The job market is beginning to improve for MBA graduates as global companies start to focus on growth following a few years of hiring caution.
To be sure, this isn't the job market of the early 2000s, when the jobless rate held between 4 and 6 percent, but the nation's unemployment levels are beginning to fall and companies are reassessing their needs.
"Companies realize that they can't afford to not have a pipeline of strong people coming in. The last couple of years, companies have held off (hiring), but they can do that only for so long," said John Challenger, chief executive of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, an outplacement consulting firm.
Directors of career services at several Chicago-area universities also said that hiring of new MBA graduates is rebounding this year and expected to continue as the economy improves. More importantly, the fields seeking students with advanced business degrees are becoming more diverse, meaning a wider array of opportunities. Those pondering an advanced business degree might consider a specialized degree in health care or technology, among other sectors, or pursue an MBA for the critical-thinking skills and breadth of knowledge that so many companies value — especially when enhanced by an internship.
In a survey of employers conducted at the end of 2012, the Graduate Management Admission Council said that of 201 employers in 31 countries, 76 percent said they expected to hire MBA graduates in 2013, up from 69 percent in 2012.
Companies had refrained from hiring because of the uncertain global economic outlook, including problems in Europe and slower growth in emerging markets, the GMAC survey said. A more stable global economic outlook, and expectations that the U.S. job market is slowly improving, brightened the hiring outlook, the survey said.
Chicago's top business schools say their MBA graduates are getting jobs. Betsy Berger, associate director of communications at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said 96 percent of its full-time class of 2012 had job offers within three months after graduation. Julie Morton, associate dean of career services at University of Chicago Booth School of Business, said 95 percent of full-time MBA students from Booth's class of 2012 received job offers by that time.
Morton said a core of MBA graduates sticks with traditional fields, such as financial services, investment/portfolio management and marketing but that the school has seen an uptick in new industries seeking MBA students, a trend that aligns with students' interest to move outside the traditional areas.
At Kellogg, 2013 graduates already are getting job offers in many of the established MBA fields, the school's career management center director, Michael Malone, wrote in an email. "What is heartening," he wrote, "is that we are hearing stories from students focused in areas including energy (traditional and alternative), not for profit, media/tech and startups, who are having productive conversations that are in many cases leading to offers."
Several directors of career services at Chicago universities cited information technology as a booming field as more IT jobs are returning to the U.S.
"Labor costs overseas are a bit higher now, and (companies are realizing) there were some problems outsourcing it," said Tracy Warner, senior director of the business career center at the University of Illinois at Chicago Liautaud Graduate School of Business. "There's a lot of interest not only in the tech skills, but also in the soft skills, such as selling something to the client, meeting with heads of business, leading a team of people, leading a programming team."
Piotr Lechowski, president at DeVry University's Chicago Loop Center campus, said that within IT, there's strong interest in cybersecurity and cloud computing. Health care is another nontraditional field seeking students with MBAs, said Lechowski and Kayed Akkawi, dean at the Morris Graduate School of Management at Robert Morris University.
Health care is expected to see especially rapid job growth in the next several years, the Bureau of Labor Statistics said in its 2010-2020 employment projections. Also, occupations that typically require some type of postsecondary education are projected to grow the fastest during this time. Professions classified as needing a master's degree are projected to grow by 22 percent.
Challenger agreed that technology, health care and energy sectors have strong growth, as does management consulting. "Generally, corporate America is in a fairly strong cash position to fill the pipeline with high-potential people," he said.
Many students seek MBAs for salary increases, and for students graduating this year, the GMAC survey said the majority of firms planned to increase annual base salaries for new hires.
When it comes to advanced business school degrees, the person with an MBA is still the most sought after, according to the GMAC survey. Yet there is a growing trend of companies seeking non-MBA advanced business school graduates. GMAC's survey showed that employers saw slightly stronger growth this year for hiring of master of management and master of accounting graduates than of MBA graduates.
Many schools offer business-degree concentrations in certain fields, like IT or management. Some students enroll with a concentration in mind, but DeVry's Lechowski said waiting to decide "gives you a chance to see what the school is like and know the programs."
Corporate recruiters still want MBA candidates for their critical-thinking skills. "They want to see your ability to use data and create data-driven solutions and apply them to problems," Booth's Morton said. "Critical thinking is a catchall, but the idea is that you have the ability to do analytical dissection on data and use a human and data perspective."
The value of an internship
For students still in school, GMAC said internships are plentiful. Sixty-five percent of firms surveyed said they planned to offer MBA internships this year, and most of those firms said they intended to keep the number the same as or higher than in 2012.
Full-time students need to take advantage of internships, said Jeff Wilson, director, career services at UIC's Liautaud school. "Internships are critical. ... (Students) had better have work experience in their field if they expect to find work, especially if they're changing fields."
Wilson said he sees a strong entrepreneurial spirit in students who get an MBA. "We see a lot of MBAs pairing with firms, particularly with startups to work with them on launching," he said. "We have a very strong program on that. Many of these students who work with the startups usually get officer roles in the company when it launches."
Is an MBA worth it?
The average person enrolled in an MBA program is 28 years old and likely returning to school after a few years of working full time, said David Lewin, professor of management, human resources, and organizational behavior at the UCLA Anderson School of Management.
"An MBA … infers some kind of knowledge and most corporations that hire an MBA might look at them for a leader eventually … traditionally that's what MBAs are for," Lewin said.
When the economy improves, Challenger said, "there's no question an MBA and an advanced practical degree will be in demand."Copyright © 2015, CT Now