Corporate Recruiters Warm to European MBAs

U.S. B-schools have more prestige, but recruiters are acquiring a taste for the language skills, worldliness, and experience of European MBAs

On the hunt for multicultural MBA talent to help drive its international expansion, General Mills (GIS) started its first major MBA recruitment effort outside the U.S. three years ago. The world's sixth-largest food company added London Business School to its roster of U.S. campuses and despite the recession, has hired more of the school's graduates with each successive year.

"We're impressed with their global mobility," says Lynsey Wherry, General Mills director of international human resources. "Many of them worked in two or three different countries before they even attended London Business School." While the food giant still recruits largely from U.S. schools, its international sales continue to grow at double-digit rates and the company will keep looking for additional European sources of talent, says Wherry.

While U.S. schools are arguably unrivaled when it comes to brand cachet, thanks to their prestige, histories, and financial resources, Europe's leading MBA institutions are gaining ground with rapidly expanding global companies such as General Mills. Their big sales pitch—that graduates have an unparalleled international outlook, speak multiple languages, and have more professional experience—appears to be working. Just last month, for instance, technology titan Apple (AAPL) promoted summer internships in its retail division to some 100 London Business School students at the company's flagship store on Regent Street. It's the first time the promotion has been held outside the U.S.

greater industry experience

In the eyes of some recruiters, European business school graduates are more market-ready for the global economy. Students at IMD have seven years' professional experience on average, compared to four at Stanford, for instance. During tough economic times, companies need experienced hires who can start adding to revenues from the get-go, says Malcolm Horton, head of graduate recruitment at Asian financial services giant Nomura (NMR). "The average age is a little bit older in European schools, which should help them make that commercial leap faster," he says.

When the Statistics Center Abu Dhabi had openings for project managers, the governmental institution, founded in 2008, didn't even consider visiting U.S. schools. Beyond the practical advantages of visiting more proximate European campuses and juggling less-dramatic time differences for phone interviews, the center sought experienced managers who could quickly assume responsibilities. "If I go to places like Harvard or Wharton, it's difficult to find people with the 6-to-10-years' industry experience that you can find at IMD or INSEAD," says César Sanchez, the Statistics Center's project management expert.

It's also rarer to find multilingualism, say managers. At INSEAD, for instance, knowing two languages is an entry requirement and it's compulsory to study a third while there. "Although English is the business language, when you can speak the language of your customers and your colleagues, you switch from a purely transactional relationship to a personal one," says Benoit Barbiche, talent acquisition manager for Europe and Central Asia for Medtronic (MDT). The global medical technologies company has 11 internship opportunities for MBAs in Europe this summer and expects to hire from European and U.S. campuses.

Geography cuts both ways

Multilingualism reveals more about a student than just an ear for languages, says Barbiche. "Language skills are an indicator of a cultural openness, of foreign experience, diversity, and adaptability, which are key for us." When you combine a strong business education, cultural awareness, and a fluency in languages, it becomes tougher to find such people in the market, he says. "It's easier for us to go to certain campuses, like IMD, with these requests."

Recruiters will inevitably choose schools based on geography, too. "Those who graduate from a European school are better placed to join our teams based in Europe and vice-versa for the U.S.," says Nicola Weatherhead, a recruiter at Google (GOOG). Others seek multicultural candidates who have studied and worked outside their native country.

Take the luxury goods group LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (LVMHF), which hires candidates to join more than 60 companies in over 60 countries. "We prefer to recruit MBA students who already have an international professional experience or are doing their MBA abroad," says Chantal Gaemperle, group executive vice-president of human resources and synergies. Among her top picks: "Chinese candidates who have studied in U.S. schools or American profiles with an experience in Europe."

Ultimately, the recruitment process is highly subjective. "Hiring managers each have their own biases," says Nomura's Horton. Most schools have loyal alumni within each major company, helping to champion students from their former school. All partiality aside, however, recruiters want their new MBA hires to bring the richest professional and cultural experience possible—above and beyond a year or two spent at business school.

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