How to land your first job after graduating

Get started early for the best results. By Helena Pozniak

While the future’s definitely brighter, MBA graduates can’t afford to rest on their laurels. “It’s still an arms race,” says one careers advisor of the MBA job market. “It always has been.” But with canny use of social media combined with forensic-level planning, proactive students are getting a leg-up into the job hunt and setting themselves above the pack, making the most of the fragile recovery.

As expected, recruiters predict they will hire substantially more business school graduates this year, says a global survey by Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC). MBA hiring is five per cent higher than 2010 and particularly strong in energy and utilities sector in Europe where MBA jobs have risen by 14.8 per cent. MBA salaries are higher – and Europe is paying the highest. This year has seen a record 55 per cent of part-time MBA students receive job offers, by the time of the survey in March, while 54 per cent of all graduate business students had received a job offer, up from 32 per cent in 2010. In contrast to 2008, companies are more likely to hire MBA graduates than those with just a first degree; proof that employers are confident in paying a premium for higher skills, say business schools.

While the figures are fairly US-focused – some 65 per cent of respondents came from across the Atlantic – and prospects are brightest in Asia and the Pacific region, UK schools are quietly confident. Recruiters are beginning to knock on their doors again. “It now looks a heck of a lot better than for MBAs graduating last year,” says Julia Tyler, executive vice-president of GMAC. But in turn, competition is getting fiercer, says Sandford. “The best schools are producing better and better prepared students. Company information is so readily available, it’s not enough to repeat a company website, you have to show you understand what the heartbeat of a company is, and how that tallies with your values.”

Helping students to shine and set themselves apart is high on the agenda of any careers service. Some schools are rethinking tactics and more aggressively promoting students, drawing on employee referrals and alumni connections. Students must become expert in marketing themselves, says Nadim Choudhury, head of careers at London School of Business and Finance (LSBF). “Harness the power of the internet, create a ‘personal brand’,” he urges his students, on top of the usual networking activities. “If you’re not from the top 10 per cent of business schools, employers won’t necessarily be knocking on the door.” He advises a professional, sustained online presence – through social media tools such as blogs, LinkedIn (“no point, unless your profile is 100 per cent”) and Twitter. “You need to carve yourself a niche and become an expert and market yourself online.”

This approach has just paid off for a French LSBF student who’s set his sights on the music industry. “He blogged on UK urban music, referenced this in his tweets about French labels until the companies noticed him – he’s just been offered two internships in the music industry in Paris.” If you write about a company well and often enough, says Choudhury, recruiters will notice you. “In an interview you can instantly prove an interest and knowledge by your online presence,” he says. “Start early in your course, aim to blog about twice a week, ensure all information about you online points to your niche interest and knowledge, and you’ve immediately set yourself apart.”

An astute analysis of the job market would pay off too, says Tyler of GMAC. She points out that while the energy and utilities sector is growing most rapidly for MBA graduates, it’s the place they declare themselves least interested in. “So if you’re looking at the most popular category of consulting,” she says, “why not look for a consulting role within that sector?”

Communication skills still count as the mostly highly sought-after quality by employers worldwide. “Knowing yourself and the marketplace more than anything else means you can communicate about yourself,” says Tyler. “Be clear about what you want to do.”

And candidates who can tell a coherent “story” fare better, confirms Sandford. Presenting a clear, strategic approach about which companies you are applying to, why and what your fallback plan is will set you ahead of the pack. “We work with students to narrow down their interest to a sector and then create a strategy,” she says. “A scattergun approach just doesn’t work.

You have to explain your motivation – many MBAs overlook this.” Where once the likes of London Business School (LBS) students may have only considered the big players in their market, she advises them to think smaller. “Many new companies are emerging in energy, technology and new media. Don’t write them off. Be very targeted about where and why you apply.”

Another way to elbow your way up is to take part in co-curricular activities, says Tyler. GMAC research shows students who take part in the likes of case study competitions, often run by business schools, tend to do better in the job market. “It’s a way of testing your metal, honing your skills and differentiating yourself.”

Increasingly, MBAs are adding an entrepreneurial option to their courses in response to demand. Only 8 per cent of LBS graduates go on to immediately start their own business, but, two or three years down the line, this increases dramatically, says Sandford.

Even if the current climate has produced a hungrier pack of job hunters, avoid becoming intimidated, advises Sandford, especially as some are so adept at self-promotion. “Careers services can help you find your way through the maze. If you engage in the process early on and without panicking, it will bear fruit.”

'The MBA process gave me an insight into what I really wanted to do afterwards'

Bereket Gebre, 35, is studying part-time for an MBA at Westminster Business School. He has recently taken a job as a global funding manager for Viva, a charity that helps children at risk to be kept safe and healthy, and play an active part in shaping their future.

“This job is what I wanted before I started my MBA. I have worked in the charity sector for 10 years. I was used to being shortlisted for positions, but I needed to build on my skills and knowledge to boost my career. Currently I’m working on my MBA project, which I can apply directly to the charity. When I applied for the MBA, the whole process gave me an insight into what I really wanted to do. I was confident I would get a job. Although the environment seems unfavourable, an MBA can open up new opportunities.”

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