From banking to gaming, the changing face of MBA jobs

Technology and games companies are increasingly valuing the range of skills offered by business school graduates

Those who think an MBA is just about a job in banking or consultancy, think again. Two of the most high profile recruiters for MBAs at the top US schools this year are rival games companies Electronic Arts, creators of the Sims characters, and Zynga, which runs the Farmville game on Facebook.

For EA, the need for top MBA graduates is fuelled by the company’s changing role from a packaged goods company to a digital company, says Jessica Rawson, who is in charge of university relations. “What is driving us is what our customers are doing”.

So the focus now is on graduates who are skilled in analytics. “It’s being able to take the numbers and create a story and communicate that story,” says Ms Rawson.

The games companies are not alone in valuing the combination of analytics and communications, says Julie Morton, associate dean for career services at Chicago Booth, and one of the schools where EA actively recruits. “I think of it as critical thinking rather than numbers per se,” she adds.

So as jobs on Wall Street wane, the most numerate MBA graduates are finding a welcome home in companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Yahoo, companies for which data analytics are critical to the business. Such is the case at Wall Street specialist Columbia Business School in New York, says Gina Resnick, associate dean and managing director of Columbia’s career management centre. “What’s been very exciting has been the changing opportunities and the technology renaissance in New York city.”

Though the final statistics for 2012 have not yet been compiled, MBA recruitment in the US appears to be closely tracking that of 2011. According to a survey of global recruiters to be published by the Graduate Management Admissions Council this week, not only are more companies planning to hire recent MBAs this year - up from 72 per cent in 2011 to 79 per cent this year - but they expect to increase the number of new hires from 13 in 2011 to 17 in 2012.

“It (recruitment) is certainly not down, not at all,” says Regina Regazzi, executive director for corporate relations with UCLA Anderson. “It is certainly better than a few years ago.” At Harvard, where MBA students graduate this week, Jana Kierstead, executive director of the MBA programme, is more positive still. “Optimism is in the air. Students are really willing to wait (for the right job) and are determined to pursue their vision.”

Salaries have also rebounded. At Harvard, the bellwether for MBA salaries, the median salary for the Class of 2012 is expected to be $125,000, up from $120,000 in 2012.

But in Europe, the Euro crisis and economic austerity has resulted in recruiter caution, says Fiona Sandford, director for career services at London Business School. “When confidence wobbles, recruiters become more conservative.” In London as in New York, the “bulge banks” have reduced the number of MBAs they hire this year, but asset management firms continue to recruit, says Ms Sandford.Those students who are finding it hardest to find jobs are those who want to change sectors, she says.

A decade ago a third of all graduates from top schools went into finance – largely investment banking – and another third went into consultancy, but these days up to 50 per cent of graduates are finding their first job in other sectors – in consumer goods, pharmaceutical, media, technology and industrial companies, as well as NGOs and charities. Social media strategists are also in demand across all sectors, says Kevin Frey, who runs the full-time MBA programme at the Rotman school in Toronto.

And the way companies recruit is changing too. Games company EA is typical in that it is taking several routes to hiring students: as well as on-campus recruiting, it is posting job adverts for specific roles. Ms Rawson points out that with the market changing rapidly, many of the just-in-time hires are for brand new jobs.

Increasingly company hiring patterns reflect the company culture, says Ms Morton, citing the example of Zynga, where representatives from the school interview via videoconferencing. “They (students) sat around the screen and chatted. A lot of students are very comfortable to do interviews via Skype or videoconferencing. That’s very much the norm now.”

Students are behaving differently too. Even at Harvard, the master at on-campus recruiting, almost 50 per cent of students now find a job via a different route. And they are looking to small companies for emplyment. “We’re seeing students looking at more customised, smaller shops, so they can see their impact early on,” according to Ms Kierstead

As well as analytical skills, languages, too, are proving valuable, reports Mr Frey, especially Mandarin and Spanish. “These language skills are really helping our students to get to the top of the interview pile.” Multiple languages and a real sense of working in different cultures are also valuable in China in both local and multinational companies, reports Yvonne Li, MBA director at Ceibs in Shanghai.

Meanwhile a growing number of students are finding jobs in countries other than that in which they study. Harvard reports, for example, that a growing number of its US graduates are taking jobs outside the US.

As for EA, which has studios in the UK and China as well as North America, it is now looking to recruit in Europe and Asia. The company has one obvious attraction, says Ms Rawson. “People have grown up playing these games … It’s a really cool way to come into analytics.”

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