L’Oréal France talent acquisition director Stefanie Messner
L’Oréal France talent acquisition director Stefanie Messner says graduate job candidates are in ‘a lucky position’ © Magali Delporte, for the Financial Times

Even as the global economy edges towards recession, the world’s biggest cosmetics maker is preparing to ramp up employment of young people.

L’Oréal For Youth provides various opportunities for people under 30, including jobs, internships and apprenticeships at the French company behind brands such as Lancôme and Kiehl’s. The global programme offered 18,000 places last year and L’Oréal is aiming for 25,000 enrolments in 2022.

Stefanie Messner, the company’s talent acquisition director for France, says that job candidates have the upper hand in a tight labour market. “The graduates are in a very lucky position, because there’s way more demand for talent rather than talent out there, so they can pick and choose their jobs. It’s a candidate-driven rather than employer-driven market.”

How long that will last remains unclear, with some large employers announcing hiring freezes or job cuts as the threat of recession increases. But for business school graduates, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

Hiring projections remain bullish, according to a survey of 941 companies from 38 countries in February and March 2022 by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), which runs business school entrance tests. It found that nearly nine in 10 corporate recruiters expect to hire masters in management (MiM) graduates in 2022, up from 79 per cent of the same recruiters who actually hired them last year. Most MiM graduates take the programme straight after a first degree and have little or no prior professional experience.

To attract top talent, companies in the US plan to offer higher starting salaries to business masters graduates in 2022 compared with last year, GMAC found. For example, average salaries are up on 2021 levels for graduates of master of finance and master of data analytics programmes, by $15,000 and $10,000 respectively.

Reflecting fast-rising inflation, GMAC found that educational assistance such as tuition fee reimbursement has become an increasingly common benefit, with 54 per cent of employers offering this in 2022 — up from 35 per cent last year. Additionally, schools say that businesses are offering flexible remote work options to attract younger recruits, who want to improve wellbeing and work-life balance, while still gaining access to networking and mentorship in the office.

Satya Autar, employer relations manager at Erasmus University’s Rotterdam School of Management in the Netherlands, says business masters graduates entered a red-hot labour market this summer that belied the growing mood of caution over the economy. “Students have the power in their hands,” she says.

The top three hiring industries for the Rotterdam school are consulting, financial services and information technology, broadly consistent with other schools. One recent shift has been an ever-greater focus on sustainability, as many students move into purpose-driven careers and some shun groups, such as fossil fuel companies, whose businesses harm the environment or society.

HEC Paris graduate Margot Lebourgeois
HEC Paris graduate Margot Lebourgeois is now a sustainability specialist

“Now more than ever, business students are looking at companies for the impact they have, their commitment to the environment and their values,” says Margot Lebourgeois, who graduated from the MiM at HEC Paris this summer. She took electives focused on sustainability, which affirmed her interest in responsible business practices. Lebourgeois now works at the French spirits maker Pernod Ricard in Paris, as a sustainability and responsibility specialist.

Zoe McLoughlin, executive director of the Career Centre at London Business School, says employers value MiM graduates for their strong business acumen, highly developed soft skills including adaptability and, in a globalised world, their ability to work effectively with teams from diverse backgrounds.

McLoughlin previously recruited for the Boston Consulting Group and says MiM graduates were usually hired at the same level as undergraduates, but were promoted much faster. “They have that extra layer of knowledge, experience and gloss,” she says.

Even so, with recessionary fears rising, graduates cannot be complacent, warns Cathy Savage, senior manager of the UCD Careers Network at the Smurfit Graduate School of Business in Dublin.

“It’s still a competitive process and if you’re not up for that, you’re not getting a job,” Savage says. Although in the main, job opportunities exceed supply, she says that some candidates have been “ghosted” by prospective employers and not heard back after applying.

“Some of the recruitment processes are pretty brutal, you might go through five, six, seven rounds of interviews,” says Savage, adding that students should begin planning their job applications early and reach out to alumni for support.

A man and a woman in a restaurant, talking to each other
Graduate recruitment can be highly demanding, with several rounds of interviews © Getty Images

Some sectors are pulling back on recruitment, notably technology, says Maren Kaus, director of career services at Frankfurt School of Finance and Management. Amazon, Microsoft, Apple and Google’s parent Alphabet have slowed hiring in some areas in the face of economic headwinds, but only after a hiring spree in the past couple of years.

For their part, business schools offer a wide range of career services including coaching, skills development workshops and networking opportunities. Increasingly, they are holding more virtual recruitment events, because these grant students access to a wider range of employers than is possible on campus.

In addition, more emphasis is being placed on life-long development as alumni change jobs more frequently amid the “Great Resignation”, when Covid caused many to reassess their priorities. Jean-Amiel Jourdan, senior executive director of careers at HEC Paris, says career services are becoming “less transactional”: rather than being about the first job on graduation, HEC grants alumni access to career services throughout their professional life.

The school has also moved career development from the academic fringe to core curricula, making workshops mandatory instead of optional for all MiM candidates. Ultimately, Jourdan is confident that such preparation will stand graduates in good stead, no matter the prevailing economic conditions. “I’m very optimistic despite the possibility of a downturn,” he says.

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