Does it matter to employers where I earned my MBA?

BY Sydney LakeApril 28, 2021, 3:00 AM
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Maybe you’ve just earned your MBA or are sifting through the seemingly endless options of where to apply to business school. Regardless, your end goal is the same: Land your dream job.

Earning your degree from a prestigious school can put your profile in front of the right crowd, but the program you attended doesn’t necessarily hinder you from, nor guarantee, employment with your dream company. 

“You’re not just on ‘easy street’ where people are throwing jobs at you,” says Jeremy Shinewald, founder and president of mbaMission, an MBA admissions and career consulting firm. “There might be a perception that that’s true. It’s not true.”

Rather, school prestige is just one piece of evidence that allows companies to classify candidates and see who may be a good fit, says Tamara Clarkson, a senior career consultant with The MBA Exchange, an MBA and career services consultancy. Whether you’ve earned your degree from a top school or not, there are other ways to make your job application pop against other candidates. 

Why MBA prestige does help

Top schools boast strong alumni networks and employment pipelines. For that reason, attending a school with name recognition grants more access to coveted employers who often recruit directly from what are commonly known as feeder schools, or “core schools,” as Clarkson calls them.

Campus recruitment is an investment for employers, so they’ll continue to create opportunities for students at schools where other alumni have been successful employees. 

“There is great talent everywhere,” says Dee Clarke, an independent talent acquisition consultant who held MBA recruitment leadership positions with Amazon, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs. “But the challenge is where is the most ROI [return on investment]” for companies that recruit directly from MBA programs.

While deciding on which MBA program to attend, Clarkson suggests prospective students spend time investigating which companies each school has as a “core school” partnership.

“That is not to say that by going to a less prestigious school, you will not be able to be recruited by a top-tier company,” she says. “It just means you will have less access.”

The MBA program is “only part of the equation”

“As a whole, the school or university definitely does matter. It shows that students are putting their efforts in the right places,” says Ally Van Deuren, a senior talent acquisition consultant at Korn Ferry, a management consulting and professional search firm. “But I would say that it’s only part of the equation.”

For example, merit still matters to employers, Shinewald says. While school status can help put you in front of certain employers, a company won’t reject someone who is overwhelmingly qualified for a role yet comes from a less prestigious school, he says.

“It just means you don’t have as much evidence to prove you’ll be a good fit for their company, which means you’ll have to work harder,” Clarkson says about applicants who don’t have a prestigious MBA. “It’s unlikely every candidate will check every box. Understand that truth, and instead of focusing on what you lack, focus on what you bring.”

Clarkson does caution, however, that there are some companies that may not consider your application if you don’t meet some of the expectations the employer has, so it’s important to understand what certain companies require.

When a school’s name matters—and when it doesn’t

Applicant expectations vary from employer to employer, but some industries still tend to hire from top MBA programs. The banking, private equity, consulting, and finance industries have historically recruited from prestigious business schools where they’ve created relationships.

In turn, that may influence where you decide to apply.

“If you want to work at an elite New York private equity firm, you’re probably looking at a very narrow subset of schools,” Shinewald says. “It depends on the kind of job you want.”

The tech industry, however, is generally not married to where you attended school. Rather, these companies may be more interested in the skills you picked up along the way, particularly in program management, cross-functional leadership, and data visualization, Clarke says. Tech companies also tend to hire on a “just-in-time” basis, she adds, which means they’ll begin recruiting for a position only when they have an opening. 

Businesses in the financial services and consulting industries, however, start recruiting up to a year in advance, often visiting campus during the fall and spring semesters in search of future full-time employees or interns. A lot of business schools are struggling to manage the anxiety of students who wait for tech companies, which come to campus much later.

“And with that, that’s changing the dynamics of campus recruitment and business schools,” Clarke says.

Leveraging your experience on your résumé

For any MBA grad, experts recommend highlighting key experience on your résumé. This either compensates for a less prestigious school name or gives additional context and experience to your time at a well-known business school to set you apart from your peers. 

MBA students or grads should include their education, GPA, and any vital on-campus or work experiences in the top third of their résumé. “Tailor your résumé based on the organization that you’re looking to work at,” Van Deuren advises. If you’re applying for a creative position, you’re also not bound to a standard résumé format or style, she adds.

Finally, your résumé isn’t all that matters. If you’re a dud in the interview, you won’t get hired, Clarkson says. 

“Use every opportunity to engage with an employer. Help them see you,” she adds. “By doing this, they won’t have to look at the numbers or the program because they’ll see the person, and that’s what matters at the end of the day.”