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Canadian business school graduates are reaping the rewards of studying in a country that has emerged relatively unscathed from the financial crisis. Recruiters and business schools report that the market for MBA graduates remains buoyant. “We’re seeing a lot of activity on campuses,” says Jack Wong, senior manager for corporate strategy at Deloitte’s Toronto office, who recruits for the accountancy firm’s strategy practice.

Mark Galbraith, vice-president for human resources, recruitment and learning at Royal Bank of Canada, which takes on about 100 MBA graduates each year, says: “We haven’t wavered in our hiring.” He confirms “it’s very competitive to get talent out of the schools”.

The University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management estimates that the mean starting salary for its graduates rose to C$86,245 ($86,490) in 2010 from C$85,454 the previous year.

The mean signing bonus shrank by more than a fifth to C$13,653, but the school ascribes the decline to currency fluctuations and to a drop-off in hiring among three once-aggressive groups of employers: US banks, whose foreign recruiting has been curtailed by the terms of government bail-outs, US law firms and UK banks.

On the other hand, says Jeff Muzzerall, director of Rotman’s Corporate Connections Centre, “we have a very robust market for domestic hirings”.

Canada’s big banks are in much healthier shape than most of their US and European counterparts. RBC, the country’s biggest financial institution, had 72,100 people on its payroll at the end of October 2010, only slightly down from two years earlier, and 11 per cent more than in late 2007. Noting that MBAs are an important pool for the bank’s future leadership, Galbraith says: “We need to keep that pipeline open.”

As far as Deloitte is concerned, Wong adds: “It almost doesn’t matter what kind of year folks are experiencing in business. You’re going to need the people at various levels to maintain the practice [after the downturn ends].”

In a bid to capitalise on international interest in Canada’s financial sector, a group of Toronto-based banks, insurers and asset managers has joined forces with Rotman to set up the Global Risk Institute in Financial Services. The institute, backed by C$10m in government grants, will provide research in various aspects of risk management and promote collaboration between regulators, policymakers and the financial industry.

Muzzerall says 89 per cent of Rotman’s 2010 MBA class had landed jobs within three months of graduation, up from 83 per cent the year before. He goes on to list a string of top-drawer US and European schools with lower placement rates.

The University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business claims a 92 per cent placement rate for 2010. “If you’re really picky upfront, you can weather the storms later on,” says Sharon Irwin-Foulon, Ivey’s career management director. She says Ivey places special emphasis in admissions interviews on three qualities: candidates’ networking abilities, their comfort with uncertainty and risk-taking, and their willingness to be accountable for their achievements (and, presumably, their setbacks).

Ali Mokdad, one of last year’s Ivey graduates, has little doubt that his year at business school helped him quickly land a medical services liaison job at the Canadian subsidiary of Servier, the French pharmaceuticals group.

Mokdad, who had qualified as a doctor and gained a PhD before enrolling at Ivey, says: “I was very scientific. I did not know how to sell myself.” During his time at Ivey, he adds, he was able to “learn from the experiences of others who are more involved in business than I am”.

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