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The economic downturn has created plenty of uncertainty in the jobs market for MBAs, but recruitment experts say there are signs of improvement.

For those graduates who are still holding out for the right opportunity, their hunt will probably stretch into spring of this year, according to Bruce Lane, vice-president of MBA Focus, which provides a service that links MBA students and alumni with recruiters. The market last year was “not promising”, he says, with more graduates than jobs.

Adolf Ho, head of career services and corporate relations of MBA programmes at Hong Kong UST Business School, says the period between March and June last year was when graduates were worst hit. But he says there has been an increase in recruiting activities as the economy has started to improve. “Some banks are trying to recover lost headcounts due to severe retrenchment earlier on,” he says.

Oliver Vidal, corporate strategy manager of High Finance Group, a boutique recruitment consultancy for the insurance and asset market, says that after a bad start in the beginning of 2009, there was a surge in the number of management consultancy roles in the latter half of the year.

However, trends differ between regions, according to Sandra Schwarzer, director of Insead Career Services, which has campuses in France and Singapore. She says that compared with the same period in 2008, the biggest increases in job opportunities last year were in Africa with a 78 per cent increase, and South America – especially Brazil – with a 69 per cent rise. There was an increase of about 30 per cent in job opportunities in the near East, Middle East and eastern Europe.

“Markets remained stable in Asia-Pacific and western Europe, but declined in the UK,” says Schwarzer. This drop was mainly the result of changes in immigration laws and a fall in the number of financial services jobs in the first half of 2009. North America also experienced a decline of 7 per cent, and, within Europe, Spain and Italy are still “very difficult markets”, she adds.

According to Sarah Crawford, head of recruiting for Europe, Middle East and Africa at Goldman Sachs, the investment bank’s MBA recruitment numbers have remained broadly consistent over the past few years, though there was a decline in hiring last year. However, the bank expects its global recruitment number for the 2010 MBA class to be about 100.

This year, Goldman Sachs, will be interviewing MBA candidates for opportunities round the globe, with New York, London, Frankfurt and Hong Kong hiring the most staff.

Meanwhile, average starting salaries for MBAs last year were expected to drop by 4-6 per cent compared with 2008, according to the US-based Graduate Management Admission Council’s (GMAC) 2009 Corporate Recruiters Survey.

Vidal estimates that average salaries fell from £60,000 ($96,00) in 2008 to £50,000 last year for generalist MBAs. For those with relevant and complementary prior experience, salaries are £60,000-£65,000.

On a positive note, Lane adds: “The economy will get better and you will find that ‘right’ opportunity … Utilise your business school’s alumni career services office. Look at smaller firms in the traditional MBA hiring industries, or new industries where you could make an impact. Finally, make sure you are using all social networking options. Above all, don’t give up.”


Profile: Kendall Golladay

While looking for a job in this economic downturn, MBA graduate Kendall Golladay has remained upbeat about his future career prospects, as he believes he has a lot to offer employers. When Golladay started his MBA at Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina, he “had some inkling that a severe downtown was likely”.

He completed his MBA in 2008 and, at the time of writing, is still looking for work. Before his studies, he was a research associate and lectured on statistics.

Upon completion of his degree, he was hoping to work for a non-profit foundation or endowments investment office. “I knew a lot about non-profit finances from my previous job and hoped my MBA would add more specific technical knowledge about investments,” he says.

From his MBA, he feels that he has gained a good understanding of the fundamentals of finance and investing as well as a broader perspective, and is keen to apply the skills he has acquired as soon as possible.

“I have not gone down the route of pursuing every imaginable job,” he says. “But I am also looking for risk management or business intelligence roles that employ other skills I have, including statistical and computing skills. The hard part in this job market is that everything has slowed down, so finding anything is tough.”

He has made a “few dozen” job applications, had 16 interviews in total and is waiting to hear back from companies.

His advice to other MBA graduates is to be open to a variety of options. Be clear about your competitive advantage as it makes it easier to sell yourself and target suitable jobs effectively, he adds.

Were he to study for an MBA again, he would have “sought out more breadth in classes, particularly those focused on entrepreneurship and sales”.

Meanwhile, Golladay is keeping himself busy. As well as job hunting, he is studying, networking, volunteering and keeping up to date with the developments in the economy. He is also working on restoring a 19th-century house.


Profile: Michael Featherstone

“The rough economy was an asset because it forced me to think innovatively about careers,” says Michael Featherstone, a 2009 MBA graduate from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. Before his MBA, Featherstone worked for Goldman Sachs, the investment bank. He is now a business analyst for Laureate Education, based in the US.

“I focused on the consulting jobs for my summer internship, hoping that would lead me to a full-time offer,” he says. “However, I did not end up receiving one. My plan B was strategic consulting/management jobs at large corporations. I spent the summer at Barclays working in the office of the chief executive of western Europe in global retail and commercial banking in London.”

Featherstone’s two main reasons for studying for an MBA were to change his career and have access to a network of alumni and academics. He received an offer from Laureate in June 2009, just two weeks before graduation.

“When I returned from London in the autumn, I could see that the finance woes were having a huge impact on full-time recruiting,” he says. “Those of us who were still looking for offers at that time were fairly stressed, given the tough job market. The school kept counselling us not to take any job, but really look for opportunities that fit our interests and background.

“There are a lot of ‘conveyor-belt’ careers you can get after business school, and the tough environment opened my eyes to other paths outside of consulting, banking, or even a Fortune 500 company. I think I applied to upwards of 25-30 companies.”

Featherstone advises those who are still seeking employment to “view the gaping hole in Wall Street hiring as a chance to look for new ways to create and capture economic value in new fields – education, clean technology and healthcare as a few examples”. “A top MBA programme gives you access to so much more besides a ticket to a banking or consulting job; it gives you access to alumni expertise, capital, a brand and new ways of thinking about the world,” he says.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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