MBA Specializations: Landing the Job You Want

For certain career paths, some business schools are better than others

Editors' Note: FIND MBA is pleased to launch our shortlists of top business schools by industry focus or functional area. These editorial lists consider employment data, concentrations, and other factors to help future MBA students find some of the best business schools for careers in various industries and functions. 

* In 2014 our speciality lists were included in a broadened, "top 10 list" section, which also includes top lists of MBA programs by geography and other factors. See FIND MBA's Top 10 List page here.

Many MBA applicants focus on getting into the absolute best school they can get into. In doing so, they might look at general indicators, like overall reputation and school rankings. And they're often right to do so, since top-ranked schools are often the best in terms of salary, networking potential, and career resources.

However, for people who have specific ideas about what they want to do after graduating, it's worth looking more closely at MBA programs that are strong in specific functional or industry areas.

How does this work? What makes a school better for a specific functional or industry role?

A main indicator is employment data. Many of the top business schools readily provide historical data that shows in what industries and functions recent graduates have landed jobs.

Employment data is a good baseline metric for comparing schools. For example, 44 percent of Rutgers' MBA class of 2011went into the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, or healthcare products industries. Compare this to Rice University – Jones Graduate School of Business' class of 2011, where only about 3 percent got jobs in biotech, pharma, or healthcare .

Meanwhile, 29 percent of Rice MBAs went into the energy or petroleum sectors, while only 2 percent of Rutgers' class of 2011 went into the energy field.

Solely using this data, potential MBA students can assume that Rutgers will be a better bet for a career in the health industry, while Rice – Jones will generally be better to land a job in the energy sector.

This can also be true for placements into specific functional roles. For example, of CEIBS' class of 2011, almost a quarter of all graduates went into either business development or strategic planning roles – a high number compared to most other schools.

But placement statistics aren't the whole story. Digging a little deeper, other indicators become apparent. Rutgers, for example, is near to some large pharmaceutical companies, as well as a number of hospitals. This kind of proximity can mean better networking in a specific industry and more internship and project opportunities. Proximity to industry connections is also a factor in Jones' strong energy placements: its Houston location puts it within a cab ride from the headquarters of some of the world's largest oil and gas companies, like Shell Oil and ConocoPhillips. The same is true for New York-based schools like NYU Stern: being near Wall Street means that a career in finance or private equity is within close reach.

Many business schools also have connections with specific industries through alumni networks or formal partnerships. These connections can help students land jobs. For example, Italy's MIB School of Management, through its Executive Master in Hospitality Management, has partnerships with global hotel chains like Hyatt International and Four Seasons; graduates of the program often land jobs with these partner organizations. Likewise, INSEAD's strong relationships with McKinsey & Co. and the Boston Consulting Group mean that it's a good place to go for a career in consulting.

These industry connections can be facilitated by dedicated research centers. For example, the A.C. Nielson Center for Marketing Research at the Wisconsin School of Business provides networking opportunities and field trips to corporate headquarters of marketing firms. By providing industry connections, student clubs can also serve similar purposes. The Retail and Luxury Goods Club at Columbia Business School, for example, facilitates company presentations and mixers to provide networking opportunities with firms.

A question of curriculum

Specialized classes, and even concentrations, can also be important for those seeking specific careers. For example, the University of Washington – Foster offers a Technology Management MBA program that delves into specifics of the management of technology. This focus seems to translate into jobs in the sector: 42 percent of the class of 2011 went into the technology industry. Similarly, SP Jain offers an MBA specialization in Global Logistics and Supply Chain Management, which focuses on such topics as transportation management and warehousing; and typically, at least 10 percent of MBA graduates go into these fields.

However, concentrations do not always mean that a school is strong in a particular space; indeed, many of the highest-ranked business schools don't even offer MBA concentrations.

Stanford is a good example. While it doesn't offer an MBA concentration in entrepreneurship, like other business schools, an unusually large number of recent MBA graduates start their own businesses. In this case, Stanford's focus in entrepreneurship is due to a dedicated research center and strong industry connections within the Silicon Valley startup and venture capital communities.

In any case, choosing the right MBA program for you might depend on more than just a school's standings in the rankings. Here are some more tips to help:

  • Some industry journals, like Gartner Supply Chain Leaders, provide sector-specific MBA program rankings;
  • A concentration is not always the answer; sometimes “general” MBA programs can provide more value, depending on your career goals;
  • For some roles, pairing an MBA with another degree can be beneficial (ie. An MBA/MPA (master of public administration) for a non-profit manager;
  • Projects and internship opportunities in your chosen industry can be vital for landing a job after the MBA, particularly in a new industry

For more information, please visit Find MBA's Top 10 List page

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