There are signs that slowly but surely there is a solid recovery in the MBA jobs market.
So let me now make an uncharacteristically bold statement. My belief is that the market may not just be in the process of returning to where it was in the mid-2000s, which at the time was considered the pinnacle of MBA recruitment, but that we may be on the verge of a new ‘golden age’.
So, assuming it comes to pass, what will it look like?
Since the demise of Lehman Brothers six years ago, the volatility of the financial services sector has severely dented on-campus recruitment across the globe and we are only now seeing the first signs of a recovery. A recent report from the specialist recruiter Morgan McKinley points out that the real jobs growth may not be in investment banking, but in retail, and the most sought after skills will be those of risk management rather than risk taking.
All this could actually be good news for MBAs still keen to make careers in these sectors. But to take best advantage, they may need to embrace the likelihood that although such careers will not begin or develop like those of their predecessors, they will, however, still turn out to be stimulating, rewarding and, perhaps most important, sustainable.
The indications are that the consultancy sector will continue to be a major hirer of top-flight MBAs, however, the days of the mass intake from campuses to entry-level positions may be gone for good. In consultancy, for example, even hitherto pure strategy players such as McKinsey and BCG have shown themselves willing to move on from traditionally rigid candidate specifications and to consider specialists with less obvious backgrounds, such as scientists, doctors and mid-career industry types.
However, in my view, while these sectors will certainly play a key part in the growth of MBA hiring over the next few years, that part may not be as large as it has been in the past.
Instead, what I find increasingly encouraging about today’s MBA jobs market is how it has broken out of its traditional areas to become more diverse than perhaps ever before. Prompted, not just by the most recent downturn, but by the challenges faced in MBA hiring at the beginning of the millennium, people like me have had to find an ever-wider range of options for our students. That has meant marketing their skillsets, energy and application to organisations that may never have thought of hiring MBAs in significant numbers before. Career treks, networking events and boot camps are all part of our efforts to help our students to understand the nuances of careers in consulting, finance, luxury, marketing, energy and entrepreneurship. Our goal is to ensure that students know themselves, know the market and can ultimately match themselves with the market.
The results speak for themselves. Rather than being viewed as an expensive indulgence, a newly qualified MBA is now seen as a logical hire by an extremely wide spectrum of employers for a similarly broad range of roles. MBAs now fill slots in sectors as diverse as luxury goods at the likes of LVMH and L’Oréal, and are favoured hires for many of those technology and new media such as Amazon, Facebook and Google that are continually reshaping the way we conduct our lives.
And the demand for MBAs is not just coming from the companies that dominated the hiring market in the past. Industrial giants such as GE and Schneider Electric are fighting for top talent for their international expansion, while a substantial proportion of new graduates are now taking up places in fast-growing SMEs.
The potential for a genuine ‘golden age’ is most definitely there. But it will only become a reality if both schools and students alike are willing to embrace the change that, in my opinion, has already happened. Instead of harking back to the past we must grasp the opportunities that the present and the future offer. Those who are willing to do so may find that this could be the most exciting time for new MBAs to date.
The author is director of the career management centre at HEC Paris.