This Year's MBAs Do a Dot-Com U-Turn

They're steering clear of the Net and considering banks, consulting firms, and even tech outfits -- with revenue streams

Last fall, optimistic second-year MBA students were eagerly lining up for interviews with dot-coms and Internet-consulting firms, expecting the royal treatment recruits had come to take for granted in the tight labor market. But when the second- and third-round phone calls came, they weren't to extend invites to meet the big guys. Instead, the much-awaited messages told wanna-be employees there would be no jobs available.

Add to that the stream of dot-conned grads seeking help from their alma maters' placement offices (See BW Online, 1/19/01, "MBAs Slink Back to the Nest"), and it's one big wake-up call to starry-eyed MBA students: The world has changed. And this year's class is getting the message loud and clear.

As the recruiting season hits its peak, the Class of 2001 is heading to traditional companies in droves. "They're still interested in technology, but technology companies with a revenue stream," says Anne Harris, director of career services at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business. In 2000, about 5% of Darden's 240-student MBA class headed to dot-coms. In 2001, Harris expects that to dwindle to two or three students -- that's individual students, not a percent.


  That's a relief to investment banks, consulting firms, established tech companies, and other mainstays that in 1999 and 2000 couldn't fill interview schedules and saw historically low acceptances from offers they made. Now, as dot-coms disappear from campus, presentations by traditional outfits are once again packed, and their schedules are brimming. "The result of the bounce back is amazing for us," says Manny Maceda, vice-president for worldwide recruiting at Bain & Co. Few of last year's summer interns signed up for full-time jobs, but Maceda says a "significant number" this year agreed to come back -- even before the December-decision deadline.

Indeed, a survey of MBA students in the class of 2001 at the University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business showed that interest in dot-com jobs fell from 30% when they were first surveyed in December, 1999, to 17% last fall. Meanwhile, interest in consulting, finance, and marketing shot up. In consulting alone, 35% of students say they're interested in jobs in that field now, vs. 27% in December, 1999. East Coast students still trekked to the West Coast to meet potential employers in December, but rather than visit dot-coms, most chose to knock on the doors of established companies such as Cisco Systems, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard.

It's not just that risk-averse MBAs are riding the economic tide. Traditional companies also improved recruitment methods in the dog days of the talent wars. "They're figuring out how to make themselves more appealing," says Roxanne Hori, director of placement at Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management.


  Want an exciting job developing strategies for e-commerce companies or initiatives? Come work with us, say companies like consultants McKinsey & Co. or Ford Motor. And they're bringing something even sweeter: a hefty paycheck that isn't contingent on tomorrow's stock price. Says Brent Trinacty, a student at the University of California at Los Angeles' Anderson School of Business, who spent his summer at a dot-com but plans to take a consulting job: "It's nice to go to a company that has an unwavering sense of who they are and isn't trying to figure it out on the fly."

It's not that interest in the Net and e-commerce strategies is fading. At places like the University of California at Berkeley's Haas School of Business, students still clamor for elective courses on Internet strategy and e-finance. "The demand for Internet-savvy MBAs is very strong, despite dot-com layoffs," says Ilse Evans, executive director of MBA Admissions & Career Services at Haas.

But B-schools do admit they're fine-tuning the number and content of e-centered courses they offer. If nothing else, they say, teaching e-business strategies is still a boon to Old Economy outfits now pushing their own e-commerce initiatives. And there may be an upside for dot-coms, too. With the training MBAs get in their years at a traditional company, future dot-coms may well benefit from experienced managers who can provide a little adult supervision.

By Jennifer Merritt in New York

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.