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MBA Job Market In Spotlight At Careers Conference

The job market for MBAs is improving a little, but MBAs must have realistic expectations said speakers at the BusinessBecause Business School Careers Conference, held at Cass yesterday

Lord Dennis Stevenson, former Chairman of HBOS and Pearson and serial entrepreneur kicked off the day with a call to action for business schools. Lord Stevenson, who has taught at Judge Business School for the past five years, voiced skepticism about the case study method. He said that immersing students in the challenges of running a small business was a better way to learn about business in general, and that business schools would do well to prepare their students for failure as well as success.

Next up was a panel of MBA recruiters who shared their hiring needs and challenges in the current market. Emma Skorsky of Citi said that the biggest recruiting ground for full-time roles at the bank is their internship program, and that getting these internships is nearly as tough as landing a job.

Julia Bowden of giant GE Energy Europe said that outside of the firm’s Experienced Leader Program for MBA grads, there were a lot of roles advertised across the company that are suitable for MBAs with 8-10 years or more of experience. Once hired, GE offers employees high levels of internal mobility across sectors and regions.

Tripp Martin of Enterprise Rent-A-Car said that while his firm was growing internationally and provided many opportunities for progression, it was tough to shake off the image that “it’s just a car rental firm”. Martin, who studied business at James Madison University in Virginia before joining the firm as a management trainee in 1999 said that all the top people at the firm come through the trainee program and started out learning to wash cars while wearing their business suits.

Next, three MBA careers managers gave their side of the story. Tony Somers of HEC Paris said that the number of students graduating with jobs was up 10 per cent on last year, with companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon hiring alongside traditional French employers like Schneider Electric and Lafarge.

Cass Business School is known for its strong links with the financial sector and the City where it is located. However careers head Sarah Juillet said that more students are showing an interest in entrepreneurship, social enterprise and technology, and that the careers department was building links with these kinds of companies too. One challenge for UK schools was getting students into the internships that often lead to a job, because MBA programs typically last for one year only.

Colin Hudson of Cranfield said that MBA students have less idea about what they want to do. Cranfield careers support focuses on getting them to identify where they want to be after their MBA and to plan practical steps to get there. The Cranfield careers team is appointing experts in particular countries e.g. China and Brazil to find job opportunities for their MBAs in emerging markets.

Journalist and consultant Stephen Hoare presented a session on talent management. For recruiters, it was important to manage talent to ensure diversity within the firm and avoid “male, pale, stale” senior management, he said. He argued that business schools were in danger of becoming a production line, churning out MBAs without enough focus on what firms currently need, especially as many firms have cut back their MBA programs now.

Next up, three senior journalists from the BBC, FT and Guardian talked about the types of job markets stories they cover. Brian Groom, business and employment editor at the FT said that visa restrictions on foreign students were “potentially concerning” and that the UK job market for under 25s was still weak.

Graham Snowdon of The Guardian said he would be interested in case studies of how business schools are reforming their curriculum to teach ethics. The Guardian has a lot of readers who work in the public sector, so aspects of the MBA that are relevant to them would be interesting.

Hugh Pym who leads economics coverage for the BBC, and could be seen later that day on the 10 O'clock news, commented that a few of his colleagues had recently done MBAs and successfully landed private sector management roles outside of journalism.

Rob Read, head of media planning agency MediaMindsGlobal spoke about business school reputation, and how careers departments fit into a school’s overall ranking. Job placement success and post-graduation salary increases were a key variable in the FT rankings calculation, though less important in other rankings such as BusinessWeek.

Michiel Pool of Stockholm-based employer branding firm Universum talked about employer reputation. He presented the company’s latest survey of 7,000 MBA students in the US and Europe. The results showed that Google is the top rated employer by MBA students on both sides of the Atlantic, with McKinsey, Apple and BCG also in the top four. In the US, employer reputation and image is the most important consideration or MBAs while in Europe, grads are more concerned with job characteristics.

Management consulting recruitment specialists Richard Stewart and Don Leslie talked about getting into this popular industry. Richard Stewart of MindBench said he was working with more banks looking for consultants on a project basis. Don Leslie of BLT said that an MBA was a great qualification for aspiring consultants, and provided many essential skills. However he warned that this is not a career for the fainthearted as the work life balance is pretty much all work and no life, with constant travel to client sites.

Three experts on hiring within entrepreneurial firms, an area growing in popularity with MBAs, talked about the challenges within the market. Leah Nagoye of Enternships.com, which provides students with entrepreneurial internships and graduate jobs, said perseverance was as important as passion in a start-up environment.

Claire Ball, recruitment specialist at Innocent Drinks, said that managing expectations was the main challenge within the company. Innocent has been feted as one of the coolest places to work in the UK and its products have won awards for quality and innovation since it started in 1998. It’s still a young firm, so progression is fast for the right graduates, most of whom start in entry level roles.

Muzaffar Khan, principal at solar power firm Space Energy, which started in 2008, said he was looking for 25 MBAs to fill vacancies at Space Energy and two social enterprises that he owns and runs. He also invests in start-ups as a venture capitalist. He said that investors back personalities, not qualifications, so people skills are essential for any MBA trying to raise investment. Khan also advised entrepreneurs to get someone senior and responsible on their board to gain credibility, and to do a high profile job so investors are confident that they can deliver targets.

The last panel of the day was about the online jobs world. Edward Mellett, co-founder of graduate recruitment forum and jobs board Wikijob.com said that job seekers come onto the site looking for information they can’t find elsewhere. Specifically, they’re after honest views and detailed descriptions of the application process, interview questions, assessment days and what it’s like to work at different companies. As well as their popular forum, Wikijob users can edit pages on topics such as “Boston Consulting Group Interview Questions” and “How to get an internship”.

Richard George, spokesperson at professional networking giant LinkedIn, said that having a great LinkedIn profile was an “extra something” that could set candidates apart when they apply for a job. Putting the right keywords in their profiles would improve MBA candidates’ chances of being picked up by recruiters both in a Google search and a LinkedIn search.

See photos of the conference here!

The BusinessBecause Business School Careers Conference was sponsored by Citi and held at Cass Business School.

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