Novel pandemic-related hiring perks for MBA grads? Nothing to write home about

BY Mary LowengardAugust 11, 2021, 2:00 AM
A person jogs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, as seen in June 2021. Adam Glanzman—Bloomberg/Getty Images

If you thought—or perhaps feared—that the great, global, game-changing pandemic resulted in seismic permanent shifts in career prospects for MBA grads, well, think again. Early indications of hiring trends and salary projections suggest 2020 was a blip, but 2021 is right back on track. And so far, there’s no evidence of much out of the ordinary in the structure of employment package offers, which include salary plus bonus. 

Virtual recruiting is likely to continue, according to placement office professionals, because recruiters believe it’s convenient and cost-efficient, particularly when staging multi-school events. “The majority of employers have found this model increases equity and access to opportunities,” observes Susan Brennan, assistant dean of the MIT Sloan Career Development Office.

Salaries are back on track

Salaries are back on an upward trajectory, and signing bonuses, that capstone of the offer package, have increased as well. This is based on anecdotal information from several top MBA programs and confirmed, at least directionally, by the recently released Graduate Management Admission Council’s annual Corporate Recruiters Survey

Statistical reports issued by placement offices have yet to appear for the class of 2021. Typically, there is a lag of several months following graduation, so these reports can capture and reflect employment opportunities. Thus, the GMAC survey is a forerunner in noting trends in hiring and salaries for MBAs.

The GMAC report demonstrates a return to pre-pandemic levels in its employer-reported findings. In 2020 the projected median salary was expected to reach $115,000—an all-time high. But in reality it lost steam and declined to $105,000, which was flat with the previous year’s level. The median salary for 2021’s MBA grads is projected to recover to pre-pandemic 2020 levels of $115,000—77% higher than the $65,000 median salary for grads with a bachelor’s degree. It’s this premium that makes the MBA an attractive degree, promising a lifetime bonus of $3 million more than someone holding a bachelor’s degree might earn.

Sign-on bonuses offered are looking steady too

GMAC collects but does not report sign-on bonus data, according to Rahul Choudaha, director of industry insights and research communications at GMAC. The median bonus was $10,500 for 2021, not too far off the pre-pandemic level of $11,000, according to data supplied by Choudaha. 

As for perks above and beyond the bonus, placement office officials list “typical” sweeteners offered pre-pandemic that include some form of tuition reimbursements (predominantly via a forgivable loan extended over several years, and not as an outright cash grant), a transportation allowance, automobile stipend, and a cell phone allowance.

Pandemic-related additions to this list may include allowances for home-office setups and a degree of flexibility—with caveats—around working remotely, according to Liza Kirkpatrick, assistant dean and managing director of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management career management center.

Internship placements as a harbinger

For the class of 2022, Kirkpatrick says she’s seeing healthy internship hiring, which is a favorable harbinger for next year’s recruitment season. There’s also ongoing interest from the technology industry, particularly in the startup space.

As for embellishments from different categories of employers, Kirkpatrick says the most pronounced are the RSUs (restricted stock units) coming from startup companies. Anecdotally, she also knows of one large tech employer that pays retention bonuses independent of any equity offered.

“Exotic” perks reserved for EMBAs

Executive MBA students and alumni may be likely to see the occasional perk that’s more “exotic,” notes Gina Resnick, senior associate dean and senior managing director of the career management center at Columbia Business School. “Entry level jobs tend to have more narrow parameters, if you will.”

Whether the post-pandemic era will bring further changes in recruitment remains to be seen, she adds. “As we come out of the pandemic, it will be interesting to see if companies offer a different array of perks to address the marketplace and attract Columbia Business School MBAs.” But so far, nothing has come to the fore.

At MIT Sloan, the two emerging trends that will be reflected in the school’s 2021 compensation report are a continued upward bump in signing bonuses and a larger percentage of MBAs accepting equity as part of their compensation package, Brennan says.

WFH as a standard option, not a “perk”

Not surprisingly, for the class of 2021, there’s been an increase in the number of tech firms offering an allowance for remote work, according to Brennan. This job-related perk of sorts is directly stated in the job description for these positions, she notes.

But those positions may not be remote permanently, Brennan cautions. “While virtual recruiting is here to stay, many employers expect their MBA hires to have some in-person presence at the office, which impacts MBA student decision-making around job offers, as job location and cost of living become important considerations once again.”

GMAC’s Choudaha adds that in certain industries—notably technology—the ability to work from home has long been a standard option. He is seeing instances where candidates may choose from a list of offices, publicized in the job description. Thus this is not considered a “perk” offered as an incentive for a candidate to choose Company X over Company Y—but rather business as usual.

“While the pandemic has turned the economy—indeed, the world—upside down, our data show that graduate management talent is still valued at a premium,” Choudaha concludes. 

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