An international career tops the student wish-list

A survey published today reveals the changing goals and aspirations of this year’s MBA cohort.
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The Independent Online

The ravages of recession have taken their toll on the expectations of MBA students, according to research published today. A survey of more than 2,000 students on MBA courses throughout Europe found that they expect to earn nearly €8,000 a year less on graduation than they did last year.

The students expect their annual salary to be €54,809 on average, down from €62,446 in 2009. "An increase in the number of MBA students enrolling during the recession and consequently an increase in graduates this year may contribute to lower expectations," says Michelle Boyde, UK marketing and university relations manager at the company Universum.

The majority of MBA students say that the most important form of remuneration is a "good reference for future career", reflecting their interest in long-term career progression. "Leadership opportunities" are second in importance, followed by "competitive base salary".

When asked to prioritise their goals, the desire "to have an international career" comes top, up from fourth place in 2009. Being "competitively or intellectually challenged" was their main ambition last year, but comes second in 2010. "To be a leader or manager of people" was the second most important career goal in 2009; this year that objective slides to fourth place. "To have work-life balance" holds steady as the third most important goal.

"The realities of managing a team have hit home in the past year, with many managers forced to lay off staff, and that's had repercussions," says Boyde. "Today's MBA students would rather not have that element of the job. However, they still want a high-flying international career, working with colleagues overseas. But as companies try to rein in their travel budgets for economic and environmental reasons, this could increasingly mean hosting 'webinars', not necessarily jet-setting."

The students' choice of employer appear to be at odds with their globetrotting ambitions. They associated international travel most with the management consulting firms Bain & Company, Booz & Co. and Oliver Wyman, respectively. But these employers do not feature in the top five of the Universum ranking of ideal employers. Bain & Company fell two places from fifth in 2009 to seventh in 2010. Booz & Co. is ranked 26th, down from 25th, while Oliver Wyman is 68th, up from 69.

While investment banks and financial houses remain popular destinations for MBA graduates, the banking crisis has had an effect. Goldman Sachs drops two places, from seventh in 2009 to ninth this year, and J.P. Morgan slips from 15th to 18th. The European Central Bank falls six places from 26th to 32nd. Deutsche Bank and Credit Suisse both fall 12 places, to 33rd and 42nd respectively. BNP Paribas suffers a 13-place fall to 55th and UBS drops 16 places to 62nd. General Electric, which runs a heavyweight financial services operation, sees the biggest drop, plummeting 19 places to 31.

Against this trend are HSBC, which rises seven places to 24, and Barclays which is a new arrival at 44. Merrill Lynch, which was saved by a forced merger in 2008, returns to 53rd place in its new guise, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Other evidence suggests that some of the lessons of the banking crisis have already been forgotten. "High ethical standards" is listed by only 22 per cent of respondents as an important employer attribute, compared to 30 per cent in 2009.

Management consultancies come out on top of the ideal employer ranking, with almost 30 per cent of students hoping to find a post-MBA job within the industry. A job at McKinsey & Company is the most coveted, followed in third place by The Boston Consulting Group.

Cutting-edge technology companies remain seductive, with Google and Apple ranked second and fourth respectively for another year. The luxury brand group LVMH, owner of Moët Hennessy and Louis Vuitton, shot up 14 points into fifth place, while the sharpest rise was Heineken which rose 24 points from 76th in 2009 to 52nd.

Most industries have remained consistent in popularity with the exception of retail and fashion, which has risen to become the seventh most popular industry from 15th in 2009.

Male and female students prefer different employers, the survey found. General Electric is ranked 10th by men, but 51st by women. Employers which struggle to attract women are the defence company EADS (44 place difference) and the software company Oracle (43 place difference). Conversely, American Express (51 place difference), Danone (50 place difference) and Kraft Foods (49 place difference) all struggle to attract men – this can be a significant issue for them as more men study MBAs than women, so they recruit from a significantly smaller talent group. Employers that appeal equally to both genders are Apple, Deutsche Bank and ABB.

European MBA Employer Rankings 2010