The job market: Brighter prospects for landing a dream role

It looks like easier sailing ahead as reports suggest an upswing in MBA recruitment

It's looking like 2012 could be a good year for graduating MBAs. Although the first signs of economic recovery are tentative at best, business school students are securing jobs in higher numbers than they have in the past two years.

According to the MBA Career Services Council, an association of business school career management offices and companies who hire MBA students, 70 per cent of business schools reported an increase in on-campus recruitment activity for full-time positions compared with the previous year. The positive results are consistent with an employer survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admissions Council (Gmac) among 216 companies around the world, which found a "noticeable increase in companies planning to hire recently graduated management talent in 2012".

According to Gmac, nearly 75 per cent of those surveyed plan to hire MBAs in 2012, which is a 16 per cent increase over 2011. Nearly a third of those companies expect to pay higher base salaries to MBAs than they did in 2011.

The results underline a growing optimism among career services professionals about job placement in the year to come. Nicole Hall, president of the MBA Career Services Council, says: "The survey results indicate a positive trend we have observed in the past few years. We're seeing an increase in almost all industries and in most company types. Schools are continuing to find creative ways to assist students and companies with the job search process, and their efforts are paying off."

The London Business School is among those trying new initiatives to further the relationship with organisations not only in the UK, but around the world. "For the first time, we have created sector specific CV books, making it easier for recruiters in some of the major sectors to find the talent they need," explains Fiona Sandford, director of career services. "The school has also supported a growing number of career treks in markets such as Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore that have directly contributed to the increase of graduates finding roles in Asia."

MBA students on the year-long course at the Lancaster University Management School are encouraged to make the most of the programme's three consulting projects, with three different organisations, due to the post-MBA career opportunities they can generate. The last of these, the Corporate Challenge, involves a major consultancy project or internship with a global company in the UK or abroad, such as EDF Energy, BASF, Manchester Airports Group, PwC, and HSBC. In addition to experiencing real-world challenges and testing their managerial skills with clients, the project can provide excellent networking opportunities. "The value of such projects in enhancing your CV and helping you to make the next career move should not be underestimated," explains Cana Witt, career development manager for the Lancaster MBA. "They can prove an ideal stepping stone, especially if you are intending to move to a new job function or a new industry, and can sometimes lead directly to offers of employment."

Worldwide, the biggest hiring gains appear to be in technology and the new media sector, with consulting and consumer goods also posting strong increases. More than 60 per cent of respondents to the MBA Career Services Council survey reported an rise in recruiting for full-time technology positions in 2011, up from the 37 per cent bump in technology hires in 2010. At HEC Paris in France, trendy media companies such as Google, Amazon and most recently Facebook have surged in popularity for post-MBA employment, while consultancy firms and luxury brands such as Dior and Cartier are also bullish about hiring levels in the next year.

"Whether to help with growth in developing markets, or innovate with new products in a saturated market, companies are looking to hire MBA graduates who are extremely competent in the core business skills of finance, marketing and strategy, but have the aptitude and decision-making skills that go beyond mere analysis," explains Bernard Garrette, associate dean at HEC Paris. "They want individuals who are capable of managing teams, and will roll up their sleeves and set an example to others."

The big losers are likely to be the banks, whose MBA recruiting activity shows a decrease compared with an increase last year. Though business schools have traditionally been a major feeder into financial services, the estimated loss of 200,000 jobs in 2011 alone is forcing the latest generation of students to rethink their career plans.

But would fresh MBA graduates head for Wall Street or the City anyway? With the reputation of investment bank Goldman Sachs taking a beating in recent months, the company may struggle to repeat its fourth place ranking in a 2011 study of most desirable employers for MBAs, conducted by employer research firm, Universum. Jack Oakes, assistant dean for career development at the University of Virginia's Darden School in the US acknowledges that plenty of students will look for a job in financial services, particularly when the markets bounce back. But he reckons banks will face stiffer competition for top talent from industry, which is now much better at marketing itself. "It is great to see industrial companies raising their game and increasing their MBA hiring." The likes of Caterpillar, 3M and Dupont are stepping up their pursuit of MBA students at Darden, suggesting job prospects could be better with companies that actually make things, rather than trading debt.

The energy industry is currently among the most vibrant sectors, along with what Marie-Jose Beaudin, the director of careers services at McGill's Desautels Faculty of Management in Montreal, describes as "dirty" industries, such as metals and mining. She believes students perceive these to be more stable than sectors such as finance. "MBA students also see them as more genuinely global at a time when most key jobs in many other areas are still concentrated in the US or Western Europe," she says.

But for those looking for real bargaining power in the MBA job market, China might be the place to head. In its latest Global Snapshot survey of employment prospects for professionals and managers, the recruitment firm Antal found China has one of the highest levels of demand in the world, with 72 per cent of companies currently hiring.

Given this fact, it is not surprising that graduates at Peking University this year reported a 201 per cent increase over their pre-MBA salary. The 50 graduates in the University's Beijing International MBA programme, run jointly with Belgium's Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School, were offered positions by more than 250 companies across a wide range of industries, including JP Morgan, AIG, Apple, and LVMH.

According to Dr Zhuang Yang, the programme's dean, there are also more Chinese companies looking to hire the school's overseas students to act as consultants for their international expansion plans. "In China there is a limited managerial talent pool who understand global markets and mindsets, so our international students who can speak Chinese are in very high demand." Looks like 2012 could be the year of the MBA dragon.

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