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For students enrolling or returning to business school this autumn, the state of the employment market is an obvious concern.
Although graduate recruitment has by no means dried up, there is no doubt the recession has made the search for jobs more arduous.
And while their undergraduate peers face the greater difficulties, masters graduates are discovering they too are not immune to the downturn and are having to work hard to secure sought-after places.
According to Françoise Rey, head of masters programmes at Essec Business School in Paris, the recruitment market is exhibiting different characteristics from past years.
“We have had fewer offers and more candidates for the same jobs,” she says, while noting increasing incidences of graduates competing for positions with candidates who already have two or three years’ work experience. “This is something new and different for the market,” she says.
The outlook is brightest, Rey says, for graduates in information systems and supply chain management, who are having little difficulty in finding a job. Those hoping for a career in finance, however, are finding it tough.
Although banks and other financial institutions are still hiring, competition is fierce, according to Dina Dommett, director of admissions and corporate relations at London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). “The banks are being picky,” she says. Other sectors hiring, she adds, include energy, technology and consumer goods.
Dommett advises students to take extra care when applying for positions and to make their applications slick. “Do not make mistakes,” she cautions.
Rachel Tufft, head of specialist masters at Manchester Business School, says financial services in the emerging markets are still recruiting, particularly eastern Europe and India.
Dirk Buyens, academic dean at Vlerick Leuven Gent Management School in Belgium, agrees there is considerable competition for graduate jobs, with many students unable to secure positions with their first-choice companies.
Leena Plym-Rissanen, head of the career services at the Helsinki School of Economics, says about 10 per cent of its graduates are still looking for work, although she is confident this will be rectified in the coming months.
While these students historically would tend to seek employment in consultancies or financial institutions, she says this year’s crop is being more reflective and willing to consider alternative positions.
Robert Melville, director of the MSc in management at Cass Business School, agrees flexibility is the key, with many of his students working with charities to gain experience.
“Students [today] have their long-term career in mind much more than in the past ... and are quite happy to compromise on their first or second position after graduation because they know it is a long-term gain for them,” he says.
Tufft notes a similar trend. “Students are now much more concerned about their careers than they were in the past,” she says. “They are willing to look further afield and put more effort into their searches.”
With jobs harder to come by, some companies are even extending the length of student internships, an integral part of most masters programmes and traditionally a springboard to a full-time position.
Rey cites examples of companies that “wanted to employ the student full time but did not have the budget to pay for a job”. In most cases, she says, jobs did materialise after the extended internship.
And while business schools remain broadly confident about recruitment graduate prospects, all agree that future intakes should be prepared for anything in an increasingly competitive job market.
Nestle’s training schemes
Nestlé hires between 300 and 400 postgraduate management trainees each year, including MBA and masters in management graduates, writes Wai Kwen Chan.
While MBA graduates tend to be recruited for specific roles, masters in management trainees join one of three training schemes at the Switzerland-based food company: the two-year sales and marketing scheme; the four-year group audit scheme; or the 18-24 month engineering scheme, according to Ed Marsh, Nestlé’s head of talent and organisation development.
“Career progression is based on merit, but there are no guarantees,” he says.
Graduates at Nestlé typically advance in a “helix” movement, Marsh says, where individuals can rotate jobs as they move upwards.
After 2-3 years, it is possible to change jobs and gain further experience, such as moving from marketing to sales. After 7-10 years, successful trainees can expect to be on the management team of a medium-sized Nestlé business.
Marsh describes the company structure as decentralised, operating like a federation of local companies.
“We have an underlying set of Nestlé values and principles, but it is hard to generalise our recruitment strategy. A lot of what we do is determined by local entities,” he says. “Some management trainees are expected to become dedicated expatriates, meaning that their careers are not linked to a country, and they change location every 3-4 years. Also, they have the choice of developing their careers locally.”
Nestlé likes its masters in management recruits to have both international exposure and an appreciation for local values, he says, as most of its brands are adapted for each country. For example, Nescafé coffee has a localised taste in different countries, while Japanese consumers can buy green tea Kit Kats, reflecting that country’s tastes.
In spite of the economic downturn, the company retains its commitment to recruiting graduates.
However, according to Marsh, recruitment to the masters in management programme is down 15 per cent compared with last year, as an average across all Nestlé’s operations. Yet even with the reduced intake, he believes masters in management graduates will continue to be in demand.
Opportunities at ABB
While the bulk of the 200-300 postgraduates hired each year by ABB are recruited for technical roles, the Swiss-Swedish engineering group is also a keen recruiter of students with masters in management degrees, writes Linda Anderson.
One of the degree’s main assets, according to Peter Bedford, group senior vice-president and head of global resourcing at ABB, is that it is a pre-experience qualification, which means graduates are often better suited to the company’s training programmes than those with MBAs, who are often career changers and already experienced managers.
ABB’s programme for masters in management graduates, which covers topics as diverse as information systems, marketing and sales, offers its only non-technical graduate positions. About 70 people have completed the programme so far.
During the training, which lasts between 18 months and two years, each employee completes three different work placements: in his or her home country; in ABB’s Zurich head office; and on a placement in a different continent. “We require our global trainees to work in our businesses around the world,” Bedford says. “We want them to be comfortable developing their careers in other countries.”
Bedford strongly supports the Cems masters in management degree, which he says better prepares graduates for ABB’s diverse environment. Cems is an alliance of leading schools and multinationals that set a standard of excellence for pre-experience masters in management degrees.
Because its students are fluent in two or three languages and will have lived and studied in at least two countries, Bedford says Cems graduates are more likely to fit into ABB’s culture. ABB works across more than 100 countries and expects employees to work across cultural boundaries and locations.