What Recruiters Want: Post-Pandemic Demand for Graduate Management Talent in 2021

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What Recruiters Want: Post-Pandemic Demand for Graduate Management Talent in 2021

It might be an overstated fact, but 2020 was a year of uncertainty and change. The onset of COVID-19 dramatically shaped the way society conducted education, business, and each of our personal lives. The business sector had to shift gears in a variety of ways including the recruitment of MBA graduates and general graduate management talent into their organizations. 

As we enter a post-COVID-19 world in 2021 and beyond, more change is coming. The annual Corporate Recruiters Survey was conducted in February–March 2021 and compiled into the Demand of Graduate Management Talent: 2021 Hiring Projections and Salary Trends report. It provides insights into what recruiters are looking for when hiring MBA and Business Master’s graduates.

There is some valuable information about hiring, demand, salaries, and skills, but the simple summary is this: post-COVID-19 opportunities are very good for MBA candidates, with increased hiring demand, stable salaries, and industry-specific growth opportunities.

The Report: An Overview

The Corporate Recruiters Survey collates responses from corporate recruiters on an annual basis. Here are some important features of the 2021 survey:

  • There were 569 participants in the study.
  • Recruiters from around the world were represented, though the majority (74%) are located in the United States.
  • The majority of recruiters (48%) in the study work at for-profit private companies.
  • Most recruiters (54%) worked for large companies with 10,000+ employees.

Keeping in mind the limitations of a sample population, this study provides invaluable insights into what recruiters want. The following information focuses on the demand for graduate management talent – MBA and Business Master’s students – from the viewpoint of the recruiters that are actively hiring for their company.

Increase in Demand: Where is the Growth Coming From? 

The great news for current and prospective MBA students and recent graduates is that COVID-19 did not impact the hiring demand, or at least not on a long-term basis. The report shows that recruiters predict an overall rebound of demand for graduate management talent, returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Some industries, specifically the technology industry, are anticipating not just a rebound in demand, but significant growth and expansion. Technology industry recruiters predict not only an increase in hiring but a fast track to leadership positions to fulfill the need for top talent.

One might ask – didn’t we just go through a pandemic? Where is this growth coming from? Insights from the report show demand for business school graduates is returning to pre-pandemic levels and is expected to grow over the next five years for a few reasons:

  • General business growth and expansion, especially in certain growing sectors like technology.
  • Hiring to fill succession gaps as people retire.
  • Company transformation and change, especially post-pandemic, requires new talent.
  • Post-pandemic rebuilding and reorganizing.
A Post-COVID-19 World: The Outlook for MBA Graduates

Despite personal and professional challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, the outlook for MBA graduates in a post-COVID-19 world is very positive. Not only are hiring projections expected to rebound, but salaries are as well. Though average salaries of new hires decreased slightly through the first months of COVID-19, they have since rebounded in 2021 and are being held stable at pre-pandemic levels.

The average salary for an MBA graduate is $115,000, which is equivalent to pre-pandemic rates and is 77% higher than the average salary of someone with a Bachelor’s degree ($65,000). It is also higher than talent who joined companies directly from industry. Thus, an MBA is still considered an excellent return on investment. 

The technology sector is seeing a boost after the pandemic, with hiring demand at 10% higher than pre-pandemic. Recruiters are expecting to hire more graduate management talent in general, but also predict significant opportunities in leadership positions. 

One interesting impact of the pandemic has been the rise in online learning. While many schools shifted to online classes and some new fully online programs began, the increase of supply in online learning has not been matched by the demand of recruiters. 

Overall, recruiters did not value online programs at the same level as in-person programs, with only 34% of them indicating that they valued the programs equally. Candidates themselves also indicated some skepticism of the value of online programs. It is unclear if the accelerated demand for online learning because of COVID-19 will be sustainable, as it only can be through a matched acceptance of such programs.  

What Recruiters Want: In-demand Skills and Knowledge

Beyond the impacts of the pandemic and general hiring trends, the Corporate Recruiters Survey provided important insights into what they are looking for when hiring new talent. Here is a summary of what is important to recruiters:

  • Strategic thinking, communication, and versatility were listed among the top-desired skills.
  • Relational, strategic, and leadership skills are valued by recruiters.
  • Recruiters are more likely to recruit from “leading” business schools, indicating that program reputation is still important.
  • More than half of recruiters (nearly 80%) are willing or planning to hire international candidates, the same as the previous year.

