Just-in-Time Jobs

Since the Internet bust, more employers are ignoring the traditional hiring season to scout talent year-round

By Francesca Di Meglio

For Robert Walker, a 2005 graduate of the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, finding a job was a wrenching experience. He was downing Maalox regularly until he finally snagged his dream in April, much later than most MBAs. "You have to have an iron stomach for the longer job search," says the soon-to-be research analyst at Chickasaw Capital Management in Memphis.

Walker is among a growing number of MBA graduates who are being hired in the spring or even early summer, rather than in the traditional winter recruiting season. Known as just-in-time or last-minute hiring, this trend offers a range of benefits to employers, many of whom delayed recruiting during the economic downturn.

Delaying job placement until later in the academic year allows employers time to determine how many MBAs they really need and can afford. But even as the economy picks up, many companies have continued the practice. Indeed, many companies essentially are hiring year-round as the need arises.


  The proof is in the data. At Owen, for example, placement statistics for December, 2004, and 2005 -- the middle of the traditional hiring season -- were about the same. But by the time April and May rolled around, placement was up 50% and 75%, respectively, vs. the same months in 2004.

Over the past two years, Columbia Business School in New York also reports a significant increase in spring job postings and resume collections. In 2005, the school's job postings so far have increased more than 30% for full-time jobs and 70% for summer internships since last year.

Having hiring decisions match budget cycles appeals to many companies that want to make more informed and economical hiring decisions. When the dot-com bubble burst at the start of the decade, companies that had hired lots of MBAs in early winter found themselves forced to renege on offers. To avoid over-hiring while the economy has remained tight, many companies have continued waiting until later in the academic year to determine which MBAs would get a job.

Year-round hiring of MBAs could continue indefinitely. More than 50% of respondents to the MBA Career Services Council spring 2005 employment survey say companies are still hiring only on an as-needed basis, even though the economy is getting better. General MBA job placement, in fact, is expected to be up about 25% this year, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers.


  Employers have good reasons for waiting it out. "They don't see it as late," says Christopher Morris, director of MBA Career Management at The Wharton School at University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. "They see it as hiring someone when there's a need." Morris also says that the job-placement data for 2005 is still incomplete, and therefore, he cannot share it with the public.

Avaya (AV ), which designs, builds, and manages communication networks from Basking Ridge, N.J., will hire over 100 MBAs throughout 2005. Lisa Allen, manager of MBA Recruitment, says she uses just-in-time hiring to check out MBA candidates at programs from which the company does not usually recruit.

For outfits whose client base is always growing, just-in-time hiring is a must. "The benefit is that we can fulfill client needs as quickly as possible," says Matt Mosser, chief of global talent resources at management-consulting firm the Gallup Organization. "And we can get a person up to speed whenever he or she joins us."


  Still, some argue that once the economy completely bounces back, employers won't be able to keep top talent waiting. "The cost of reactive hiring is that there are still some great students available in the spring, but far fewer than earlier in the year," says Ken Keeley, executive director of Career Opportunities at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. About 164 out of 224 Tepper MBA graduates had job offers as of May 13, but those data are still incomplete, says Keeley. In general, the school averages about 200 job postings per month all year long for internships and full-time jobs for newly-minted MBAs and alumni.

At least for now, most companies -- especially investment banks and consulting outfits that pay top dollar -- prefer to be early birds. Recruiters get a greater selection of students and they have the time to meet with them on campus, says Jason Rose, university recruiting programs manager at Hewlett-Packard in Roseville, Calif.

But many students are choosing to hang around for spring offers. A certain percentage of students always opt to keep their options open or prefer one of the industries that typically hire later in the academic year. Earlier in May, West Wind Capital Partners in Atlanta hired 2005 Owen graduate Jason Lioon as an associate in the real estate asset management department.


 Lioon had approached the company in the winter but was told there were no openings at that time. He remained in touch via e-mail and phone calls until a position became available in April. "It was difficult to pass on earlier opportunities that weren't really a good fit, especially because they offered a good salary and title," says Lioon. He says he waited, despite the worry it caused, because he wanted job satisfaction, too.

His alma mater certainly seems to think that Lioon represents the future. For a few years now, Owen has organized a career fair for local companies in Nashville and Memphis that are still seeking talent come spring. In 2005, about 11 companies and 90 students, several of whom found jobs as a result, participated. Students are going to have to adjust to the new system. If employers continue to minimize their risks and continuously seek talent, then MBAs will just have to keep those antacids handy.

Di Meglio is a reporter for BusinessWeek online in Fort Lee, N.J.

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