The MBA Job Market has Recovered, but Competition is Fierce

As economies across the world exit lockdown, labor markets are rapidly thawing

After a poor recruiting season at business schools in 2020, when the pandemic hit employment hard, the jobs outlook for the Class of 2021 is looking increasingly bright. As economies across the world exit lockdown, labor markets are rapidly thawing. However, the competition is fiercer than ever.

There’s a glut of MBA graduates hitting the jobs market this year after record volumes of applications at many business schools, as students sought shelter from the economic storm. Those graduating this summer are not just competing with their peers, but some of the graduates who could not find work last year too.

“It’s definitely competitive,” says Mai-Gee Hum, director of career management services and corporate partnerships at Concordia University’s John Molson School of Business in Canada.

But she insists that “there’s enough jobs for everyone”. The MBA employment market has largely recovered from its pandemic nadir, with data from the Graduate Management Admission Council showing that 92 percent of companies plan to hire graduates in 2021, although pay is likely to be lower.

Where are the jobs? In the tech, consulting and finance sectors, to start

Not all sectors are hiring evenly. The leading industries looking to hire MBAs this year are the big winners from the pandemic: technology, alongside venture capital and private equity firms, according to careers advisors and employment reports.

The fewest opportunities are found in the sectors still suffering from the pandemic, such as hospitality, retail and natural resources including the oil and gas industry.

But “the outlook is very bright for this class graduating in 2021, especially those seeking employment in finance, consulting and ecommerce,” says Hum. Bank hiring “is on fire” against the backdrop of an improving economy. Consulting firms have also seen an uptick in business helping companies survive the pandemic, she adds, while healthcare has boomed in the wake of coronavirus.  

“The outlook is more bleak for those seeking careers in entertainment, travel and tourism,” says Hum. “Recruiters haven’t been very active.”

Here’s how to get hired in competitive job market, as a newly-minted MBA

Getting hired is a matter of being flexible with industry or function, getting to grips with virtual recruiting, and explaining how the past year has tested but made you more resilient, according to employment experts.

“The ability to deal with ambiguity has been a skill that top employers have been asking for,” says Patti Brown, global MBA director at ESSEC Business School in France. “This is not new; it has just been amplified by COVID.”

The pandemic is an opportunity to showcase resilience and leadership, agrees Liza Kirkpatrick, managing director of the career management center at Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University. “Reframe resilience to be about what you learned when things do not go as planned,” she says. “It shows that you are scrappy and innovative.”

It matters how you tell that story, says Kirkpatrick. “Be bold and confident. You should create your narrative about what you learned from those experiences.”

This is especially important if your summer internship was cancelled last year. “Companies were not ready for a remote workforce,” says Dominique Gobat, senior careers advisor at University of St. Gallen in Switzerland. “This was the main reason why internships were cancelled.”

He adds that companies are placing more of an emphasis on soft skills when hiring talent. “This has become even more important. Students who were able to demonstrate their adaptability, resilience and networking, still achieved a high level of success, despite the pandemic.”

Perhaps the biggest change this year will be the move to virtual recruitment, which has its advantages. Kellogg’s Kirkpatrick says companies and students enjoyed the benefits of saving time and money otherwise spent travelling.

Another upside has been the economies of scale. “Employers were able to expand their reach across MBA programs and students were able to manage interview conflicts, which in the past made them miss opportunities,” she adds.

What will MBA hiring look like, post-Covid?

It will be important to practice Zoom interviews and to strengthen online job search skills as well as networking abilities, according to Kirkpatrick.

She advises taking advantage of your school’s career management center and alumni network, reaching out to graduates at target companies for informational interviews. “You need to be ready to impress in any employer interaction,” Kirkpatrick says.

The 2021 cohort will be assisted by their peers from the year before who were fortunate enough to secure jobs, points out ESSEC’s Brown. “We have alumni now strategically placed in companies such as Snap and Amazon, which are hiring and favor recommendations from current employees.”

It remains to be seen whether virtual recruitment will stick around after Covid, but Brown, like his peers, thinks it might. “We added several sessions for our students on how to shine online,” she says. “We are even thinking of adding special Zoom lighting rings to the welcome pack for next year’s cohort.”

Current students might need to keep an open mind and be more willing to pivot into jobs they might not have considered before, business schools say.

“Have a plan B, C, D, E and F,” Brown says. “Don’t be a snob; the company that is unknown today could be the Amazon of tomorrow.”

Luca Allaria, MBA career advisory manager at St. Gallen, agrees. “The most successful students are the ones with a high level of openness to receive feedback, self-awareness to question themselves, and willingness to adapt when needed,” he says.

“Students who can diversify their job search approach on-the-fly and have a strong desire for personal improvement are finding their way into great jobs.”

Likewise, Kellogg’s Kirkpatrick says there is never only one path to a successful career. “If you are waiting for the one perfect thing, you may be missing the doors that are open to you.”

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