When Denise Sandoval finished the MBA coursework that was part of her Fulbright fellowship at Itam, a private research university in Mexico City, she decided to try her luck in the local jobs market rather than return to her native California, where pickings were still slim.

The punt paid off. It did not take her long to land a consulting job at Ernst & Young, the accountancy firm, in Mexico, to which she had been referred by a former Fulbrighter. “I figured I had a lot of opportunities in Latin America as a speaker of Spanish and Portuguese,” Sandoval says. “Mexico and Brazil are the leading countries [in Latin America], and they offered more professional opportunities than I’d have had if I had stayed at home.”

US-style MBAs are increasingly being offered – and sought after by companies – in Brazil and Mexico, and Latin America’s resilience in the face of depressed economies in the US and Europe means graduates often have more opportunities than in richer countries. Finding these opportunities, though, frequently means relying on informal personal networks rather than recruitment agencies.

Mexico’s job market is not much better than that in the US. But the gross domestic product of Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, is thought to have grown by more than 7 per cent in 2010, and the boom has led to a shortage of qualified employees across the 194m-strong country.

“Brazil is living through a situation of very high demand for jobs at all levels,” says Luiz Antonio Concistré, director at DBM Brasil, an executive outplacement firm in São Paulo. “Recent graduates are finding an ample market for jobs, even if sometimes the opportunities aren’t so visible, even for MBAs or those with postgraduate education.”

But the MBA is now garnering much more attention than in the past, says Luiz Carlos Freitas, who recently completed a programme at Ibmec Business School in Rio de Janeiro.

“An MBA is something that people didn’t use to do, but now there’s a wide range of offerings in Brazil and it’s very common,” he says. “Companies started to believe in it as a good opportunity for both the graduate and the employer, so now it’s quite recognised.”

Concistré says: “Many students are still stuck dreaming of going to multinational corporations, even though the opportunities are very strong in national companies, even outside the big cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.”

Freitas had worked as a marketing manager in the auto parts industry. When he was laid off after the financial crisis dented demand outside his native Brazil, his Ibmec programme set him up to move to his current position at Freudenberg-NOK, the German vehicle parts company.

“After finishing last summer, I decided to come back to the job market,” he says. “I had almost 20 years in the market, so I didn’t feel it was the time to let it go. I started to do some job searches, some executive searches, but the job I found came from the recommendation of a friend.”

This is typical in Brazil, says Concistré. “One of the peculiarities of the Brazilian job market is that recruitment agencies are contracted normally only by foreign companies, and only for C-level [senior executive] positions. The rest of the recruiting is done by recommendation, and therefore depends on personal networking done by individuals and their ability to sell their expertise.”

This is similar to the situation in Mexico, says Hector Rocha, who has just returned to his native country after finishing an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business to take a position as a consultant with Bain & Co, the management consultancy. Informal networks are used to find most types of jobs in Mexico, Rocha says, though his current company is one of the few to have established a formal recruitment network.

The US-style MBA also tends to be sought only by certain types of companies in Mexico. “The focus for an MBA grad is either the top national companies, such as Pemex [the national oil company], or even the presidency, or the big international companies,” Rocha says. “Or you go to a smaller national company that may not value the MBA, where the job likely won’t be comparable in terms of money and likelihood of progression.”

Rocha had worked for 10 years around the world as an engineer before doing his MBA and returning to Mexico. This is a common story in Latin America, where MBA students are often older than those in the US or western Europe.

“We have lots of MBAs in Brazil,” says Joaquim Rubens Fontes Filho, a professor at the Fundação Getulio Vargas higher education institution in Rio de Janeiro. “It’s often more related here to people who have been working and want to get new skills, and we have special MBA programmes for executives, who usually come from big companies.”

In her mid-20s when completing her MBA, Sandoval was much younger than her fellow students at Itam. But she had no problems. “It can be a little tough, but there are definitely jobs out there,” she says.

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