Inside View: Ivy Exec

Jason Sanders, Director of Consulting Executive Search at Ivy Exec, talks up the boom in health care consulting and counsels MBAs to gain a better idea of how much they're worth

Ivy Exec is an online professional recruitment network that places high-powered graduates from top programs in executive roles.

Jason Sanders is the Director of Consulting Executive Search and a Vice President at Ivy Exec. He has been in the executive search industry for over 15 years now, having previously created the Global Consulting Forum, a popular online community for consultants, and run his own successful search practice.

What's your role at IvyExec and how long have you been there?
I am the Vice President of Executive Search and I lead the recruiting team at Ivy Exec.  I have been with the company for about two years. Before joining Ivy, I owned my own search business.
Typically what type of roles do you work on?
Consulting industry roles, primarily.  We work with management consulting firms like Bain, BCG, Accenture and many smaller firms.  Our practice is focused on mid-level hiring, typically MBAs with 3 to 15 years of experience.  
Which sectors/ industries are most exciting for you right now (in terms of recruitment)?
Health care is clearly the most active sector that we have seen in the past two years.  Our consulting clients are selling significant engagements to health care providers, insurance companies and pharma companies.  
A lot of this is driven by recent health care legislation and the complexities involved in implementing electronic health records technologies.  One of my colleagues told me that you just need to show up to sell work. 
Who are your biggest client companies?
I have worked with some of the largest names in consulting: Bain, BCG, Accenture, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and many others.  At Ivy Exec, we have a unique offering that appeals to smaller and mid-sized firms.  Entrepreneurial companies tend to be more open to new ideas and are leading the way in accepting our business model.
Of the candidates you work with, what proportion are MBAs?
I would say that 90 per cent or more of business consultants have MBAs.  Fewer of the technology-oriented consultants have them, but there is sort of a sliding scale among that group.  The intersection of business strategy, process improvement and IT is where you see the most professionals with MBAs.  
Also, there are fewer MBAs among capital markets consultants.  That industry vertical is peculiar relative to other consulting verticals because they value practical experience and have less patience for the theory that students learn in MBA programs.
Outside of the US, which business schools do you think have the strongest brand amongst employers?
Most of our candidates have MBAs from US institutions, so it would be difficult to identify other strong educational brands.  The Indian Institute of Technology system carries some cachet with US consulting companies, especially those that focus on IT functions.
How does an MBA from a mid-ranking school stand out from the crowd?
Demonstrate practical experience, expertise and thought leadership.  If you are talking about a resume, there is no single format and so certain parts of an individual’s background can be emphasized.  And the resume is really just a means to getting an interview.  
Once you are having a discussion with an executive, the degree matters less than the content of that discussion.  People have innate biases based on previous experience or just what they have heard, so you need to recognize the reality of that, but make no apologies for your background.  
Do you think MBAs have outrageous salary expectations?!
In general, I have found that people don’t really know what to expect and what they are worth. I have had plenty of senior executives ask me to give them a sense of where the market is for their skills.  I would say the same is true of more junior MBAs, in fact even more so.  Overly ambitious expectations, just as too modest expectations, are generally a reflection of not knowing the value that you can bring to an employer.  
That said, it’s not really the expectations that matter, it’s what employers are willing to pay.  At larger firms, pay scales are mapped out so MBAs can expect whatever they like and they still won’t be able to break that structure.  
For people considering a career-switch, would you recommend an MBA?
There are so many variables that it is difficult to give one answer.  It depends on what career they have pursued and what they would like to pursue.  It also depends on how long they have been working overall and what their financial situation is, among other things.  
Mostly people pursue MBAs to take a leap forward in their chosen career path, not undergo a complete change.  That makes total sense, but advice about changing careers altogether would really be case-by-case. 
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