MBA grads facing low employment rate

Jan. 14, 2010, 12:07 a.m.

Two years after entering MBA programs, business school graduates are now finding that the job market they left holds little similarity to the one they’re returning to.

A declining economy and changing employment opportunities have more and more graduates of even the most prestigious business schools waiting longer for job offers after graduation. Stanford’s Graduate School of Business (GSB) is consistently ranked in the top five business schools in the nation, but employment statistics for its graduates have shown a sharp downturn in the past year for the Class of 2009.

For the Classes of 2005 to 2008, the percentage of GSB graduates seeking employment who accepted offers by three months after graduation has stayed steady around 94 percent, with 98 percent of the Class of 2008 receiving job offers and 93 percent accepting offers by three months post-graduation.

The Class of 2009, however, had less optimistic prospects. At graduation, 74 percent of graduates seeking employment had job offers and only 69 percent had accepted positions. Three months later, still only 90 percent had offers and only 85 percent had accepted employment.

The near-eight percent drop in three-month post-graduation employment rate from 2008 to 2009 reflects a drastic change in an economy that may not rebound for several years. The change is similarly evident at the prestigious UC-Berkeley Haas School of Business — three months after graduation, just 85.4 percent of the Class of 2009 had received job offers, when the number had held steady at 95 percent since 2006.

“Obviously, the fundamental hiring environment deteriorated throughout the year in response to the uncertainty around the economic crisis,” wrote Pulin Sanghvi MBA ‘97, assistant dean and director at the GSB’s Career Management Center, in an e-mail to The Daily. “A greater proportion of MBA recruiters moved their recruiting processes toward ‘just in time’ hiring, which left fewer opportunities that could be secured by students months in advance.”

Sanghvi also said that, in the hopes that the economy would improve and in order to avoid companies’ hiring freezes, many graduating students postponed their job searches from fall to spring. The crisis, however, only heightened in the spring; as a result, many 2009 graduates were forced to push their job searches until much later in the year, often undertaking short-term or entrepreneurial projects in the meantime.

Current GSB students agree that the economic crisis played a role in the drop in employment rate. But they also suggest that students, in this uncertain economic climate, are tending to wait longer for a “dream job” than accepting whatever comes along.

First-year GSB student John Krzywicki explained that the economic downturn resulted in fewer students with multiple offers and fewer students with desired offers, leaving more students holding out longer for a specific job.

“People come to the GSB with high expectations,” Krzywicki said. “They think, ‘Why should I settle?’ and they extend their search a bit longer.”

Krzywicki predicted that despite the drop in MBA graduate employment rates, prospective students would still seek the degree. “Most people think that bigger trends [in employment] wouldn’t apply to them,” he said. “More people are considering startups and taking less traditional approaches to careers.”

Second-year GSB student Ann Wessing echoed the same opinion about students willing to postpone immediate employment for a more desirable position. “This is a tough economy, but I know people who had job offers that didn’t take them,” she said.

Wessing also explained that although an MBA now carries less of an employment guarantee, she doesn’t expect that to deter most prospective students. “People at the GSB are here for a lot of reasons — for jobs, yes, but also for academic resources and new experiences,” she said.

“We’re all assuming that this issue will be resolved by the time we graduate,” she said, adding that she herself has had job offers but hasn’t yet accepted any.

Sanghvi believes the GSB graduates’ problems will be present for at least a few more years, noting that many economists expect the national unemployment rate to remain high for several years to come. However, he noted that the Class of 2010 is adapting by beginning the job search sooner and recognizing the need for greater flexibility in industry and function.

Indeed, the GSB’s employment reports reflected a need for more flexibility in job areas for graduates, with 73 percent of the Class of 2009 reporting a change in industry from their pre-MBA positions. In past years, the corresponding statistic was usually around 55 to 65 percent, peaking in 2008 with 81 percent.

Sanghvi emphasized that while the future may seem more bleak, future graduates of the GSB can rest assured that, at the very least, the two recent major industry busts — the dot-com crash and the recent crisis — have already passed, and the economy has room to improve.

“The Class of 2010 will be graduating into a more difficult job market initially, which will require greater flexibility on their part,” Sanghvi said. “However, the two economic dislocations that my class had in front of us will be behind them.”

Ellen Huet is currently a senior staff writer at The Daily; she joined the staff in fall 2008 and served one volume as managing news editor in fall and early winter of 2010-2011. Reach her at ehuet at stanford dot edu. Fan mail and sternly worded complaints are equally welcome.

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