Employment options: You're hired!

MBA graduates are spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing a suitable employer, writes Caroline Haydon
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The Independent Online

When it comes to hiring, despite recent turmoil in the financial markets, there's still good news for MBA graduates about to relaunch themselves on the business world. Not only are those two behemoths of MBA recruitment, consulting and financial services, still very much in business, but consulting in particular is in the middle of a boom phase.

And coming up on the outside, there are an increasingly wide range of other employers who, while not yet recruiting in such large numbers, are actively seeking out MBA talent.

QS TopMBA, which surveys recruiters worldwide annually, reports this year that the number of MBAs hired into the consulting sector has more than doubled since 2003, and will have trebled if 2008 forecasts are achieved.

The two top sectors, especially investment banking, are still responsible for most hiring from schools in 2007, accounting for anything from one third to one half of all recruitment.

Carol Rue, Warwick Business School's director of careers services, agrees banks and consulting firms are now recruiting hard. "They let too many people go in 2001 in the dotcom downturn," she says. "So now they have a succession problem. There's a lack of talent at junior level and they're recruiting to fill that gap."

But Rue is happy to point out that what she terms the MBA "obsession" with these two sectors has been upset, as a wider range of opportunities present themselves to newly minted MBAs. "The MBA message is spreading out to a whole variety of sectors in Europe and the US," she says. "We're having a lot of success with consumer goods companies, for example. And companies are realising the MBA body is very diverse. Students are not only attracted by just the salary packet now, but also by other things like ethical trading, environmental policies, or flexible working. That is having an effect on recruiters who must convince students that these things are important in their organisations."

There are signs, too, that recruiters are making more effort to finesse recruitment techniques. Clare Hudson, director of careers at Manchester Business School, says that companies who succeed in scooping up the best and brightest in competitive environments learn from their experiences – they refine campus presentations after feedback, for example.

In Manchester, she says, the recycling and waste management company SITA, currently enjoying the ripple effect as green issues are pushed up the agenda, has actively worked to hone its presentation techniques. SITA's operations director John Scanlon, who has been working with Hudson to maximise his company's links with the business school, says in order to attract the thousands of students the sector will need worldwide in the next decade, waste management companies like his will have to be canny about recruitment.

"At Manchester we had good feedback from around a dozen students who we quizzed about our style of presentation," he says. "We went back and pitched for interns, and recruited four who worked with us in 2006 on individual projects that had a direct business impact. Of those four, two have since taken up full-time roles."

Other active recruiters this year are media giants. London Business School, which also confirms an increased interest from consulting firms, adds it has seen a steady rise in recruitment from organisations like Google, Amazon and ebay.

And in Europe SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, the graduate arm of Italy's main business university, reports continued strong interest from the pharmaceutical, energy and utility sectors. Twelve per cent of SDA Bocconi's students go straight into pharmaceutical companies, which the school says are undergoing "intense growth".

These are companies, it says, which rate MBA students who can drive the business – typically in marketing or business development. US company Johnson and Johnson sends recruiters each year directly from its US headquarters to recruit a handful of Milan students, and invests heavily in recruitment campaigns.

Big company presentations on campus or recruitment fairs are not for everyone, of course. They may not suit older or more experienced MBA students, particularly those on executive courses. In the City of London, for instance, the Cass Business school prides itself on bespoke individual careers consultation for students, taking advantage of the city firms right on its doorstep.

And at Judge Business School in Cambridge, Cathy Butler, director of careers, says she is likely to cater for the smaller, entrepreneurial high-tech or biotech companies located in Cambridgeshire's silicon fen. "While it is true that the big companies are more likely to come on campus to recruit MBAs directly, we also have a number of students who end up accepting offers from medium-sized companies, and they very often highly rate this experience as well as the culture and structure of the smaller company setting," she says.

"As a careers service, we recognise that big company culture isn't suited to everyone, and we therefore actively work with our students to clarify which type of environment suits them best. For their part, medium-sized companies often take advantage of the headhunting service we offer to help them find the best-fit candidates for specific roles."

It's horses for courses – more global opportunities are played up by the USA's Tuck Business School at Dartmouth, for instance, which says it supports global job searches with specific programmes, including international treks to Asia and the UK, international consulting projects, and a "first-year kickoff event" that encourages students to globalise their resumes.

And in Europe, an international dimension is the driving force behind a recruitment website launched only this year, linking 11 business schools. The site www.carnet-alliance.org allows businesses to post job applications and browse profiles of graduates – and it's free.

Making the decision Big or small?

Sally Taplin was running a business consulting division in a global IT services firm before she enrolled for an executive MBA at Cass Business School. During her two-year course, she opted to become director of consulting services at Concise Consultants, a medium-sized management consultancy.

"Everyone has different reasons for doing an MBA. It can involve becoming more senior in a big company – working your way through the ranks. Or you can change. I wanted more intellectual stimulation, to join a smaller and more entrepreneurial firm. I had also learned by doing, and had reached the stage where I wanted to formalise that learning in some way. I believed I could have a larger impact in a smaller company.

"Recruitment services, of course, have to be wary about pushing recruitment to people who are sponsored, and EMBA students might also, because of their experience, be more proactive in their own searches. Cass offered career coaching so you could work out what was important to you and why, and assess how to position yourself for the longer term. The careers service and recruitment teams were definitely there for you, ready to offer advice."