As Graduation Comes and Goes, Student Hiring Outlook Begins to Brighten

May is graduation time for most full-time MBA and graduate students, and with it comes a whole new class onto the job market. At this time last year students were graduating into the worst job market in decades, and many were forced to settle for their Plan B job or even any job at all. Is this year shaping up to be an improvement or another year of disappointment? According to a recent survey of MBA employers conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC), the job outlook for this year is better than the previous, yet still significantly below pre-recession levels.

Growth has been driven in part by increased hiring from overseas, particularly in the booming Asian markets. Asian companies had previously had limited success in recruiting among American MBAs because of their inability to offer the same financial incentives as American employers. That has been changing in recent years as salaries in emerging markets have increased significantly, resulting in greater numbers of MBAs leaving the country to pursue attractive opportunities abroad.

While the job market remains difficult, there are signs that employers are becoming increasing positive about the near-term outlook for the economy and are therefore showing greater willingness to hire. According to the GMAC survey, 55% of companies surveyed plan to hire MBAs this year, up 5% from 50% in 2009 yet still below the 2008 level of 59%. A similar trend applies for graduates of other specialized business masters programs. Hiring is expected to pick up the most this year in the healthcare and pharmaceutical industries as well as in consulting. The bad news is that companies are being more selective in hiring, taking in on average less MBAs than they did last year.

Anecdotal evidence has supported the fact that hiring is up slightly over last year, but it also varies widely from school to school. The Wall Street Journal reports that at the University of Pennsylvania (Wharton) and Northwestern (Kellogg), hiring has begun to pick up noticeably, while at other schools such as University of Texas (McCombs) and NYU (Stern), level remain similar to last year.

While in past years grads have relied mainly on their school's career center to open doors to opportunities, this year the job search has shifted from a school-led effort to a more individual search. As many employers have significantly cut back on their on-campus recruiting efforts as part of larger cost-cutting programs, students have recognized that developing contacts themselves and leveraging these contacts to find a suitable position is key to the search.