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Companies Expect MBA Hiring to Return to Pre-COVID Levels in 2021

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2020 has undoubtedly been a challenging year, including for many of the world’s leading hirers of MBA and business master’s graduates. Indeed, for all of us—including Fortune 500 companies—a defining characteristic of our pandemic experience has been the persistent uncertainty and a lack of clarity around how and when things can ever return to a sense of normalcy.

Despite all the tumult and apprehension regarding the future of their businesses, as corporate recruiters from the world’s biggest and most innovative companies look to 2021, they express confidence in their need to recruit MBA and business master’s talent into their organizations.

This is a key finding of the Corporate Recruiters Survey—an annual poll of employers, conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council™ (GMAC™), who regularly recruit business school graduates—published today on gmac.com. Initial data collection of this year’s survey was nearing conclusion in March, just as COVID-19 escalated into a global pandemic. Given the significant disruption to recruitment and hiring, GMAC conducted an additional wave of data collection with a focus on the impacts of COVID-19.

Optimism for 2021 MBA and business master’s hiring

The findings highlighted in this year’s report are noteworthy for the optimism employers express as they look to 2021, particularly amidst the uncertainty and economic retraction that has gripped the global economy since March.

Before COVID-19, 92 percent of firms expressed intent to hire MBA graduates in 2020, a figure that dipped to 77 percent during sampling amid COVID-19. However, when asked about hiring plans for 2021 nearly 90 percent of employers said they plan to hire MBA graduates, a level similar to the rate seen in pre-COVID sampling.

“When thinking about the skills and experience required to help organizations and industries rebuild after an event like COVID-19, it makes sense that employers are expressing a desire to hire more MBA and business master’s graduates,” said Sangeet Chowfla, president and chief executive officer, GMAC.

Hiring plans for business master’s graduates in 2020 remained relatively stable between waves 1 and 2 of the survey, with the exception of Master of Data Analytics, which declined from 72 percent to 56 percent. Employer 2021 hiring plans for Master in Management and Master of Accounting graduates are about the same as the early 2020 findings, while Master of Data Analytics and Master of Finance show a slight decline.

Confidence in business school talent remains strong

Even as the pandemic continues to shake the global economies and shape the future of work, the confidence of corporate recruiters in the skills and abilities of graduate business school talent remains strong.

Before COVID-19, 90 percent of respondents indicated they were highly confident or confident about the ability of business schools to prepare students for success in their organization. That figure held steady at 87 percent in surveying performed this summer, highlighting the attractiveness of MBA degree holders and their ability to perform in times of transition and change.

“Talent in an organization is vital to growth and a firm’s ability to innovate, a reality in any environment,” said Jay Nibbe, GMAC board member and global vice chair for markets at EY. “The skills highlighted in this report represent significant competitive differentiation when it comes to a company’s ability to compete and create value in the marketplace, and they become even more important amid turmoil and constant change.”

Recruiters cited strategic thinking, communication skills, and versatility as the skills they’re most confident in when it comes to a business school’s ability to prepare graduates for success in the workforce. One of the more noteworthy shifts when examining skills demand is the ability to navigate the challenges of technological disruption, which was identified by more than two-thirds of employers who responded as becoming more important as a result of COVID-19, followed by strong communication skills.

Read more: Business Skills Employers Will Want in a Post-COVID World

The business school salary premium endures under pressure

Across the economy, many companies are facing challenges maintaining salary levels as they struggle to sustain themselves in these tumultuous times. And yet, for the class of 2020, most recruiters express intent to honor their compensation promises, with a minority of companies saying they will reduce salaries, benefits, or bonuses of incoming business school hires.

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Read more: Employers Explain Why MBA Salaries Are So High

The compensation premium commanded by business management graduates is holding steady. At $115,000, the median salary of MBA degree-holders is 75 percent more than those with a bachelor’s degree in pre-COVID sampling. That figure decreased slightly to $105,000 in post-COVID surveying. The compensation premium is even more apparent for Fortune 100 companies and the big-three industries of hire for MBA graduates—consulting, finance, and technology. For example, at $145,000, the median salary of MBAs in the consulting industry is twice that of bachelor’s degree holders as indicated in data collected prior to March 17.

How much could you earn with a graduate business degree? Salaries for MBA and business master’s graduates can vary significantly by industry and job level. We made it easy for you to take these factors into account to estimate your post-business school salary with our interactive salary calculator tool. See for yourself how much you could earn!