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Do MBA Rankings Matter To Recruiters?

MBA rankings are under fire from some business schools, but they’re still a valuable tool for corporate recruiters like Bain & Company

Mon Oct 7 2019

MBA rankings are under fire, with business schools saying they can’t be trusted to reflect the true quality of MBA programs and their graduates. But for corporate recruiters, rankings are still among the best ways of allocating recruiting resources to find specialist and high-quality hires. 

Keith Bevans is the global head of consultant recruiting for Bain & Company. Bain hired over 500 consultants in 2018 and plan to expand on that figure this year. They use rankings to determine which business schools to invest resources into, such as on-campus recruiting. 

“We use rankings at a macro rather than micro level,” he says. Rankings are only an initial guide, and the rest comes down to the appropriateness of each individual candidate.

The company actively recruits from schools like INSEAD, Kellogg, London Business School, Harvard, and IE Business School. MBAs enter Bain from over 60 schools worldwide. 

“The positions of the top 10 or five schools don’t change much year-over-year,” says Keith. “We care about how the schools trend over several years. We want a three-or-five-year average position.” 

This is because, according to Keith, Bain has a better chance of attracting a plethora of quality candidates from schools at the top of the MBA rankings, to fill a growing number of vacancies as the firm grows.

“When schools are ranked high, they attract the most competitive students.” 

This is judged by the salary differential measure. Keith says a school with high compensation is likely to place many candidates into consulting, a lucrative industry. There are more candidates who want to work in the industry, and alumni help them prepare for a tough recruitment process, says Keith. 

“If I go there, I’ll find a more receptive audience that is better prepared.” 

What do business schools think?

Some employers also use rankings to determine the salary level of their potential hires. However, schools often claim that the salary differential measure detracts from the value of the teaching and other criteria. They say it penalizes schools with high proportions of students becoming entrepreneurs or working for non-profits. 

“We feel that the over reliance on salary data is a limiting factor. Some of best students go into a huge variety of roles, not necessarily always the highest paid,” says Kathy Harvey, associate MBA dean at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School. 

She says that corporate recruiters should “go behind the statistics” and speak to careers teams to get the information they seek. 

Still, Jeff McNish, assistant dean for career services at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, says MBA rankings are among the only places where recruiters can assess the quality of an MBA cohort, for example average GMAT scores. This is important because a significant proportion of the learning at business school takes places in case discussions between participants. 

David Allen, executive dean of the University of Exeter Business School, says rankings help corporate recruiters discern an MBA program’s strengths, for example a commitment to environmental sustainability. 

Some companies want MBA graduates to practice responsible capitalism, as they go beyond maximizing shareholder value to serving all their stakeholders. 

Are rankings overdue a revamp?

The Financial Times recently introduced a requirement in its business school rankings for schools to highlight their commitment to teaching sustainability. 

David thinks rankings agencies should go further, measuring the sustained effects of business education on business and society.  “Rankings need to take into account the long-term impact of programs on alumni and the organizations they work for,” he says. 

Andrew Crisp, co-founder of education marketing company Carrington Crisp, agrees that there’s a need to refresh and revitalize the rankings, moving away from the heavy emphasis on compensation. 

He suggests an alternative methodology that could be helpful for corporate recruiters: a comparison of students’ skills with those most wanted by employers. 

Use LinkedIn to see what skills employers are after, he says, and then look at the schools that are offering to teach those skills, and which graduates are getting those jobs.

At Bain, even though they utilize the rankings, Keith’s biggest gripe is the delay between surveying and publication. Rankings are often based on surveys of alumni who graduated up to three years ago, so they don’t reflect their perceptions of current changes in the curriculum.

“I have to recruit talent that [isn’t] just business savvy, but understands analytics, machine learning, and how it applies to industry,” he says. “What I can’t tell in the rankings, because of the lag of the survey, is what’s actually happening on campus.” 

But rankings still hold significant sway among corporate recruiters, and schools at the top of the rankings may give their students more engagement with employers. 

“If a school goes from 20 to 10 in two years, I know I’m going to need to start thinking about looking at them in a much bigger way,” says Keith.