A Season of Plenty

This promises to be a record year for hiring fresh MBA talent. Grads are urged to learn the art of juggling multiple job offers

After his interviews were over this spring, Michigan State University MBA student Derek Teo waited for an offer. The 29-year-old marketing major from Singapore was nervous he would be left without a job when he graduated. But within days he had three options to choose from. "I would have been surprised just to get one," Teo says. "But when I got two in one day and one a few days later, I was very surprised."

With multiple offers, Teo had the chance to evaluate which position would best fit his career plan and keep him close to his wife, Hong Hui Tang, who was also assessing several options. "I looked at my interests and what I wanted to be doing," he says. The couple elected to work an hour and a half away from each other, Teo at Whirlpool (WHR) and Tang at Motorola (MOT).

In Demand

Like Tang and Teo, the typical MBA graduate will consider more than one offer this year. While it wasn't too many years ago that students were happy with a single offer, 2006 graduates snagged an average of 2.3 offers, according to a study by career adviser WetFeet.

And this year, companies expect to hire 22% more MBAs than a year ago, according to the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE)—the highest increase since 2001, thanks to retiring baby boomers and the strong economy (see, 5/3/07, "Survey: MBAs Search for Google").

This type of demand for candidates with MBAs gives students newfound clout. "They are deciding not only which [job] is better at face value but also which one meets their needs and reflects what they want to do in their career," says Dave Brennan, assistant dean for the graduate business program at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis.

As the demand for candidates with an MBA degree outpaces the supply, students are better able to negotiate deals in the job market. But Lucinda Wright, director of Michigan State's MBA career services center, says the most important negotiation is not for more money; it's bargaining for tasks graduates will perform on the job. "Companies are now more amenable to negotiate the non-monetary side, which is the more meaningful side for your offer to be the best opportunity," she says

Share the Wealth

The money has been coming, too. More than 80% of employers plan to raise salaries for MBA holders, according to the NACE.

Wright's students have been given better salaries, signing bonuses, relocation stipends, and non-monetary perks including appliance, clothing, and car allowances. "That has made total compensation rise," she says. (See, "Special Report: Negotiating Pay and Perks").

The scenario of multiple offers has its downside as well. Career counselors advise students against "stockpiling," or collecting offers they don't intend to take. There's the "mindset of accumulation for accumulation's sake," Wright says.

Jeff Rice, director of career services at Ohio State University's Fisher College of Business and president of the MBA Career Services Council, says he warns students that collecting offers they don't intend to take can penalize other students: "We don't want students winning some kind of fake award of who gets the most offers."

Companies, meanwhile, adapt to the tight market by issuing offers with a deadline for response. The reply time a company gives a candidate generally ranges from two to four weeks—enough time to complete scheduled interviews but not enough time to find a list of new companies before a decision is due.

Rice says he helps students create a career "action plan" before they even start classes. The career map narrows down the industries and positions a student looks for at job fairs and company presentations on campus. Students learn to have interactions with target companies so they don't rack up unwanted offers.

And he offers this advice: "When recruiting is strong and the economy is good, it's important to be targeted and focused on what you want to do before you start your job search."

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