MBA Jobs: Post-Crisis, a Brave New World

At Duke University's Fuqua School of Business (Fuqua Full-Time MBA Profile), the 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers delivered a one-two punch. Not only did it lose the job offers Lehman bestowed on Fuqua grads every year, but in the economic chaos that followed, another big employer of Fuqua grads, Citigroup (C), slashed hiring as well—from 30 in the three years preceding the meltdown to 19 in the three years that followed. Other big employers, including Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), Kraft (KFT), and Bank of America (BAC), also cut back.

At the same time, though, something interesting happened: New employers rushed in to fill the void. Apple (AAPL), which hired just five grads in 2005-07, more than tripled its hiring, taking on 17 Fuqua grads in 2008-10.

Similar patterns have continued to play out at the country's most selective business schools. In the wake of Lehman's collapse and the economic contraction that followed, hundreds of the most coveted MBA jobs in finance have been lost during what turned out to be one of the worst markets for MBA talent in history. Since then, more students have begun seeking nontraditional job opportunities and the job market for MBAs has diversified, with companies such as Apple and (AMZN), which never hired MBAs in large numbers before, suddenly rising to prominence.

Shift Among Financial Services

The University of Chicago's Booth School of Business (Booth Full-Time MBA Profile), University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School (Wharton Full-Time MBA Profile), and Columbia Business School (Columbia Full-Time MBA Profile) sent about 123 new MBAs to Goldman Sachs (GS) and 99 to Morgan Stanley (MS) from 2008 to 2010. That represented a decline from 207 and 125, respectively, in 2005-2007, according to employment data supplied by those schools.

The decline reflects an industrywide trend that has prompted business schools to better prepare students hoping for job offers from such firms.

In Goldman's securities division, for example, the firm has decreased new MBA hiring and instead hired more bachelor's degree holders, says Sandra Hurse, a Goldman vice-president in charge of campus recruiting. One area of the firm where MBA hiring has grown, she says, is in its private wealth management business. A side effect of the latter shift is that Goldman's new MBA hiring has become more spread out across the U.S. as its private wealth management offices are located in cities from Philadelphia to Houston, she says.

At Morgan Stanley, the distribution of new MBA hires has remained the same among the firm's core businesses, says Keisha Smith, Morgan Stanley's global head of recruiting. But the bank has also adopted new hiring strategies, such as bringing in PhD candidates to its sales and trading division.

Jack Oakes, assistant dean for career development at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business (Darden Full-Time MBA Profile), has seen the hiring patterns at Goldman, in particular, reflected broadly across financial-services firms. In the years following the financial crisis, Oakes has gone out of his way to raise awareness about private wealth management jobs after noticing more opportunities in that area.

"It is very much a sales career," he tells students early on in their MBA studies.

Oakes has also brought in more companies to speak to students about corporate finance careers and has reached out to boutique and regional financial-services firms to find openings. Such diversification is necessary after steep hiring losses from 2008-10. In the three-year period prior to the economic crisis, Lehman Brothers had hired 176 graduates from the graduating classes at Booth, Columbia, and Wharton combined, according to employment data from those schools.

Jana Kierstead, director of MBA career services at Harvard Business School (Harvard Full-Time MBA Profile), adds that she has seen more finance-focused MBA candidates pass on jobs at larger investment management shops and head to hedge funds where they might have more responsibility and a greater impact right away.

New Crop of Top Employers

Amazon began ramping up its MBA hiring in 2006, placing candidates primarily on its retail, Web services, operations, and finance teams, Jennifer Boden, Amazon's director of global university programs, said in an e-mail. From 2008-10, the company increased hiring at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business (Ross Full-Time MBA Profile), Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management (Kellogg Full-Time MBA Profile), and the University of California, Berkeley's Haas School of Business (Haas Full-Time MBA Profile), among others, according to data supplied by those schools.

At Ross, Amazon eclipsed Citigroup as one of the top three MBA employers from 2008-10, taking 36 grads, up from 21 during the prior three-year period.

"It certainly took the edge off," Damian Zikakis, director of Ross's office of career development, says of Amazon's hiring during the post-financial crisis years.

In 2010, IBM (IBM) made Wharton's top employer list for the first time that decade after hiring 13 graduates, more that year than either Citigroup, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Credit Suisse (CS), or Deutsche Bank (DB), according to data from the school.

And Duke wasn't alone in seeing Apple hire more candidates. At MIT's Sloan School of Management (Sloan Full-Time MBA Profile), Apple emerged as the sixth top employer from 2008-10, hiring 15 graduates and surpassing Citigroup as a top employer during that time period.

Greater Diversity: Employer Base Broadens

When Kristyn Kelly graduated with an MBA from Darden this year, she eschewed job offers at consulting firms for a position with the FBI—a nontraditional MBA employer if ever there was one.

Across the board, schools are also seeing more nontraditional employers hire their graduates, which has helped to further broaden the pool of MBA job offers and make up for losses elsewhere. "If I had to characterize our recruiting activity today, it would be 'bipolar' instead of the traditional bell curve," says Fuqua's Dirks.

Dirks explains that by "bipolar" she means consulting firms are still hiring new MBAs in large numbers, but that more job offers are coming from employers who hire just one or two candidates. One place where Fuqua has seen that kind of surge, Dirks says, is K-12 education, where MBAs are getting scooped up by individual school districts and charter school organizations.

A breakdown of job offers at the Stanford Graduate School of Business (Stanford Full-Time MBA Profile) illustrates this tendency, says Pulin Sanghvi, assistant dean and director of the Career Management Center at Stanford. Last year, 80 percent of the school's employers hired only one student each and 12 percent hired only two students each, he says.

"This generation in general is looking for opportunities that will have an impact, and oftentimes you find that in smaller organizations where they can get more exposure," adds Harvard's Kierstead.