Where the MBA Classes of 2017 & 2018 Want to Work

Over the next three months, roughly 12,000 full-time MBA students will matriculate at top 50 MBA programs in the United States, where they will join a roughly equal number of second year MBAs fresh off their summer internships. Both of these groups will be courted, analyzed, interviewed, and eventually hired by thousands of employers, and they will take on internships and full-time roles in hundreds of different functions in dozens of different industries from early stage startups to the world’s largest and most valuable companies. With the MBA job market at an all-time high in 2016 and expected to continue growing for years, MBAs are in a candidate’s market. What are those candidates looking for? What industries, functions, locations, and company size are most attractive to the most recently admitted batch of MBAs?

We have some answers, and they’re all about data. The results and insights presented below are based on detailed analytics from over 16,000 search inputs from nearly 2,000 current MBA students who used the RelishMBA platform during the first two quarters of 2016 (1/1/16 – 6/31/16). Representing nearly 10% of the classes of 2017 and 2018. The students are collectively a near-perfect cross-section of the MBA student population; you can find a detailed breakdown of their demographic info below.

A Note on The Data Source and Audience Analysis

There are 1,961 users contributing to this dataset, and all of the analysis and research for this post used anonymized data. For the following report, we have looked at three primary sources of data: profile information provided by student users, search activity and company page engagement by student users, and demographic information provided by our analytics platforms.

Here are a few stats to give you a sense of the candidate pool:

  • 66% Class of 2017; 34% Class of 2018
  • 84% from Top 25 Programs
  • 34% Female; 66% Male
  • Undergraduate Degrees:
    • 41% studied Business and/or Economics
    • 38% studied STEM subjects
    • 21% studied Humanities and/or Social Sciences
  • Years of Work Experience:
    • 15% with 1-3 years of work experience
    • 60% with 4-6 years
    • 18% with 7-9 years
    • 6% with 10+ years
  • Geography:
    • Users from 61 countries
    • 48 US States and the District of Columbia
    • Over 320 US cities and towns

Industries: Tech Dominates MBA Industry Search

Search analytics provide a valuable insight into the mindsets of candidates in a way that recruiter-facing profile data often cannot, and so we looked at which industries were the most likely to be included in user searches over the last six months, and what we found in looking through the data was a clear champion among a crowd of old favorites.

Included in just over 16% of searches, technology was the most popular industry filter by a considerable margin, beating out Consulting at 13.8% and Finance at 12%. Consumer Products (9.3%) and Private Equity/Venture Capital (8.3%) rounded out the top 5, with industries like Retail, Healthcare, Manufacturing, and Energy also strongly represented.

The rise of tech industry recruiting on business school campuses has been well documented, and the takeover is more or less complete. With firms like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft hiring hundreds of recent grads in each of the last several years, and MBAs flocking to (or starting) Silicon Valley startups, the circumstances are advantageous for tech recruiters of every stripe. But perhaps the biggest takeaway from the raw data is the diversity of MBA interests: out of 19 filter choices, all were included in hundreds of searches each, and the same variety of interests and opportunities is reflected both in candidate profile information and employer demographics.

Roles: MBAs Look for Opportunities in Strategy, Management

Variety is also the name of the game when it comes to searching for functional roles, but again a clear winner emerged from a crowded field. Candidates looked for roles in strategy in 15% of searches, with management (12.1%) and consulting (11.7%) jockeying for second and third, following by finance (10.1%), business development (9.8%), and marketing (9.4%). Honorable mentions include operations, product management, entrepreneurship, and data analysis.

The primacy of strategy and management roles in MBA searches is not surprising, as these (somewhat nebulous) terms capture a great deal about what motivates many students to apply to business school in the first place: MBAs want to work in leadership positions, making decisions that affect the strategic direction of their firms. Obviously, these ambitions are not often realized in full-time roles immediately out after graduation – except perhaps for the growing number of MBA entrepreneurs – but candidates are most attracted to employers who demonstrate an understanding of this interest, and branding that incorporates tangible career advancement information is especially effective with MBAs.

Places: The Big Apple over Silicon Valley

MBAs also love big cities, apparently. Among location filters, New York City was the clear winner with a 16.5% share of searches, while the San Francisco Bay Area (13%) and Washington, DC (12.9%) neck and neck for second, with Chicago, Los Angeles, Austin, and Boston also attracting strong interest. There were fewer searches on the state level, with only two searches separate Colorado and Texas at 1 and 2, with North Carolina, Virginia, California, and Georgia receiving some interest.

When it comes to location, however, MBAs are an adaptable bunch. When asked about their geographic preference flexibility in the profile creation process, less than a quarter said they were set on their eventual destination, with more than 60% expressing geographic flexibility. For most MBAs, it appears that location is a nice perk but not a dealbreaker.

Size: Big Companies Still Have Big Influence

The traditional, on-campus process in MBA recruiting has long been dominated by companies from the Fortune 1000, primarily because they were often the only employers with the resources to maintain an expensive in-person recruiting process. And while MBAs are still most interested in the largest companies – 10,000+ employees was our most popular choice for co mpany size – the differences are slight, with startups (less than 100 employees) receiving nearly as many searches despite taking the last place spot in the our company size rankings.

Another indication that company size isn’t a big deal for MBAs? It’s one of least-employed filters, with most users narrowing the employer pool first by industry, role, and location before looking to company size as a criterion. Again, the priority for MBAs on our platform is to work at a firm where they can make an impact, and while large corporations are able to leverage the most resources, smaller companies can offer career advancement that’s simply not feasible at larger employers.

In Conclusion: Lots of Options, Lots of Interests

While there is plenty that today’s MBA students have in common – lofty career ambitions, formidable intelligence, comfort with technology – the unmistakable conclusion that we take from poring over the available data is that business schools are attracting students with increasingly varied interests and long-term career goals. As perhaps the most versatile of all academic degrees, it should be no surprise that MBAs attract such a broad swath of working professionals, and employers would do well to adapt their aging or outdated recruiting brands to speak to the new generation’s value set.



Are you an incoming or current MBA interested in joining the RelishMBA network? Create a free account in less than two minutes at www.relishmba.com to start researching and connecting with MBA employers today.

Employer or school interested in seeing industry-specific benchmarking or detailed candidate analytics? Email us at recruit@relishmba.com for more information.

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