Are MBAs inveterate job-hoppers? They certainly have that reputation—so much that Dean Robert Bruner of the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business was moved to give the graduating class a finger-wagging commencement speech on May 18. In it he noted the oft-repeated claim that MBAs tend to stay with their first post-MBA employer about 18 months before moving on to greener (as in dollars) pastures.
While there’s some truth to that claim, it appears to be wildly exaggerated. Yes, MBAs do a bit more job-hopping than most, especially at the beginning of their careers, but they don’t clear out en masse after 18 months, like bulls stampeding for the exits.
The Graduate Management Admission Council, which publishes the GMAT, surveys thousands of MBA graduates every year, so I asked them to crunch some numbers. What they found was fairly remarkable.
When GMAC conducted its 2012 survey, almost everyone from the graduating class of 2012—94 percent—was still with their first post-MBA employers. But a huge chunk of the class of 2011 had moved on. By 2012, only 71 percent of that class was still with the first post-MBA employer; only 63 percent of the class of 2010 was still on the first job. To put this in context, Harvard Business School graduates about 900 MBAs every year. If the HBS class of 2010 had all gone to work for the same company, the GMAC data suggest, about 333 would have disappeared by their two-year anniversaries.
GMAC found that at the four-year mark, about half the graduates were still with their original employers. But at the 10-year mark, about one out of four graduates remained with the first post-MBA employer. Over the course of a decade, GMAC found, U.S. business school alumni from the class of 2000 held down 2.8 different jobs—roughly a new employer every 3.6 years.
If you’re the employer who shelled out a small fortune to recruit and train MBAs, those numbers may be troubling—but not that much worse than the job-hopping behavior of the workforce at large. In a 2011 longitudinal study of 9,000 men and women born from 1980 to 1984, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that about 70 percent of jobs held by those with a bachelor’s degree or higher lasted less than two years—slightly higher than the class of 2010 at the two-year mark in the GMAC study.
Over time, MBA mobility does not appear to be getting worse. When Bloomberg Businessweek surveyed the class of 1992 from the top 30 U.S. business schools in 2003, it found the average number of post-MBA employers was 2.8—exactly what GMAC found for the class of 2000 in 2010.
Why do MBAs leave? For this, I turned again to GMAC, which analyzed the results of its 2011 survey, the most recent one that asked this question. Few will be surprised to learn that money is the biggest reason, cited by 43 percent of respondents, followed by a lack of opportunities for advancement (32 percent), unchallenging work (26 percent), and unsatisfying work (21 percent).
For almost everyone involved—employers, graduates, and business school administrators—job-hopping feels like a failure. In some ways, it is. But job mobility, the ability to “write one’s own ticket,” is one of the main advantages of having an MBA. If it weren’t for MBA turnover, companies would hire far fewer MBAs, recruiting events would look a lot more like ghost towns, and B-schools would be out of business.