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Survey: M.B.A.'s Face Strong Job Market

But critics question whether the survey, which was produced by the publisher of the GMAT, is biased.

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A new survey may be good news for graduate business students who are job hunting. The Graduate Management Admission Council's 2011 Year-End Poll of Employers, which surveyed 229 employers at 216 companies worldwide, found a "noticeable increase in companies planning to hire recently graduated management talent in 2012." 

According to GMAC, nearly 75 percent of those surveyed plan to hire M.B.A.'s in 2012—a 16 percent increase over 2011—and nearly a third of those companies expect to pay higher base salaries to M.B.A.'s than they did in 2011. 

"The demand for M.B.A.'s is likely to maintain momentum to next year in part because of the goals companies appear to be focusing on," says Bob Ludwig, director of media and public affairs at GMAC. "More than half of companies focused on expanding their customer base (57 percent) and nearly half are looking to launch new products (44 percent). Prospective students should consider an M.B.A. or management degree to help them develop the skills companies need and consequently stand out in the hiring mix." 

[Read about how some M.B.A. students get on-demand career coaching.]

But some recruiters and recent M.B.A.'s regard the survey skeptically and note that GMAC also runs the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT).

"GMAC definitely has a horse in the race," says Dani Klein, who earned an M.B.A. from the Zicklin School of Business at CUNY—Baruch College in 2011 and works in advertising at American Express. "From a PR perspective, they definitely want M.B.A.'s to appear sexier, but without actually seeing the raw data, who knows for sure?" 

Bruce Hurwitz, president of the N.Y.-based career counseling firm Hurwitz Strategic Staffing, agrees that it's in GMAC's financial interest to "hype" the importance of an M.B.A. "I would take their report with the same grain of salt that I would use if I were reading a report on medications sponsored by the pharmaceutical industry," he says. "It doesn't mean the report is wrong, just that you have to be careful."

Hurwitz notes that GMAC's predictions for 2011 appear to have been very accurate, and he calls the report "convincing." He says the aspect of the report that most interests him is that 69 percent of the polled companies plan to offer paid internships to M.B.A.'s in 2012.

[Learn why M.B.A.'s may face lower salaries in corporate social responsibility.]

Although interns are "cheap labor," companies have to invest a lot of time in them, Hurwitz says. "Each intern has to be micromanaged. That takes time away from employees who should be doing something else. That, as far as I am concerned, is the key. Employers wouldn't be willing to make the investment if they did not think the degree was important," he says.

Others say the GMAC report rings true to them, and there's cause for optimism about the job market for M.B.A.'s.

Mia Dennis, U.S. recruitment manager at the London-based PA Consulting Group, says she can't confirm that employers are offering higher salaries, but "the consulting industry is definitely seeing their fair share of competitive offers being issued to the 'cream of the crop.'"

"From our experience with campus recruitment this past season (fall 2011), we have definitely seen an increase in M.B.A. students interested in consulting, but also a much larger representation of employers at M.B.A. events; hence their shared interest to hire 2012 graduates," she says.

[Check out tips for reapplying to business school.]

Joe Carter, who is midway through his M.B.A. at Marymount University in Arlington, Va., says the GMAC survey seems to match up with what his school tells him and his peers. But he notes that Marymount also stands to gain from reporting optimistic employment statistics.

"Of course, I'm in the Northern Virginia/D.C. area where the recession hasn't hit as hard," he says. "But I haven't heard anyone worry about getting a job, even though it is a lower-tiered school."

Rommin Adl, executive vice president of the international business strategy consulting firm BTS, says he and his colleagues agree with the GMAC survey findings.