By general consensus among MBA career services officials, 2009 was by far the worst job market for MBA students in years—even at the top 30 U.S.programs in the Bloomberg Businessweek ranking, one out of six students ended the summer after graduation without a single job offer in hand. But there are signs that 2010 may be different. At some schools, the number of first-year students returning from their summer internships with offers is on the rise.
Of the 30 top programs contacted by Bloomberg Businessweek, six reported a modest improvement in internship job offers, while 10 others said there was anecdotal evidence of improvement. At the same time, though, both administrators and students say it doesn't add up to a full-blown recovery in the MBA job market, which is anything but certain.
"There's hesitation on the part of employers, who are still being judicious in the number of offers they're making—and rightly so," said Patrick Perrella, the director of MBA career development at the University of Notre Dame's Mendoza College of Business (Mendoza Full-Time MBA Profile). "The question is, 'Is this the new normal?' "
Hiring Picks Up
Although most of the data on converting internships to job offers are preliminary this early in the school year, 22 percent of students with internships at the University of Texas-Austin's McCombs School of Business (McCombs Full-Time MBA Profile) received full-time job offers, which puts the school six weeks ahead of 2009 in terms of placement.At Indiana University's Kelley School of Business (Kelley Full-Time MBA Profile), 33 percent of the class earned full-time offers from summer employers, compared with 22 percent in 2009. With 50 percent of those with internships having received a full-time offer, Mendoza
had the best conversion rate of any of the schools that supplied them for this story.
At the Washington University in St. Louis Olin Business School (Olin Full-Time MBA Profile), 26 percent of those with internships have received job offers from their employers, compared with 18 percent in 2009. While Mark Brostoff, the associate dean and director of the Weston Career Center at Olin, said in an interview that hiring is nowhere near the levels it was in the years before the financial crisis, especially for those interested in banking and consulting, the increase in hiring of interns indicates that the economy is picking up.
"A few years ago, I felt like the Maytag repairman. No one was calling me," he said. "Now I see life in the patient."
Brostoff's not the only one. Perrella said Mendoza's students earned job offers because they focused on job opportunities in the region, participated in more job conferences and fairs, relied on the Notre Dame alumni network, and traveled to the companies that interested them—in part, a necessity, considering Mendoza's remote Indiana location.
"You have to hit this job market hard," he said. "There are a lot of MBAs out there from many schools. You must focus on networking, networking, networking."
Employers' Wait-and-See Approach
Companies are not as willing as they once were to lock themselves into a set number of hires nine months before graduation, said Abby Scott, the executive director of career services at the University of California-Berkeley Haas School of Business (Haas Full-Time MBA Profile), in an interview. Nowadays, she added, offers might come closer to graduation as opposed to right after the internship .
" Our students have seen a solid number of job offers, and there are also many who had positive signals from employers who are taking a wait-and-see approach," said Scott. "It pays off to stay in touch, finish up any projects, and set up meetings in case there is an offer to be had."
Business schools are adjusting to a new reality, where recruiters are sourcing talent through new avenues, such as presentations via the Skype Web-based phone application, videoconferencing for first-round interviews, and promoting undergraduates from within their organizations, said Julie Morton, associate dean of career services at University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile), in an interview.
"The big issue is how students have to look more broadly and adjust their expectations as to whether those job offers at the end of internships will be forthcoming," she said.
"If there's a full-time offer to be had, you should work hard to get it even if you've determined that your internship employer is not your top choice," he said. "You can leverage the offer to find other opportunities."
Beyond Finance and Consulting
Students who were successful in landing post-internship job offers looked at industries beyond the traditional MBA pipelines of finance and consulting, said Brostoff. Energy, health and life sciences, brand management, marketing, manufacturing, general management, and operations are among the industries and functions that career placement officials and students interviewed for this story said they see as the strongest. In addition, those who are willing to work overseas usually broaden their options, said Brostoff.
Aside from confidence and optimism, winning interns took initiative by doing more than their supervisors expected and anticipating the needs of the company without a lot of hand-holding, said Michael Christensen, a second-year student at Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management (Marriott Full-Time MBA Profile), who received a job offer from internship employer Procter & Gamble (PG), in an interview.
In the future, leadership skills will make even more of a difference, said Jay Hart, a second-year student at Marriott.
"What will determine success will be your ability to demonstrate soft skills, leveraging relationships, communicating well, defining the scope of projects, dealing with ambiguity, and setting and meeting clear goals," said Hart, who secured a full-time offer from Bank of America (BAC), where he interned as part of the Human Resources Leadership Development Program.
The arrogance long associated with MBAs is no longer tolerable, if it ever was, said Christian Polman, a second-year student at the Cornell University Johnson School (Johnson Full-Time MBA Profile), in an interview.
Polman attributes the job offer he received from his internship employer, Bain & Co. in London, to the humility he showed on the job. "Many MBAs come in believing that because they've been doing CEO thinking for a year, they can do anything, but that's not the reality of the workplace. MBAs are still pretty junior."
While Polman said the next year will be brighter than the last for MBAs, he will not attempt to predict the future.
"There's still uncertainty in the economy," he said. "There's still a big question mark."