COVID-19 could pave new way for recruiting at top MBA programs

BY Sydney LakeJuly 20, 2021, 2:00 AM
Joel Baroody, BREX head of recruiting, attends a zoom staff Q & A session in September 2020. Lea Suzuki—The San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images.

The job-hunting jitters common during pre-pandemic times were intensified as the U.S. saw staggering drops in employment, particularly in the hospitality and service industries. A lot changed, especially for those people who were in school or job hunting, and many MBA candidates were doing both. 

Traditional on-campus recruiting of MBA candidates at top MBA programs by coveted companies went virtual. But this move from in-person information sessions, interviews, and other recruitment activities to online meetings hasn’t been all bad. 

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Soon-to-be or recent MBA grads met virtually with recruiters from companies that might not typically recruit from their program. And in turn, companies saved the cost of on-campus recruiting and could recruit from schools outside their typical network. 

What once would have involved companies shelling out to send representatives on business travel to the nation’s top schools turned into a lower-cost option of developing online events and forums.

While some professionals scrambled to adjust to a virtual setting, MBA recruiters were ready for this change, says Ally Van Deuren, a senior talent acquisition consultant at Korn Ferry, a management consulting and professional search firm.

“Many, if not the vast majority, of campus programs have already had practices in place around virtual engagements and virtual recruitment efforts,” she says. 

These virtual recruitment efforts, such as open Zooms and virtual coffee meetups, continued to place top MBA candidates during the pandemic. The question now is, in a post-COVID world, how many of these changes will stick around?

Keeping the virtual door open

The pandemic hindered normal life in many ways, but it also opened new, virtual doors for employers, business schools, and MBA candidates.

Online meetings during the pandemic gave companies the chance to visit and recruit from more, and different, business schools than before. And students had the opportunity to visit with a broader array of companies.

The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania normally has 140 companies visit campus in a three-to-four-week time span during the fall for recruitment. This academic year, Wharton had 175 companies host virtual events with students, plus intermittent coffee chats and open Zoom rooms to simulate a networking-like atmosphere, Wharton MBA Career Management student advisers say. 

Harvard, also home to a top MBA program, benefited from the ease of virtual recruitment.

“It actually made recruiting more accessible,” says Kristen Fitzpatrick, Harvard Business School’s managing director of alumni and MBA career and professional development. “By eliminating the cost and time required to travel for recruiting, it was easier for our partners to access our students.” 

The pandemic so far hasn’t affected the share of MBA grads who were hired immediately after school—at least at top programs. Among Stanford’s class of 2019, 94% had received a job offer within three months post graduation. By three months post-grad for the class of 2020, 91% of MBA grads who were job seekers had received an offer. 

Hard-hit industries including travel and hospitality did show up to recruit—but in smaller numbers as a result of uncertain market outcomes related to COVID-19, MBA career consultants agree.

“Access to these companies and the companies’ ability to recruit students virtually are a rare silver lining of this pandemic year,” says Jamie Schein, the assistant dean and director of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s Career Management Center.

Is virtual recruitment here to stay?

Some activity will return to campus, but virtual recruitment has also become a mainstay, business school officials and MBA career consultants agree.

“I think things are going to shift,” says Dee Clarke, an independent talent acquisition consultant, who held MBA recruitment leadership positions with Amazon, Bank of America, and Goldman Sachs. “Companies’ recruitment will change. A lot of virtual activity will be here to stay.”

The amount and type of virtual recruiting are likely to differ, though, among varying companies and industries. Those that rely heavily on networking-based recruiting involving large in-person events will be more likely to eventually return to some in-person recruiting activities. 

“I don’t think anybody is ready to be in a 100-person ballroom right now, but I think over time you will see that the companies that really value networking and not just looking at a résumé” will return to more in-person recruiting, says Sunshine Singer, Wharton MBA’s career management student adviser.

Some businesses, however, will be keen to save precious travel funds and provide informational sessions online. Businesses may weigh the effectiveness of virtual recruiting and decide saving funds is worth the trade-off of doing virtual, Schein says. 

“As the impact of the pandemic starts to lessen and we go back to some forms of travel, we expect a few of our partners to return to campus when it is safe to do so,” Fitzpatrick agrees.