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Testing the temperature of MBA recruitment

It’s slowly warming up out there, but it’s not hot yet. David Williams takes the temperature of the MBA recruitment market.

Talk to careers advisor and senior figures at leading business schools and they say very similar things. Their recruitment numbers are about level with 2009, they’re cautiously optimistic that the market is improving, but they’re not yet certain.

Business schools
are of course not in the habit of advertising declining post-MBA job opportunities, and a number of schools that were approached for this article were reluctant to comment. This has made it difficult to gauge how certain the thaw has been. However Jim Clayton, Director of the Graduate Career Management Center at the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University says: “In general, things are about where they were this time last year, although there are more and more organizations beginning to post jobs. Things are warming up, but they’re not hot yet.”

For Jim, it’s too early to be able to tell whether this hiring is going to be sustained or not. The areas in which he can perceive growth in demand are the banks and healthcare. In these industries, he is seeing new healthcare organizations coming on to campus for the first time, while Bank of America has become one of this year’s biggest recruiters, “As we come out of this recession, it may just be that, as Bank of America were one of the first organizations affected, to let people go, they may just be one of the first to bring people back,” he says.

Across the Atlantic, Leon Richards, Manager Recruiter Relationships at Warwick Business School in the UK has a similar view.

“We saw a big reduction on financial services last year,” he says. “But, this year, they seem to be coming back into activity. For example, we have had Barclays on campus for the first time ever. Last year, activity across all industries stayed steady, and the drops in financial services and consulting were offset perhaps by rises in demand from the energy industry and the public sector. This meant everything stayed level. Financial services and consulting dropped away at the beginning of this academic year but have been the first to pick up in 2010.”

Industries in the frame

Other sectors that seem to be increasing hiring needs are strategy consulting, FMCG (fast moving consumer goods), technology and telecoms. This latter sector is of course maturing, and a number of companies are now putting together MBA recruitment programmes whereas before they were hiring less systematically.

“A number of sectors are taking the lead out of the recession, particularly for example technology-driven sectors such as Internet, media, e-commerce, hardware and software manufacturing, and telecoms,” says Jurek Sikorski, Associate Director at London Business School’s Careers Service with responsibility for Business Development (Healthcare and Technology).

Undoubtedly, there has been a lot of churn as business schools have sought out new types of employer to bring onto campus. The impression given is that, if hiring is rising, it is because lots of non-traditional, medium-sized and smaller firms are being tempted onto campus by the prospect of under-employed MBAs and in this way are making up for the drop in demand from more traditional employers.

On top of this, according to Leon Richards at Warwick, these traditional recruiters are naturally much more budget-conscious that they once were. Given that the cost of visiting campuses, running assessment centres and tying up the time of senior management can be as much as £15,000 per hire, in these straightened economic times it has made sense for recruiters to streamline this expense by concentrating on fewer schools, regardless of whether their numbers of recruits are actually up or down.

A similar cost-cutting trend identified at Warwick is for MBA employers to utilise social networking practices. This allows them to establish longer-term relationships with candidates, so putting the talent pool on tap for when they need it and saving money on the costs of traditional recruitment.

Political failure

The MBA recruitment market is not however simply a function of the economic climate; other factors can have an effect. Green energy for example was much touted as the beginning of the recession as an industry that offered a strategic direction for companies to take out of the recession.

“During these difficult times, finding a new driver of our economy is going to be critical,” says Professor Javier Carrillo, Executive Director of the Centre for Eco-Intelligent Management at IE Business School in Madrid in early 2009. “I think that that the environmental challenge will definitely provide a strategic direction to industry.”

Unfortunately the failure of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – the Copenhagen Conference – has left this industry without a way forward.

“In terms of green energy, there was obviously the disappointment associated with the Copenhagen conference in that it didn’t come out with a clear statement of what government needed to do,” says Jurek Sikorski at London Business School (LBS) “This of course would have really spurred the sector as it would have given companies clarity on their future strategic direction.”

Something similar could be said about banking and financial services which is still waiting for politicians to agree on the shape of new national and international regulatory frameworks.

Have MBA, will travel

A final trend is the tendency for today’s MBA recruitment to be orientated towards the emerging markets. Many companies have revised their business plans to target these areas as a source of future growth and this is where they are going to need their people.

“Companies are hiring into Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia,” says Jurek Sikorski at LBS. “Flexibility and mobility are therefore the big requirements for candidates. The MBA resource asset is something that can be moved around. Companies do see things this way and in their requirements they stipulate they don’t only want skills, experience and strong intellectual horsepower but are also looking for flexibility and mobility so that their business can benefit anywhere in the world.”

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