubator.”

To help students in their job searches, business schools are devoting more resources to personal development skills, providing advice on companies that are hiring (and how they are hiring), encouraging the more effective use of social media tools and organising career treks to Silicon Valley and the recruitment hotspots of Latin America, the Gulf states and Asia. “We used to tell people to go west in search of opportunity”, says Oakes. “But today we add that they shouldn’t stop in California.”

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