Sean Baca was begining to worry. It was late July, and though he had graduated from a top MBA program in June, the 33-year-old former investment manager wasn't finding a job -- and neither was about 30% of his class. With a new baby, Baca and his wife began to wonder how they would make ends meet. Baca had sent his résumé to some 150 venture-capital companies over the previous nine months, but, much like private equity itself, the job market was practically bone-dry.
Then Baca's luck turned. When he recontacted the one private equity firm that had returned his call earlier on, managers there were ready to talk. The upshot: Baca started in September as an associate at Hispania Capital Partners, a Chicago-based venture firm funding companies that target Hispanics. "In March, they had no budget to hire anyone," says Baca, a University of Chicago Graduate School of Business grad. "Over time, the outlook became much more sanguine."
Stories like Baca's are on the rise: A growing number of MBAs in the Class of 2003 have found work over the past few months. Until late summer, it looked as though it would be the third dismal year in a row for MBAs at BusinessWeek's Top 30 schools -- 36% of grads were still without job offers. But now, MBAs seem to be among the first to benefit from the thousands of jobs the Labor Dept. says were created over the last few months -- especially as stretched-thin consulting firms and investment banking outfits gear up for increased workloads (click here for a video interview with the Kellogg School's Dipak Jain talks about the recent uptick in the MBA job market).
HAPPY GRADS. What's more, for grads such as Leandro Bello, who took internships when full-time work was nowhere to be found, many of those summer stints have turned into bona fide jobs. Bello, a 2003 graduate of Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, took a summer assignment with Sallie Mae (SLM ), though there seemed to be little promise of full-time work there. "I took the risk that maybe it would turn into something," says Bello. By September, he was named contracts and procurement manager at the company. He's not alone in finding work. "Every week I get at least one happy call from a grad" whose summer placement turned into more, says Abby Scott, MBA career services director at University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business. "They're finding jobs in industries all across the board."
The good job news has B-school placement directors such as Scott excited. But what's more uplifting, they say -- and it's a sure sign that the MBA job market is improving overall -- are the prospects for 2004 grads. Roxanne Hori, director of the career-management center at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, reports a 20% increase in the number of recruiters on campus this fall. She and other career-services directors say recruiters, particularly consulting firms, such as A.T. Kearney Inc., say they plan to bring in considerably more MBAs this year than they did in 2002 or 2001.
The positive signs in the MBA job market make for a long-awaited dose of optimism on B-school campuses. True, warns Judy Olian, dean of Smeal College of Business at Pennsylvania State University, "the days of two or three job offers per person are not back." But for job-starved MBAs, one offer will do just fine.
By Jennifer Merritt in New York