When Cynthia Slater headed to a careers forum on Oct. 27, she expected to shake a few hands, have some pleasant conversation, and perhaps line up a job interview. Having attended the same job fairs in 2002, the second-year student at IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain, anticipated that corporate recruiters wouldn't look favorably on her desire to switch from finance into another industry.
Not so, evidently. She set up four interviews for the next day and has already met again with two of those companies. "It's a better market this year than last," Slater says.
"LET'S TALK." Suddenly, MBA recruiting is seeing an uptick at a number of European business schools. It's a nascent trend, but directors of career services at France's INSEAD, IESE, London Business School, and IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, all report more activity. "Last year, [recruiters] would say: 'Nope, we're not interested,'" says Alison Edmonds, director of career-management services at Manchester Business School. "This year they're saying: 'Let's talk.'"
More recruiting bodes well for the schools, which measure their success by how enthusiastically employers go after their grads. And if the apparent increase in MBA demand holds through next spring, 2004 could be the best recruiting season since the Internet bubble burst and consulting firms and banks slowed or stopped their hiring.
IMD will graduate 90 MBAs on Nov. 28 and expects 90% of them to have full-time jobs by then, vs. 80% for its class a year ago. "There has been an uptick since April," says Katty Ooms Suter, IMD's director of MBA admissions and career services. The school's students had twice as many job interviews on campus this year -- 900 -- with 40 companies visiting the campus vs. 33 in 2002. Similarly, some 623 jobs are posted on London Business School's student Web site, up from 445 a year ago.
"CLEAR SIGNALS." Part of the reason appears to be the consulting industry's improving health. "Companies are feeling much more optimistic, so [they're] engaging consultants," says Rosie Innes, IESE's associate director of career services. "In turn, [consulting firms] are increasing the number of people they're hiring." At INSEAD, Marr Boss, director of corporate development, says whereas in 2001 and 2002 consulting outfits came to campus looking to hire for six offices, "now they're hiring for 13."
For the spring of 2004, MBA hiring at the European operations of Boston Consulting Group will rise about 20% compared with 2003, says Annette Collisy-Lenzen, BCG's director of European recruitment. It plans to sign on 40 MBAs in Europe in the next 12 months and will welcome back about 40 associates the firm has sponsored in MBA programs. "We're seeing clear signals that the economy is getting stronger," says Collisy-Lenzen.
Investment banking is showing glimmers of a rebound as well. "I would predict that we'll hire more MBAs in 2004," says Calum Forrest, Goldman Sachs' (GS) head of recruiting for Europe. "There's a sense that things are firmer underfoot."
"ABOVE AND BEYOND." Karen Champion, European MBA recruiting manager for Morgan Stanley (MWD) in London, expects to recruit about 31 MBAs in the spring of 2004, vs. 17 in 2003. However, it also plans to train more entry-level analysts, 150 vs. 105 in 2003, to become future associates -- the level at which it normally hires MBAs. That should reduce turnover among analysts and implies a long-term reduction in MBA hiring.
Recruiters caution that hiring isn't rebounding everywhere just yet. Michelle Oakley, recruiting officer for Europe at Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), says her needs in 2004 will be "no different" than in 2003, when the outfit signed up 160 MBAs globally.
Some job seekers tell a more optimistic story, however. IESE second-year student Joshua Elboim, 29, has already accepted a job offer that grew out of his summer internship at Morgan Stanley in London. And as a leader of the school's Finance Club, he says in conversations with banks, he has found that "many are going above and beyond the people they've extended offers to from last summer -- to recruit numbers on top of that."
"EXCELLENT" PAY. At least, demand seems to be firming enough to prop up MBA compensation. Pay may not be as generous as three years ago, when newly minted MBAs commanded 82% more, on average, than they earned before starting B-school (see BW, 10/2/2000, "Want an 82% Pay Hike?"). But at IMD, Ooms Suter says the offers graduating students are getting are "excellent" -- including solid base salaries and bonuses for signing and at yearend.
Still, schools aren't about to revive their boom-time courses on negotiating compensation packages just yet. And many students feel fortunate simply to find a job. "I didn't negotiate because I was happy to get an offer, and I didn't feel like I was in a position to ask for any more," says IESE's Elboim.
Until grads gain more leverage than that, some schools are cautious about declaring the job dearth over. Maria de Carlos, associate director of the careers center at Instituto de Empresas in Madrid, says 25% of its 2003 class is still looking for work. And Andy Brown, 37, a second-year MBA at Manchester Business School in Britain, notes that "when you see some of last year's students still around, you think: Oh dear."
"TAILOR YOUR MESSAGE." That means basic job-search tips still apply in Europe, says Kathleeen Malaspina, a Philips International marketing associate in Amsterdam, who's helping recruit four new grads for its Marketing Associate Program. "Do your research up-front," she advises. "If you've targeted certain companies, investigate them to the best of your ability and tailor your message to why your skills would be relevant to them."
Adds Elboim: "Lots of companies out there still have massive financial problems. It's not a time to be relaxed about your career search." In bad times and good, people who have the best luck at finding a job are those who do the most to help themselves. By Mica Schneider in London