U.S. colleges and universities may have invented the MBA and its traditional career services component but, with more mobile, experienced, and diverse graduates, European MBA programs and their graduates are getting noticed more by employers around the world. In fact, when it comes to recruiting, graduates of European business schools are quickly catching up to their American counterparts. And, as more U.S. grads start looking overseas for those coveted "international" job opportunities, the competition for jobs between American and European MBAs is heating up.
Apart from the overall maturing of European MBA programs—their academic structure is beginning to compare with the rigorous coursework offered in the U.S., and media rankings in Europe are increasing the focus—macro trends are driving up the relative value of European MBAs. The global shift in business is strengthening's Europe position as a conduit between the U.S. and much of the developing world.
European MBAs tend to have done more traveling, speak more languages, and know more about other cultures, which gives them an advantage over many American MBAs, notes Antonio Fatas, dean of the MBA program at INSEAD, which has campuses in France and Singapore and a center in Abu Dhabi. Plus, they tend to be more willing to move to different parts of the world to serve their career.
More Work Experience under Their Belts
For instance, at INSEAD, 887 MBAs graduated in 2007 and went to work for 350 companies in 55 different countries. "Most [of our students] have lived in more than one country, and they speak two or three languages," says Fatas. "They're flexible and interact with different cultures, which is something you see more of when you go outside the U.S."
European MBAs also tend to have more work experience and education than the typical American MBA student. Many Europeans already have a master's degree when they enter an MBA program and have been working longer than their U.S. counterparts. For example, at ESADE in Barcelona, incoming students must have a minimum of four years of work experience under their belt, and the average student has seven to eight years. At many top U.S. programs, the average work experience is four to five years, and some programs are actively courting students with even less experience. As a result, say European business school administrators, recruiters interested in hiring more senior managers who can hit the ground running might first turn to candidates from European schools.
But to really compete with U.S. grads, European business schools are going to have to upgrade their performance in career services—the process of getting their graduates into top-paying jobs. While in the U.S. career services tends to run like a well-oiled machine, European business schools are still having some difficulty selling the value of MBAs to European employers. Recently the U.S.-based MBA Career Services Council (CSC) started reaching out to European schools and will be working with the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC) and the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) to help standardize for employers what an MBA degree in Europe means. Kip Harrell, the standards officer for CSC, said career services data collected in Europe are not yet comparable to American programs' data.
Teaching Best Practices for Career Services
In April the CSC will conduct a roundtable at ESADE in Barcelona for European business schools to teach administrators about best practices for American career services offices and how U.S. schools report employment data. "We're hoping to help [European schools] think through this and adopt the same standards wherever possible," says Tom Kozicki, president of the CSC board of directors.
In addition, MBA Focus, which produces résumé databases and helps employers connect with MBA students, will hold a conference at a nearby hotel that will cover MBA recruiting trends.
You can't simply create a tradition of recruiting overnight. The recruiting culture has been born and will mature in tandem with the growth of European business school programs, says Maria Angeles Bosch, manager of Recruiting for BCG in Madrid and Barcelona. Targeting about 10 MBA hires each from the U.S. and Europe, Bosch recruits at INSEAD, IESE, ESADE, London Business School, Harvard Business School, and the Stanford Graduate School of Business.
Also on her list are the Stern School at New York University, Columbia Business School, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.
Recruiting Culture is Starting to Change
She adds that to produce the same caliber of MBAs as American business schools, European programs have to learn and then teach students how to network, and professors have to have more of a presence and connection with the practical business world.
Camila de Wit, director of Admissions and Career Services at ESADE, said that the recruiting culture is beginning to change. "European MBA recruiters are becoming more sophisticated and interested in hiring MBAs." she says. In particular, pharmaceutical and consumer products companies such as Nike (NKE) and Adidas, are changing the recruiting playing field in Europe. They are starting to notice that middle management in many European companies is weak, says de Wit, and they realize they can fill the hole with MBAs. Some companies are starting to offer rotational programs that have new hires gaining valuable training and an opportunity to work in a breadth of functions, innovations that could make European MBAs more prepared to compete with their American counterparts.
For many companies, of course, the choice is not U.S. or European MBAs, but a combination of both. Luc Holthof, vice-president and global leader of Recruitment for Philips (PHG) in Amsterdam, says Philips successfully attains European employees from the Continent's top MBA programs. But it is trying to make American MBAs more aware of its brand. He said the company would like to compete more aggressively for American talent at top-tier business schools against finance and consulting firms from around the globe, which tend to be the most popular employers for U.S. graduates.
Gaining a Global Perspective
Either way, getting MBAs to work in Europe is getting to be an easier sell. Antonia Korduba, a University of Chicago Graduate School of Business MBA who is a strategy manager at Diageo in London, says those who live and work outside the U.S. might have an edge in the future. "I'm learning [about] Europe and the rest of the world very well, whereas if I worked in the U.S., I'd know the U.S. very well," she says. "With the world getting smaller, this global perspective will help me."