(article published in Diversity Magazine, Winter 2009)
Across the USA the boom years for MBA hiring are over, at least for the foreseeable future. The latest survey from the MBA Career Services Council found 56% of business schools reporting a ‘significant’ decline in the number of jobs posted with them, whilst a massive 70% stated that recruitment activity was down more than 10% on last year. Even the volume of internships is apparently dropping, giving rise to fears that this classic route to a permanent job may be in danger of drying up.
However one of the key attractions of the MBA is that it is one of very few major business qualifications that is truly international. So, as the range of opportunities at home continues to shrink, should graduates be looking to escape the problems in the domestic market and develop their career outside the USA?
The Global Snapshot report from the management recruitment company, Antal, examines hiring and firing trends in over 100 countries around the world on a quarterly basis. Its latest edition found that well over half of businesses outside the US were currently hiring and 43% intended to do so in the coming quarter. “Rather than being a classic downturn, this one seems to be developing a very specific nature, which hits certain countries extremely hard whilst leaving other relatively or completely unscathed,” says Antal’s CEO, Tony Goodwin. “In Europe, for example, over half of organisations we questioned in Germany, Poland and Hungary were expecting to hire at managerial level and although confidence had demonstrably dropped in the job markets of India and China it still remained relatively high in comparison to areas such as the US and UK.”
Katayeva’s’s view is largely shared by her counterpart at Warwick Business School in the UK, Leon Richards. “What we’re finding is that there aren’t necessarily any ‘safe’ sectors when it comes to MBA-friendly jobs. What students need to focus on is finding well-run, forward thinking companies which have an effective talent management strategy in place. What is likely to get MBAs through the current situation is that fact that, whilst many organisations are cutting headcount, we’re also seeing a flight to quality. The internship process whereby so many MBAs get their full-time positions not just here, but further afield, fits neatly with this because it allows businesses to conduct a long-term working interview so that they can be certain that they are getting what they need.” At another major European school, HEC in France, associate dean, Valerie Gauthier, has pinpointed a number of industries that she believes are better than prepared than many to ride out the economic storm and provide job opportunities for MBAs, not just in Europe but worldwide. “The major power and energy companies are still recruiting, as are those business sectors that have long cycles such as aeronautics,” she says.
On the other side of the world, Australia is one of the few countries that seems to dealing with the global economic situation with some degree of success. “The great advantage Australian policymakers have had on the fiscal front is that there is no concern about public debt levels becoming unsustainable, as is the case in much of Europe and the U.S., since we don’t have any debt,” says Mark Crosby, Associate Professor of Economics at the Melbourne Business School. As a result, with the sole exception of the financial services sector, the market for MBA is still relatively healthy. “Although hiring is likely to be down in consulting, one of the other key destinations for graduating MBAs, this has to be seen in the context that last year was something of a bumper year with twice as many hires as in 2007,” says Jenny George, Melbourne’s associate dean. “Consultancies can’t stop hiring for as year otherwise they’ll create a gap three years down the track of consultants who can be groomed for partner status.”
Irrespective of their location, many of the international schools outside the US are focusing their graduating classes on those job markets that still remain relatively strong such as the Middle East. “Because Dubai and Abu Dhabi in particular, are increasingly sophisticated employment markets there seems to be a growing awareness of the value of an MBA and how much the holders of the qualification can contribute to an organisation,” says Camila de Wit of the Spanish school, ESADE “Despite this there is a need to raise the level of awareness some employers in the region have of business schools. At ESADE we have a specialist dedicated to business development in this region who works hard at strengthening relationships with recruiters as well as attracting talented MBA students.” The efforts of another major European school, Vlerick Leuven in Belgium, have also led to a sizeable number of their graduates taking up roles in the Gulf. “One in ten of our MBA graduates from the 2005/2006 class now live and work in the Gulf,” says Peter Rafferty, the school’s director of international business. “These are ex-students from as far afield as China, Slovakia, the USA and Canada who remain plugged into a network of graduates from over 30 other countries around the world.”
It is this international flexibility and mobility that may the real key to not just surviving, but thriving in these troubled economic times. “The business school community has learned a lot from down turns of the past such as 91/92 and 2001,” says Patrice Houdayer, dean of EM Lyon in France, “and one of the most important lessons is the value of diverse classes and, by consequence, a diverse alumni network – my own school now has over 20,000 alums on every continent, for example. This reach has made us much better prepared to deal with the challenges we face than ever before, but it’s important that graduates take full advantage of the international opportunities on offer.”