The MBA Job Picture Brightens

The job market for MBA graduates appears to be slowly bouncing back at a growing number of top business schools, with increased on-campus recruiting, an uptick in job postings, and more students walking away at graduation with a job offer in hand. At some of these schools, career services directors say recruiting is returning to levels not seen since before the global recession and economic meltdown threw a wrench into the once-buoyant MBA job market two years ago.

One school that has seen this firsthand is the MIT Sloan School of Management (Sloan Full-Time MBA Profile), where second-year on-campus recruiting opportunities increased 40 percent this year, a figure comparable to the fall of 2007, and job postings have rebounded by 34 percent since last year, says Jackie Wilbur, senior director of Sloan's Career Development office.

"Hip, hip, hooray, this is happy news," Wilbur says. "The school year started off really slowly, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the number rebounded to where we were a couple of years ago."

Other schools, including Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile) and the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile), are also reporting upticks in recruiting and job offers. But the good cheer is not spreading quite as fast throughout the rest of the management education world, where the job market for 2010 MBA graduates remains sluggish, at best, at the vast majority of business schools. According to a new survey released this week by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), even more students than last year are poised to graduate from their MBA programs without a job offer.

For the study, GMAC surveyed 5,274 recent or soon-to-be B-school graduates at 174 schools worldwide. Only 40 percent of full-time two-year MBA students seeking jobs had an offer in hand by mid-spring, down from 50 percent last year, at the height of the financial crisis. Of the job-seeking part-time students, just 22 percent had secured a job, down from 38 percent in 2009. Executive MBA students saw the biggest decline, with only 23 percent of those seeking jobs reporting an offer before graduation, compared with 44 percent last year.

Stirrings of Life

Still, there are signs that the tight job market could be loosening a bit, says Dave Wilson, president and chief executive of GMAC. More employers indicated in a recent recruiter survey that they plan to hire newly minted MBAs this year—55 percent, compared with 50 percent in 2009—and a growing number are indicating they'll make higher salary offers this year over last, Wilson says.

"The economy is on the rebound, but people are hiring very cautiously, and I don't think they're running out and hiring staff at the same clip as they have in the past," Wilson says. "The people we surveyed who are looking to hire in 2010 say they plan to hire more students, so at least we're going in the right direction."

The most robust hiring this year is expected in consulting and health care, where 73 percent and 80 percent of employers, respectively, said they intended to hire MBAs, according to the GMAC recruiter survey.

At pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly (LLY), spokesman Mark Taylor says the company is continuing to recruit B-school students and is currently in the process of hiring several MBA job candidates for this summer. "We continue to seek out top-talent MBAs from targeted schools around the country, and we anticipate doing so in the future," Taylor says.

Bain & Co.'s senior director of global recruiting, Mark Howorth, says he's bringing in the largest class of both first-year summer interns and second-year MBA full-time hires in the firm's history. "Bain has had a record first half in terms of total business, and that directly translates to the number of people we need in the company," Howorth says. "It's a pretty healthy jump from last year."

Recruiters' increasingly confident attitude toward hiring is slowly trickling onto MBA campuses, where career services directors say they are encouraged by the uptick in full-time MBA and internship recruiting. At Carnegie Mellon's Tepper School of Business (Tepper Full-Time MBA Profile), 120 companies have made job offers to second-year MBA students this year, up from 89 in 2008, says Ken Keeley, Tepper's executive director of career services. "This is significant. When I see more companies in the game, I feel pretty good," Keeley says.

Bounce for Finance, Consulting

Harvard Business School's Jana Kierstead, managing director of MBA career and professional development, says as the market loosened up this spring, more recruiters started to extend job offers to students. To help students take advantage, the school enhanced its job coaching program and launched a program this spring called Network Job Search Fellows, which gave up to $500 to second-year job seekers who had to travel to other cities for interviews. The school's efforts seem to have paid off; of those seeking full-time jobs (81 percent of the class), 85 percent had received an offer by graduation, up from 83 percent last year, Kierstead says. Meanwhile, full-time job postings were up 9 percent this April for second-year MBAs on a year-over-year basis, and summer internship postings for first-year students shot up 30 percent. Industries that had a hard time last year, such as finance and consulting, are starting to bounce back, she says.

"All in all, it seems people are feeling a bit more confident and are making plans to hire," Kierstead says.

Another top school where the job picture is brighter is the Booth School, where internship hiring is "significantly better than it was last year," says Julie Morton, Booth's associate dean of career services. So far, 90 percent of the first-year class has landed summer internships, up from 80 percent last year. Full-time hiring is also showing signs of improvement. By graduation last year, 79 percent of the second-year class had landed full-time jobs. As of May 27, about 80 percent of this year's graduating class had received full-time job offers, a figure that could increase by graduation on June 12, Morton says.

"At this point, I think we are certainly ahead of the game in terms of where we were last year," Morton says. "There is a lot of momentum, and I think students in general are feeling really good."

Upturn in Student Optimism

Indeed, it appears students are feeling more optimistic about their prospects in the job market, even those that haven't yet landed jobs. According to the GMAC survey, 33 percent of MBA grads indicated that they felt the global economy was stable or strong, a sharp jump from 9 percent the year before.

Chris Branin, 29, doesn't disagree, but he doesn't think the MBA job market is out of the woods yet. Branin just graduated from the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business (Darden Full-Time MBA Profile), and is looking for a marketing job at an online media company. Although he did some on-campus recruiting interviews this fall, much of his job search has been off-campus, targeting companies that don't typically visit MBA programs.

Branin was able to keep himself busy during the recruiting season, which is a sign that "there are jobs out there, and companies are hiring," he says. But finding the right job to match his expertise, education, and skill level has been harder than he anticipated, he says. "It's much easier to find a $50,000 a year analyst position somewhere than it is to find those jobs that come with an $80,000, $90,000, or $100,000 salary," says Branin, who worked as a circulation manager at The Washington Post (WPO) before heading to B-school. "My feeling is that it's not really hard to find a job. I think what is difficult now is to find the jobs MBAs are expecting to see when they graduate."

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