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Dear college business majors: You’re hired!

February 6, 2015, 2:52 PM UTC
The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School
The University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School
David Paul Morris—Bloomberg via Getty Images

(Poets&Quants) — Barbara Hewitt, senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, was more than pleased when she noticed that only 4.2% of bachelor of business administration graduates from the class of 2014 was still seeking employment four to six months after graduation.

“That’s almost the lowest I’ve ever seen it,” Hewitt said.

That wasn’t the only good news in the school’s career plans survey report. Salaries were on the upswing, with 2014 graduates pulling in average base salaries that were $1,520 higher than their 2013 counterparts. And sign-on bonuses were up slightly, with the average signing bonus $157 higher than the previous year.

Wharton is among a number of leading undergraduate business schools that reported strong job numbers for the 2014 class in recent career placement reports, driven by a robust hiring market for finance, steady internship to job conversion rates, and an increased appetite for jobs in the tech sector. Career services offices are responding by offering more intensive career prep to students, from career workshops as early as freshman year to hosting industry panels in growing areas of finance, such as investment management. But in the midst of the improving job market, some schools have noticed a dip in the number of employers coming to campus, as well as a decrease in the number of interviews they conduct, a sign perhaps that students are becoming less dependent on the campus recruiting process to land jobs, career services officers said.

At most schools, there has been consistent employer interest in hiring for entry-level consulting and finance-related jobs, especially those in investment banking. Yet one of the areas that gained hiring momentum in 2014 was the technology sector, where tech companies and startups have been increasingly aggressive about hiring BBAs for entry-level jobs, schools said.

At the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business, the percentage of students who took jobs in the technology and finance fields was “neck-to-neck” this year for the first time, said Velma Arney, McComb’s director of BBA career services, with 12% of students heading into technology and 13% going into banking. Tech recruiters are courting undergraduates more aggressively, hosting additional office hours, coffee chats, and informal events for them, Arney said.

“The largest major here at McCombs for undergraduate business students is finance, so when you see technology starting to rise, it is a bit surprising,” she said. “The technology companies are appealing to this generation of students, who see these companies as a fun place to work. There’s also the cool factor….”

That shift was also evident at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, where 18 students went into tech, up from 12 in 2013, said David Vogel, who leads career development and employer relations for the undergraduate business program.

Despite the competition from tech, finance, with its lucrative salaries and hefty sign-on bonuses, remains a popular field for graduates of top undergraduate business programs.

At the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, the number of students heading into finance has “stayed exactly the same,” said Damian Zikakis, Ross’ director of career services, with 44.4% of the class going into that field. Banks have shifted their recruitment strategies a bit in the last year or so as they’ve struggled with many of their recent hires being plucked by private equity firms, he said.

“The banks are trying to figure out ways to keep the students around longer. They’re making those efforts visible to students in terms of corporate presentations and talk of making the hours less demanding,” he said.

The finance sector’s allure has held strong at the University of Virginia’s McIntire School, where 47.8% of students accepted jobs in the field in 2014, nearly the same number as last year, said Tom Fitch, McIntire’s associate dean for career services and employer relations. But students entering finance are expanding their horizons beyond investment banking to look at other jobs in the industry, including trading, investment management, and wealth management, he said. For example, the percentage of graduates going into investment management has steadily crept up over the last three years, from 2.8% in 2012 to 7.2% in 2014, he said. More students are accepting internships in these fields as well, as the school has offered more “industry focus” programs that expose students to careers in niche finance sectors, Fitch said.

“At McIntire, we had a higher number of students this fall bypass interviews and accept internship opportunities than we’ve seen in the past,” Fitch said. “It’s a national trend among some of the major banks, and a trend we anticipate will increase.”

In a surprising shift, several banks and other companies decreased their recruitment efforts on campus in the fall of 2013, especially investment banks that rely heavily on their intern pool for full-time hires.

Campus recruiting was down at Indiana University’s Kelly School of Business, which reported a 7% decline in this area in 2014, according to the school’s most recent undergraduate career services report. Much of the decrease in activity was offset by non-traditional recruiting methods such as virtual recruiting, which has becoming increasingly popular, the school said in the report.

The number of employers conducting interviews on Wharton’s campus was down about 10% over 2013, and the total number of interviews held fell 2%, Hewitt said. With those numbers, she would have expected that more students would have accepted a job offer from their internship, bypassing campus recruiting. That was not the case, as just 34.6% of students accepted a job offer from their internship in 2014, down from 39.1% in 2013.

“I was a little surprised when I looked at that,” Hewitt said. “It’s still a pretty healthy number, but given there were fewer employers on campus, I’d have expected it to go the other way. I guess with a stronger job market, students had more options, even though they were perhaps getting fewer offers.”

Looking ahead to 2015, career services officers said they expect that the strong job market will keep pace, with several schools already reporting even better preliminary numbers for this year’s graduating class.

Wharton’s Hewitt said she already heard one student from the class of 2015 had received a $85,000 starting salary. “If one bank does it, they’ll all try to compete,” she said.

At the McIntire School, 70% of students have already secured full-time offers, up from 60% at the same time last year, Fitch said.

“The job market for them is very good and they are getting great opportunities, including an increase in the number of job interviews and offers,” he said. “I want to be optimistic and say the sky is the limit.”

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