Class of 2021 Cement the Power of MBAs to Transform Careers

Many people flocked to MBAs to escape the turmoil on the job market. Now many have graduated and secured a better job with a pay rise

In the early days of the pandemic, many people flocked to full-time MBA programs to ride out the recession, upgrade their credentials and graduate, they hoped, into a stronger job market. And now many of those who embarked on MBAs to escape the economic turmoil have graduated. And for the most part, career reporting from business schools shows the degree has helped them to secure a better job, often with a substantial pay rise.

The data underscore the power of the MBA to not just accelerate the careers of working professionals, but to facilitate a career reinvention too: many people have used the degrees to transition into new sectors, functions or geographies. In fact, in the latest IESE employment figures for the class of 2021, 33 percent made a notoriously tricky “triple jump” career change, meaning they changed job function, sector, and geography all at once.

“This reflects the fact that companies need highly skilled talent now more than ever, and continue to value the ways that MBA graduates are able to think, problem-solve and lead,” says Patrik Wallen, executive director of the Career Development Center at IESE Business School based in Spain.

Indeed, the job market is booming and employers warn of skills shortages at every level and across most industries. “The current Class of 2022 (who decided to start the MBA well into the pandemic) is entering a job market that has already largely absorbed the shock of the pandemic,” says Wallen. “The number of structured internship roles in large companies has returned to normal, and our job offer results to date are mirroring what we have seen in previous years.”

This reflects not just the strength of the economic recovery from the pandemic, but students putting more time and energy into their careers during the MBA, given the uncertainty of the situation. “The pandemic forced students to be more thoughtful about their career choices,” Wallen says. “This also drove them to work harder at understanding how to effectively execute a more tailored job search, which will help them throughout the rest of their careers.”

A similarly upbeat assessment of the careers outlook is offered by Margaret O’Neill, head of careers at Cambridge Judge Business School in the UK. “A number of students deferred their studies to see how the pandemic played out, and then gave up secure roles to take up their place a year later, whilst the situation was still uncertain,” she says. “We have seen a strong revival in the job market since, so it has paid off for those who joined us during the pandemic.”

How the MBA experience is proving to be invaluable

Increasingly, corporate recruiters are looking for leaders who can manage disruptive change, so the experience students have gained in effectively managing their studies, projects and networks during Covid has been invaluable.

At the Tepper School in Pittsburg in the US, MBA students are supported with focused career coaching and opportunities to engage with a range of employers. “Since the spring of 2020, we’ve all come a long way in gaining expertise in virtual recruiting best practices,” says Steve Rakas, executive director of the Masters Career Center at Tepper. “I believe much of the virtual recruiting landscape that has resulted will remain after the pandemic.”

He says that, as recruiters and students adjusted to remote recruiting, stability and even growth in hiring occurred in some sectors such as technology, consulting and healthcare. So Tepper’s Class of 2021 (those who had already started their MBA right before the pandemic hit) set new records for starting salaries and rates of employment: 96 percent of the class received a job offer three months after graduation. And median salaries remained flat after increasing 10 percent in 2020, settling at around $135,000 in 2021.

An emerging trend to watch is the impact of virtual recruiting on the MBA job market, says Rakas. “In some ways, the playing field has been leveled by virtual recruiting; more opportunities are opening up for many students with attractive employers who are no longer focused on campus recruiting at a small set of core schools.”

Although the pandemic is rapidly evolving, he remains cautiously optimistic for the Class of 2022. “The growth seen in some sectors, the Great Resignation, and the growing acceptance of hybrid working have all contributed to a vastly different landscape in a few short years,” Rakas adds. “Candidates are looking at their professional and personal goals through a much different lens than before, and employers are increasingly offering more options and flexibility to meet their needs.

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