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MBA students are not often known for being radical. But the aftermath of the dotcom boom prompted many to seek new avenues for their talents.

After the bust of 2000, the cash dried up and the number of lay-offs dramatically increased. For many, this was a good time to go back to school. MBA applicants soared. Companies agreed to sponsor employees, hoping time out of the office would pay off when the market returned.

But the market never quite recovered. Salary packages remained less generous and graduates could no longer count on the financial services sector to be the source of employment it had been.

Graduates were forced to look around. They started to consider jobs in what had been MBA-free sectors.

Ian Hardie, associate dean of executive education at London Business School, says: “The quiet time has helped MBAs to become more astute at considering a wider range of jobs. The traditional recruiter has started to return but it will never be as hot a market as it was during the M&A and dotcom boom years.”

Mindy Storrie, president of the MBA Career Services Council, an organisation that represents predominantly US business schools, says the trend went both ways. Not only did MBA graduates become interested in a wider range of jobs but government agencies and industries that had been uninterested started to appreciate the strategic skills a management graduate could bring.

“We have a theory that the war on terror brought a renewed interest in management and how you could best handle problems,” she says. “Organisations needed to figure out how to handle this changed world and they needed the directional skills of MBA graduates.”

The biggest increase has been in recruitment by government agencies and healthcare organisations. A survey of graduate employment by the MBA Career Services Council in November showed 10 per cent of schools had seen an increase in the number of graduates going to jobs in these sectors in the past year.

The trend is backed by anecdotal evidence from other universities. In Toronto, Dezsö J Horváth, dean of Schulich School of Business at York University, says that hospital managers increasingly have MBAs, a view shared by London Business School’s Mr Hardie.

“There’s a growing recognition of the value of MBAs in the public sector,” he says. “Anecdotal evidence suggests that senior health service executives are earning comparable salaries to those in banking these days so there isn’t quite the same disincentive for students that there had been.”

Of course, the jobs that graduates obtain also match the location and curriculum of the school. Just as business universities in New York or London are weighted towards finance and consulting jobs, Prof Horváth says there has been a rise in property and media recruitment, a reflection of Toronto’s role as a hotbed for these sectors.

“There are more films made in Toronto than in Hollywood so we get more graduates going into that industry, and we’ve done well out of the construction boom in China so more graduates are joining real estate companies.”

Simon Tankard, head of the careers service at Said Business School, Oxford, reports a rise in these sectors too, but says there has also been an increase in the numbers of budding entrepreneurs. “Students are becoming much more innovative and entrepreneurial in their approach to the market. Although students often arrive with a background in finance; after graduation they are creating their own finance business instead of opting for employee status in the City,” he says.

But Prof Horváth also points out that recruitment trends within traditional sectors are changing. The investment banking market may be slowing, but there are more jobs in private banking, wealth management, retail banking and pension fund management. Likewise, traditional consultancies may be reluctant to hire but those that are inhouse, niche or specialise in a particular industry such as health care or logistics are less reluctant. There has also been an upturn in recruitment by accounting firms, a trend Ms Storrie attributes to Sarbanes Oxley legislation in the US, which forced companies to improve financial reporting.

The best news of all, of course, is that almost all the schools reported a rebound in interest from traditional recruiters over the past year. “It’s a rebound we’re very happy to see,” says Ms Storrie. “For us it’s always good to see an increase in opportunities but it’s even better when it’s in an industry you know you’re good on.” MBA graduates may not need to get too adventurous after all.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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