Fast track: Hannah Robinson says her business school’s connections helped secure a role at Amazon
Fast track: Hannah Robinson says her business school’s connections helped secure a role at Amazon © Charlie Bibby

The progress of the pandemic has flipped MBA graduate recruitment from a buyer’s to a seller’s market.

The jobs market dipped in 2020 as Covid-19 spread. In 2019, 92 per cent of corporate recruiters had told the Graduate Management Admissions Council (GMAC), the business school entrance exam administrator, that they intended to hire MBA graduates the following year. In the event, only 80 per cent of those recruiters followed through with their plans.

Last year’s GMAC recruitment survey found, however, that recruiters’ hiring intentions had returned to pre-Covid levels, with 37 per cent predicting a rise in employer demand. And while the Omicron variant underlines the pandemic’s unpredictability, there is cause for optimism.

“Companies are trying to build up their talent pipeline so they are not caught short, as they have been in the past year with the ‘great resignation’,” says Sangeet Chowfla, GMAC president and chief executive. He is referring to the sharp increase in vacancies and people leaving their jobs during the economic recovery of 2021, particularly in the US and the UK. “There is this notion that ‘my management pipeline is important and needs to be developed’,” he adds.

Some of the biggest employers of MBA graduates are the businesses that have fared best during the crisis. These include the Big Tech companies that provided online connections, the banks offering extended credit lines to business and the pharmaceutical groups that have developed vaccines.

Amazon, for example, hired 20 per cent more MBA students around the world in 2021 than in 2020. It made offers of full-time jobs to graduates from more than 100 business schools. “Amazon values MBA students, as they tend to fit well within our corporate culture — they are customer-obsessed, risk-oriented, scrappy and analytical,” the company said in a statement last year.

The GMAC research found that 96 per cent of surveyed recruiters from the technology sector planned to hire MBAs in 2021, compared with 80 per cent in 2019. The increase in MBA jobs in tech is a reflection not only of the growth of the sector, according to Chowfla, but also that companies have reached a scale where they need the strategic and leadership skills MBA graduates provide.

“We used to think about jobs with technology companies as entrepreneurial opportunities, but these are now growth opportunities,” Chowfla says. “These companies seek business school candidates because they need management skills to grow — an essential element of MBA training.”

The opportunities in technology have come as a pleasant surprise for some. Hannah Robinson, who had experience in tech, began her MBA at the UK’s Alliance Manchester Business School in 2019 with aspirations to move into the travel and hospitality industry. Then, she saw internship opportunities dissolve as the pandemic unfolded.

Virtual interviews have offered a way to smooth the recruitment process
Virtual interviews have offered a way to smooth the recruitment process © Getty

Alliance Manchester had links with Amazon and Robinson was picked to enter an internship competition hosted by SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan. She was given the opportunity on the back of her previous experience, which included working for a robotics start-up her brother co-founded in Bristol. Her team won and were fast-tracked to the interview stage of Amazon’s internship programme. Robinson was initially offered nearly two months working with the company.

“I had a sense at the time that, if you are given something, then you have to take it,” says the 28-year-old, who had just two and a half years’ experience of work after university when she began her MBA. Robinson believes that, without the school’s connections, she would not now be in her job as an operations manager in London on Amazon’s fast-track leadership development programme.

Salary levels for business school hires are up, too. Median salaries for the full-time MBA class at Haas School of Business, at University of California, Berkeley, climbed from $140,000 in 2020 to $149,000 in 2021. Three months after graduation, 88 per cent of the 2021 full-time MBA class had accepted a job offer. This was up marginally from 87 per cent at the same point in 2020, though down from a peak of 93 per cent for the class of 2018.

This all reflects continuing strength and confidence in full-time student classes, according to Abby Scott, assistant dean of MBA career management and corporate partnerships at Berkeley: Haas. “This is particularly encouraging, given the pandemic and slower reopening of the California economy,” she says. “The effort that our grads put into their job searches and the help of our alumni, who went beyond themselves, really helped this class land jobs.”

Lisa Doan says the pandemic was ‘fuel for the fire’ in her MBA decision
Lisa Doan says the pandemic was ‘fuel for the fire’ in her MBA decision © Tucker Images

San Diego-born Lisa Doan moved from California to London in September 2020 to start the full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School. She graduated a year later and moved straight into a job as partner development manager for tech group Microsoft in the UK capital. “I had been planning on getting my MBA for a while, but [the pandemic] was a little bit of fuel for the fire,” she says. “It has made my cohort more resilient than others.”

The recruitment market for MBA graduates is “very much candidate-driven”, says Ruth O’Leary, head of postgraduate career development and community at Trinity Business School in Dublin.

Of the MBA class at Trinity that graduated in November 2020, 70 per cent remained in Ireland — almost half of those taking jobs in the technology sector, about a third hired by pharmaceutical companies and most of the rest accepting posts in financial services or consulting.

Employers have embraced virtual interviews, which may have smoothed the process for MBA students to find jobs, says O’Leary. “Students don’t prefer that [method], but it helps on the employment side,” she says.

Successful candidates are those able to demonstrate that they possess the general management skills provided by an MBA, O’Leary adds. Employers are “moving from hiring for a specific role to hiring for a set of skills”, she says. “One of the skills is the ability to learn and the love of learning. Anyone who can return to learning is on to a winner.”

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