MBA alumni are continuing to move away from traditional MBA careers and into functions and industries not commonly associated with business school graduates.
According to a recent QS survey, the TopMBA.com Jobs and Salary Report, demand for MBAs has increased globally by 36% since 2009 – a year which itself witnessed a 5% downturn – and globally the recruitment picture has almost returned to pre-downturn numbers in some industries.
However, the picture is not rosy across all MBA-hiring industries.
In particular, MBA recruitment into investment banking, previously a target for a large proportion of MBA graduates, has fallen considerably.
Nick Barniville, MBA director at European School of Management and Technology (ESMT) in Germany, explains that “MBA candidates targeting investment banking need to be careful… hiring from MBA programs has been at a near standstill for a couple of years."
The evidence of the slowdown in investment banking recruitment of MBAs comes from the business schools themselves.
In reports detailing the recruitment of MBA alumni from two of Europe’s most prestigious schools with very strong MBA finance specializations, only 103 out of a combined total of 1,388 (7.4%) MBA alumni found positions in the top 15 finance institutions, including Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank.
At the time of writing, in early 2012 MBA recruitment was undergoing what has become known as a ‘talent shuffle’.
While the QS survey forecasts an increase in finance and consulting opportunities for MBA candidates, there is a growing trend of graduates taking roles in non-traditional MBA careers.
“Many of the top MBA programs are forced to be more creative in uncovering MBA career opportunities for their students in these past two years,” says Dan Beaudry, an expert in MBA career services and author of Power Ties: the International Student’s Guide to Finding a Job in the United States.
“Although traditional big MBA employers have recovered from the drought in 2008/9, we are not seeing a big pick up in financial services recruitment, or any significant upturn in demand among mid-sized companies, which were conspicuous by their absence in 2011.”
In a situation where traditional MBA roles, such as investment banking are rarer than before, and the number of MBAs graduating has increased or remained the same, MBAs are likely to move across industries in search of decent salaries. In particular, those required to repay their business school loans urgently, are looking at industries they may not have considered before.
The hi-tech industries are experiencing a revival in MBA recruitment, and the pharmaceutical industry is returning gradually to pre-crisis figures.
Tony Somers, director of MBA career services at HEC Paris, suggests that the talent shuffle is a result of functionality: “Few MBA students say something as specific as ‘I want a career at Google or in technology in general.’ Rather they will target a function and are prepared to move across industries to fulfill that function.
“I see a number of application files and rarely will people talk about the sector they want to go to. They will say, ‘I want a strategy function preferably in fast moving consumer goods.’ The focus tends to be initially in function rather than sector.”
One recruitment area that continues to see major interest among modern MBAs is in the charity or non-governmental organization (NGO) sector.
For an increasing proportion of MBA career seekers, instant financial security is not the major motivator, at least for a certain period of time after graduating from business school.
In fact, according to research published by Net Impact – a global organization that provides advice on corporate responsibility and social entrepreneurship, and which has a membership base of over 10,000 students and professionals – 15% of the MBA population surveyed indicated that the current economic climate has increased their interest roles within non-profit organizations.
Jeff Muzzerall, director of the corporate communications centre at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada, agrees that the talent shuffle has boosted interest in non-profit roles amongst MBA career seekers: “Many of our students have commented that ‘if I’m not making big money, I might as well be making a contribution to society and getting meaningful experience at the same time.’”
“Business can do amazing things, at home and in developing countries,” says Tal Dehtiar, co-founder of MBAs Without Borders. “We send MBA graduates from all over the world to work with small and medium enterprises and not-for-profit organizations in agriculture, health and regeneration. A lot of this is strongly involved with microfinance and innovative marketing strategies – exactly the kind of skills that an MBA has.”
Such skills lend themselves to creating innovative solutions to often extremely complex business problems.
Juan Jose Ospina, an MBA alumni from the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business, won a QS Leadership Scholarship through the QS World MBA Tour in 2009. He used his business acumen to challenge the way conservative coffee farmers set up their businesses, and as a result has encouraged the learning of future markets, and the formulation of trading and hedging strategies to revolutionize the coffee industry in Columbia.
Many MBA career seekers are becoming socially motivated, according to a variety of studies around the world.
For them, working for a worthy company that can show excellent credentials for their social programs or strength in corporate social responsibility (CSR) is as important as a good salary.
Triin Visnapuu is an Estonian MBA graduate currently working in Morocco at a local handicapped women’s association, Al Kawtar. The association provides women with the opportunity to learn a craft and earn a living.
She says, “The organization now faces a situation where it is required to restructure – an association should not undertake commercial activities. Hence, the women need to set up a co-operative in parallel.”
Her role is to help the women of Al Kawtar face these challenges and set up a transparent and efficient management structure.
“During the first two weeks, I have tried to get a better understanding of the ongoing processes. I am touched by the underlying optimism and joy of the life that they have. Never before have I wanted to do a good job quite as much as this.”
The pressures to find a career, at a time when non-traditional MBA roles are tough to find, are great. But not only are there push factors that are pushing alumni away from MBA careers in investment banking and finance, there are pull factors elsewhere. The skills that MBAs learn during their programs are welcomed in the sustainability, social responsibility and NGO world with open arms.