From an MBB Recruiter

McKinsey Associate Director of Recruiting Kristin Altenburg offered MBAchic insights into MBA hiring, what candidates can expect and how they can best prepare for an interview — and career — at McKinsey.

Have your hiring plans returned to pre-pandemic levels, if they changed, at all?

In the early months of the pandemic (March 2020), McKinsey decided to keep its summer intern program intact and honor all summer intern offers for Summer 2020. While we, like so many organizations, had to quickly change our intern program to virtual vs in-office, it was very successful and was one of our larger intern classes in North America. McKinsey also honored all full time offers at that time and continued hiring at a quick pace throughout 2020. We have a through-cycle approach to hiring and, this year we have the largest North America summer intern class we’ve ever had and plan to hire more full time colleagues globally than any other year.

What are the key skills and attributes you’re looking for from new MBA grads?

Overall, we look for people who are good problem solvers and there are many indicators – could be winning a scholarship, doing a fellowship, case study interviews, summer jobs or other ways to demonstrate problem solving skills. In addition to problem solving, we look for three other main abilities – entrepreneurial drive that helps people innovate and overcome obstacles, inclusive leadership that enables people to lead teams well and create a sense of belonging where everyone can be at their best, and a dedication to personal impact. Candidates can find more details on these qualities and other tips, including videos, on our Interviewing page.

Some business schools are foregoing standardized testing requirements like the GMAT.  How has this impacted your hiring process?

We view scores on tests like GRE or GMAT as an interesting metric but we don’t require them from our candidates – and haven’t for 10+ years – so test waivers haven’t impacted our recruiting process. Candidates are welcome to share test scores with us and we find it equally acceptable for applications to come in with no test scores. In fact, these tests being increasingly optional is aligned with our recruiting approach that they are one of many ways to help assess a person’s skills or knowledge.

Anything else to add about how hiring MBAs has changed since last year?

It’s not really a change that has to do only with the last year or the pandemic, but we are hiring for a lot more roles – and for different roles – than some students expect. We, of course, continue to hire generalist consultants who work with clients in many sectors but we also hire for our practices. This means if someone is especially interested in areas like healthcare, supply chain and operations, finance or consumer goods they could join a practice and focus on work for those kinds of clients. We also hire a lot of technologists to work with our clients.

Some roles to check out with McKinsey, particularly if you have a tech focus (shared to our job board):

One other thing I’ll mention is that I hear many candidates ask if they will fit at a consulting firm and at McKinsey. I’d like potential candidates to know there is no one typical person at McKinsey… it’s an incredibly diverse place where people with lots of different backgrounds, approaches and interests fit. When candidates want a glimpse into who a ‘McKinsey person’ is I often connect them with a colleague to speak to. I can’t do that for all your readers so I will direct them to our Careers blog as it’s filled with stories of our people and is a great way to “meet” the people of McKinsey.

If you’re at McKinsey and would like to share your experiences or host your own #MBAchicTakeover, please reach out.

Key Takeaways from the Corporate Recruiters Survey

The Demand of Graduate Management 2021 Report offers insight into what recruiters want and think about when hiring new candidates. This is beneficial to both current and prospective MBA students who are wondering about their job prospects, especially after a tumultuous year like 2020. 

Here are some of the main takeaways from the report:

  • There are jobs and MBA graduates are in demand; the technology sector has the highest demand for graduate management talent.
  • The pandemic only temporarily affected hiring and salaries, and both have now rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.
  • Despite the rise in online learning, recruiters still do not value it the same as in-person learning. Graduates should learn to advocate for and communicate the value they received from their online programs. 
  • The average salary for MBA graduates is $115,000, a 77% difference from those with Bachelor’s degrees, indicated MBA programs offer an excellent return on investment. 
  • Strategic thinking, communication, versatility, and leadership are among the top-desired skills.

Overall, the outlook for MBA graduates is very positive. An MBA can be the next step in accelerating your career and achieving your goals. Perhaps you are already in a program, or you are still making a decision. The decision isn’t one to take lightly, but if you determine the MBA is right for you, it can unlock worlds of possibility.

To share your advice and experiences in recruiting, or business school in general, please reach out here. If you are actively looking to fill open roles at your companies, please head here to tap into our global network of smart, talented MBAs and professionals.

Infographic from the Graduate Management Admission Council

Images by PxHere

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