Many graduate students faced a quandary during the recent recession. On one hand, their matriculation might waylay them from the worst of the stalled job market. On the other hand, what if their soon-to-come degree doesn't actually help their job chances after all?
Thankfully, the recession is over, and unemployment rates have been on a slow though steady decline since 2009. U.S. News has collected job placement data for 2011 graduates at full-time M.B.A. programs at 135 of 441 business schools. And among them, an average of 78.8 percent were employed within three months following graduation.
In addition, U.S. News's list of the Best Jobs of 2012 showcases professions with the most expected employment openings. Several on the list are finance, marketing, or information and technology jobs, where having a master's of business of administration is preferred. In other words, the time to earn that M.B.A. is now.
Here are eight professions where your hire-ability will be enhanced with an M.B.A. degree, plus targeted advice from some of the leading business schools on how an M.B.A. grad should navigate the job market:
8. Management analyst: Management analysts are consultants who assess an organization to provide feedback on how it could improve its structure, run more efficiently, and raise profits. And many employers, particularly those working in the private sector, prefer to work with analysts who've secured an M.B.A. Schools that offer a management-consulting track include the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the Booth School of Business at the University of Chicago.
On working for yourself: The Labor Department reports that 26 percent of management analysts are self employed. Read McNamara, executive director of the career management center at Vanderbilt University's Owen School of Management, says starting your own business can be worthwhile. "Many M.B.A. students have suspended their careers and indebted themselves [with student loans]. Still they consider their degree an investment that will sooner of later pay off."
7. Financial analyst: Financial analysts usually become knowledgeable of economic trends and then use their expertise to advise on investments. And like many of our other Best Jobs, the most successful financial analysts are perpetual students.
Earning an M.B.A. with a finance focus would serve a budding analyst well, particularly those who'd like to ascend to the position of portfolio manager. Chicago's Booth school and Pennsylvania's Wharton also have great programs for those who want an M.B.A. with a finance focus, as does New York University's Stern School of Business and Columbia University's business school.
On formatting your resume: A career-focused student knows to continually update their resume. But once it becomes time to network post-graduation, Jeffrey Stoltzfus, an associate director of employer relations for the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, suggests spending extra time tweaking. "Not everyone understands the importance of presentation," he says. "I counsel my students to make each bullet point like the headline in a news story, so that the key things will stick out and catch a recruiter's attention."
6. HR specialist: There's a considerable hiring demand for skilled human resources workers. And a master's degree helps to distinguish the best HR professionals, particularly those interested in working in training. They directly affect an employee's productivity, and therefore, an organization's overall success. Stanford University's Graduate School of Business and Northwestern University's Kellogg Graduate School of Management host two of the top M.B.A. programs for HR management.
On picking target companies: Vanderbilt also has a respected Human and Organizational Performance (HOP) program. McNamara says HOP students are some of the first M.B.A.'s to receive employment offers, and usually end up with companies where HR isn't just an operational necessity. "Nine times out of 10 these students go to companies that have documented evidence of treating HR as a business partner," McNamara says, mentioning Procter & Gamble and Amgen as examples.
5. Financial adviser: A master's could prove effective for a financial adviser hoping to secure more clients and build trust. If you were to employ someone to coach you on how to best save and spend your money, wouldn't you want one of the most learned in the field? In addition to considering Wharton and Booth, prospective M.B.A.'s should look into the University of California--Berkeley's Haas School of Business.
On developing new skills: Several business school representatives agree that grad programs enhance basic skills, but more importantly, ripen interpersonal talents. "We spend a lot of time on soft skills," Stoltzfus says. "We have mock interviews to practice those skills; we have comedy improv training to help students improve their poise and think on their feet; we have story-telling workshops so students can find the ability to tell stories in a way that engages a listener."
4. Accountant: April is when accountants rise to the forefront of Americans' consciousness, but their importance is indelible to the organizations' operations year-round. Those who choose to receive certification as a public accountant and to pursue a master's degree of business administration could boost their salary into the six-figure range.
Excellent business schools for accounting include McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas--Austin and the College of Business at University of Illinois--Urbana-Champaign.
On how to handle a longer-than-expected job hunt: The best schools aim to have their students employed within 90 days of graduation. But they also offer support if you find yourself still searching come Day 91. According to McNamara, Vanderbilt's career management center has someone devoted to providing continued career consulting for alumni. "The advice we give them is that now that they're not involved in studies they should make as many personal visits to their target companies as they possibly can," he says.
3. Computer systems analyst: Multifaceted computer systems analysts understand the technical side of their trade--implementing the best hardware, software, and networks for clients--and exercise a sensibility for dealing with people and preparing cost benefit analyses. A business school education is the prime place to hone these types of skills. Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Sloan School of Management is a top school for those with an information systems focus, as is Carnegie Mellon University's Tepper School of Business.
On standing out from the competition: "In one of my recent conversations with IBM, they mentioned how they were looking for people who can do the technical aspects of the job, but really focus on the business analysis side," Stoltzfus says.
Jackie Wilbur, executive director of master's programs at MIT's Sloan school says that grads "can distinguish themselves by gaining a deep understanding of the company and its products, and then demonstrating a passion for both." She also advises graduates to display a love for innovation, since technological advances happen so rapidly.
2. Web developer: Many companies require well designed and maintained websites that help and not hurt a user's experience, so they're selective of whom to hire. You're a better professional asset if you've also completed postgraduate study.
On negotiating salary: Don't jump the gun and discuss salary too early in the interview process. McNamara says Vanderbilt urges students to "be graciously firm in waiting as long as they can before mentioning a specific number. Instead, say, 'I look for a competitive top M.B.A. salary,' since that's code for a pretty tight range."
1. Database administrator: A database administrator with an M.B.A. has a greater understanding of how her role in building and maintaining databases serves the company at large. Having a master's can also help those who would like to work as an IT consultant. The University of Arizona's Eller College of Management and the aforementioned Robert H. Smith School of Business have good programs for continuing an IT education.
On the importance of internships: "As is true for most sectors recruiting M.B.A.'s, having a summer internship in a product-facing role is important in the technology sector," Wilbur says. Stoltzfus says that elite companies are looking for the cream of the summer-intern crop come November and early December.
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