MBA grads change with marketplace

Employers need to be innovative, actively involved on campus to catch best of breed

Demand keeps growing for MBA graduates. For 2007, the QS Top International Recruitment Survey and Salary Recruitment Report indicated employer demand for MBAs rose 24 per cent worldwide.

The survey, which had responses from 489 companies in 37 countries, found demand was up sharpest in the technology sector, with a steep 29-per-cent rise, followed by financial services (up 24 per cent), general industry (up 24 per cent) and consulting (up 22 per cent).

Yet at Canada’s five top-rated university business schools, the number of students enrolled in two-year, full-time MBA programs barely reaches 600.

It’s a small wonder those select few are receiving multiple salary offers from competing recruiters. So what can employers do to lure these future captains of industry aboard?

“I think it’s very important, first of all, that you are very clear about who your are looking for,” says David Edwards, head of the Business Career Centre at the Queen’s School of Business in Kingston, Ont.

“You need to know, quite precisely, the skills and the personality fit you need. If you are not clear about those two things, you are going to waste a lot of your time and money.”

Students more diverse

Employers also need to be aware that MBA students are cut from a different cloth than their counterparts from the past. To start with, as many as 30 per cent of what was once a mostly male cohort are now women.

They are a generation of “millennials” — students whose post-secondary education has all taken place since 2000, says Sharon Irwin-Foulon, director of career management development at the Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. They are proving more discerning than their predecessors about job choices.

“They see work just as one side of their lives that has to be balanced in varying ways with other sides,” says Irwin-Foulon. “Employers need to recognize these individual differences — so we tell recruiters to arrange one-on-one sessions with prospective employees as much as they can.”

MBA a ‘leadership’ degree

One of the reasons grads are a more diverse group is because the MBA has evolved to become an advanced degree in leadership, not just a business degree, says Glenn Feltham, dean of the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg.

“Students are coming in looking for jobs not just in the private sector but in not-for-profits, in government, even in health care,” Feltham says. “At the moment one of our MBA students is a medical doctor.”

There’s also a wider age range.

“Right now our MBA enrolment includes a father and son and also a mother and son,” says Kelly Mahoney, the head of Asper’s Career Development Centre. “We’re seeing older people enrolling in the MBA because they are thinking of early retirement and then shifting into consulting work.”

At the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto, backgrounds and job interests are diverse.

“The people in our MBA and masters of finance programs come from 35 countries,” says Jeff Muzzerall, director of business development at Rotman and acting director of its career department. “And we encourage them to seek jobs worldwide.”

Responding to that new diversity of background and wide-ranging ambitions, the Ivey School of Business has borrowed a page from its marketing courses.

“We look at recruitment from both the students’ and the recruiters’ point of view as an exercise in branding,” says Irwin-Foulon. “For the recruiters, we work with them to brand themselves by being transparent and honest about their company. Where does it fit in the industry? What kind of deal flow do you have? How do your customers see you? What kind of DNA are you looking for in your MBAs? Similarly, we counsel students to clearly brand themselves. Then we try to match the two brands.”

That’s something Asper emulates with its annual “Resumania Week” based on the principles of speed dating.

MBAs told to be choosy

To the same end, Edwards and his staff at Queen’s advise MBA graduating classes to be choosy, even if they are not basking in multiple job offers. Similarly, business schools are counselling recruiters to be more selective and creative.

“If firms are only looking for one or two MBAs, rather than put out a mass cattle call, it may be better to invite only a few candidates to a private meeting,” says Ivey’s Irwin-Foulon.

Or to a hockey game.

“One of our employers invited 15 MBA students and several of our alumni to a Manitoba Moose game in their private box,” says Asper’s Mahoney. “It was an informal chance to ask what that employer was all about.”

It was also a chance for the recruiter to build relationships early with prospective employees — an approach more and more savvy recruiters are taking.

Recruiters after Rotman graduates are offering summer internships that test skill sets in meaningful work in Britain, France, Dubai and United Nations-sponsored programs in Latin America and Africa. At Asper, executives from firms eyeing graduates appear as guest lecturers at workshops. At Queen’s, Edwards says the Chubb Group of Insurance companies garners its share of top recruits by annually supporting more than a dozen on-campus student conferences a year.

At Ivey, long-term, relationship building is formally embraced as the recruiting principle of choice, says Irwin-Foulon.

“Our fundamental advice to recruiters is not to regard recruiting as a transaction,” says Irwin-Foulon. Especially when hunting millennials.

Andy Shaw is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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