MBA grads typically gravitate to Wall Street or a Big Four accounting firm. Not Charles Pringle. The recent grad from Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business was determined to find work in the forest products industry--even though doing so meant making the contacts himself. While many of his fellow grads set up on-campus interviews with investment banks and consulting firms, Pringle worked the phones, networking with Tuck alumni in the timber industry to unearth job leads. The handful of names supplied by career services quickly grew to 150. In February he hit pay dirt, landing a management position at Rayonier Inc., (RYN ) a Florida-based timber real estate investment trust.
Pringle's experience is increasingly common these days. Nearly a third of MBAs at top schools like Michigan, Cornell, and Maryland now take on a job search independent of on-campus recruiting. Al Cotrone, director of career services at Michigan, credits a stronger economy. "Instead of taking a job anywhere they can find one, students are gaining more confidence," he says. "They are O.K. with graduating without a job and finding one on their own."
That includes veering off the beaten career path. "We get a lot of students interested in areas like private equity, hedge funds, and small entrepreneurial companies," says Andy Chan, director of career services at Stanford. "These kinds of companies just don't come to campus."
Location is another factor. Many schools aren't situated where the jobs are. While recruiters flock to New York University's Stern School of Business, located a few miles from Wall Street, or Northwestern's Kellogg School, just north of Chicago, the number of visiting companies drops considerably at schools that are outside these business hubs. Chances are greater that MBA job hunters will venture off-campus at such schools as Indiana University's Kelley School of Business in Bloomington, or Washington University's Olin School in St. Louis.
Schools are making more of an effort to assist independent searches by allowing students access to corporate databases in addition to providing alumni contacts. At Olin independent search is so important that it's part of the curriculum. First-year students take a course focused on developing job search skills. "It is critical to our success," says Olin's Jim Beirne, director of career services. At Stanford, where an estimated two-thirds of MBAs find jobs through independent searches, Chan advises students that it's impossible to know where a job might come from, so it's important to talk to as many people as possible. "Students need to feel comfortable just going out and going after companies," he says.
Independent job seekers are getting a welcome reception--and not just at small companies. At JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM ), for instance, they account for nearly a third of the 75 MBAs hired each year for investment banking positions. To Barbara Farrell, one of the bank's recruiting managers, keeping an open mind about independent candidates makes all the sense in the world. "We can only get to a certain number of schools each season," says Farrell. "But we don't want to miss out on a great candidate just because they don't have the right school on their résumé." Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN ) is also stepping up efforts to recruit independent job seekers. In the past the online retailer has recruited at only a handful of schools, but to get a larger pool of candidates it's holding a regional recruiting event in Chicago later this year.
This is good news for the thousands of MBA grads such as Pringle who are taking on an independent job search. Whether by choice or necessity, sometimes going your own way pays off.
By Geoff Gloeckler