2019 Candidate Survey Report

We recently conducted our annual candidate survey, in which we ask our user base about their experience with the campus recruiting process. Their responses provide insight into the personal experience of MBA recruiting, and we use this feedback to improve the user experience on our platform and to prioritize the development of new software functionality. Each year we also share some of the most helpful conclusions with our audience as part of our mission of making the recruiting process successful and enjoyable for all stakeholders. What sort of recruiting experience did the classes of 2019 and 2020 have this past year? Read on to find out.

About the respondents

83% of our respondents were enrolled in a full-time MBA program during the past year’s recruiting cycle, with the remainder distributed across part-time MBA, executive MBA, and other graduate business degrees. The median reported age is 29 years old. 46% of respondents identified as female, and 36% were international students who are or were seeking visa sponsorship.

Recruiting Satisfaction and Choosing a Target Industry

Although a graduate business degree from a top school is one of the most valuable credentials available for candidates entering the recruiting process, it is far from a guarantee that those candidates will be satisfied with their recruiting outcomes. In fact, only one-third of our respondents indicated that they were “happy” with their overall recruiting experience; another third reported feeling “neutral” and the remaining third said they were “unhappy” with their recruiting experience.

What explains this shortfall of satisfaction for graduate business students? In many cases, candidate unhappiness correlates strongly with a failure to receive an offer in their preferred industry. Nearly half of our respondents (46%) indicated that they ended up accepting an offer in an industry other than the one they initially targeted, and these candidates reported lower satisfaction across the board. The graphic below displays the happiness of candidates as a function of their preferred industry (y-axis) vs. their actual industry (x-axis), with green circles representing happy candidates and blue circles representing unhappy ones. As you can see, candidates who ended up in their preferred industry were almost universally happy, while those whose actual industry diverged from their preferred industry are generally unhappy or neutral.

This particular data on recruiting satisfaction is perhaps unsurprising, but it contains an important insight for candidates entering the MBA job market: you are likely to be better off if you receive an offer in your first-choice industry – so carefully consider which industry to prioritize. While they are popular targets, recruiting for industries like consulting and private equity is highly competitive and respondents to our survey reported a high failure rate. 65% of respondents who had consulting as their first-choice industry ended up accepting offers in a different industry; for Private Equity, the rate was 75%. For some candidates this sort of risk is tolerable, but all candidates should be aware of the risk and ask themselves whether they’re prepared to go through the networking and application process in more than one industry.

Time Commitment During The Recruiting Process

The primary downside of failing to receive an offer in your desired industry is that graduate business school recruiting takes a lot of time: Class of 2020 candidates reported spending an average of 8.7 hours a week on recruiting activities (company briefings, networking calls, research, applications, etc.). With a reported average of just over six months between their first recruiting activity and their last, first year MBAs can expect to spend a total of 226 hours on recruiting activities over the course of the school year. Because of their previous experience and existing network, second year MBAs reported a slightly lower but still substantial average of 156 total hours spent recruiting.

Moving beyond the averages, we also analyzed how differences in time commitment affected candidates’ happiness at the end of the process and find some interesting correlations. Among the Class of 2020, the least happy group was those who spent the most hours per week on recruiting (15+ hours), and the second least-happy group was those who spent the least hours on recruiting (0-3 hours). The middle ground between these extremes, however, produced the most consistently happy candidates, with 10-15 hours per week representing the “ideal” time commitment (66% of respondents reported being happy with their recruiting experience). For the Class of 2019, the least happy group was those who spent the least time (0-3 hours), and again the happiest were those in the middle (7-9 hours per week). This data suggests that a moderate time commitment is the best strategy, and candidates should avoid dedicating too little time to recruiting and recognize the diminishing returns offered by spending too much time on the job hunt.

As far as the overall length of the recruiting process, candidates should prepare for a roughly six-month process. Among our respondents, the average Class of 2020 member spent 6.6 months recruiting, while Class of 2019 members spent 5.1 months. Again, there is a strong correlation between the length of the recruiting process and candidate happiness, with 76% of respondents who spent less than six months on recruiting reporting that they were happy with the experience, while only 47% of those who spent more than six months were happy with their experience. This is reflected in the chart below, which shows candidate happiness as a function of the start month (y-axis) and final month (x-axis) of recruiting activities. Green circles represent happy candidates, and are blue circles are unhappy candidates. As you can see, those who finished in April or were still seeking employment at the time of the survey are the least happy group, and their unhappiness is more pronounced the earlier they began recruiting.

In general, however, an earlier start to recruiting is actually a boon to happiness because it tends to produce better outcomes overall. For the Class of 2020, in fact, 80% of candidates who started recruiting in July or earlier were happy by the end of the process; only 44% of those who started after July were happy with the process.

How To Ensure The Optimal Recruiting Experience

There are a few practical lessons for MBA candidates to take from this survey data, several of which have been highlighted above. The best practices suggested by our analysis are as follows:

  • Start early; our survey results suggest that candidates (particularly first year MBAs) often regret waiting until September, October, or even later. Your best bet is to start the summer before your first year to ensure you hit the ground running when classes start.
  • Budget your time wisely; candidates who spend too little time on recruiting each week are almost certain to wind up dissatisfied, but spending too much time can also be a bad idea. The best bet for most candidates is to spend 8-10 hours a week on average.
  • Choose your target industry carefully; highly competitive industries have high failure rates and consequently low rates of recruiting satisfaction. Make sure you are targeting an industry that fits your profile to avoid “re-recruiting” and the stress that comes with it.

One final note and data point that is relevant to our audience: it is rare that candidates subsist on on-campus recruiting alone. 71% of respondents reported spending an equal or greater amount of their time on off-campus recruiting targets; only 1.5% of respondents participated in no off-campus recruiting activities.

As stated earlier in this report, a graduate business degree can be a tremendous asset in any job search, but it’s far from a guarantee of success. Incoming and current students should be strategic and deliberate in planning their recruiting targets in order to make the most of the “firehose of opportunity” afforded by the degree they’re earning.

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