Beyond the Rankings: Eye on the Prize

Dec 2, 2011
Tags: Admissions, Applications, B-School Rankings, Business School, Choosing the Right School, MBA, School Selection

At the end of the day, no matter how friendly the students or stunning the facilities, your decisions about which schools to apply to will most likely be informed by your career goals.  You’ve already spoken with colleagues and mentors—and perhaps even with hiring officers—about various schools’ reputations in your target post-MBA field.  The next step is to turn to the hard numbers.  Virtually every MBA career center publishes an annual employment report that details students’ internship and job outcomes for the previous year, as well as the companies that hired their students and graduates.  These statistics can help you get a sense of students’ interests, as well as the program’s track record of placing graduates in certain areas.

Whether you have a specific post-MBA job function in mind or feel just as likely to go into banking as consulting, looking at students’ job choices with respect to industry and function should give you a sense of how many classmates might share your interests.  The higher the number of graduates going into your desired post-MBA field out of a certain school, the more likely you may be to find related clubs, elective courses, and on-campus recruiting opportunities in your area of interest.  Of course, this may also translate to increased competition for the most coveted jobs in that field, so it may be prudent to think twice if you find that the vast majority of a school’s students are gunning for your dream job.

It also pays to keep an open mind and examine the career outcome data for a range of programs, even if they don’t seem like an obvious match.  Your findings might defy reputation-based expectations.  For example, a school renowned for marketing might send more MBAs into investment management than into brand management, while a finance powerhouse might have just as many graduates starting new companies as a school that’s famous for entrepreneurship.  A program might not be considered #1 in your area of emphasis, but this doesn’t mean that you won’t find exactly what you need to get the post-MBA job you’re seeking, and you might find yourself putting certain schools back on your list after considering them from this particular angle.

If you hope to live in a particular city or region following business school, it will also make sense to note where a program’s graduates tend to take jobs upon completing their MBAs.  These statistics tend to indicate the regions in the United States and the world where employers are most aware of and receptive to that school’s reputation and graduates.  In general, the majority of students tend to accept positions in the same geographic region as their school, which also means that this is where a program’s alumni network tends to be strongest.  If being in a certain location is a major priority for you, a look at MBA program placement data might lead you to limit your search to schools within a few hundred miles of your current home or preferred destination.

Beyond the breakdowns of student outcomes by industry, function, and region, it’s also informative to take a holistic look at outcomes for the entire student body.  In particular, pay attention to the percent of students who had accepted job offers within three months of graduating, and the sources of those jobs.  Do most students find internships and full-time jobs by following school-generated leads, or are they out making connections and generating opportunities on their own?  You may also want to consider the total number of companies that schedule presentations and interview students on campus, and look at the mean and median starting salaries for graduating students to confirm that you’ll have access to the sorts of opportunities you’re seeking in the recruiting process.

Even after looking through several years of statistics to tease out the effects of the economic climate, you may find that students at some schools are simply more independent in their job searches, while those at other programs draw more heavily on career center resources.  Depending on the strength of your existing connections in your intended post-MBA field, you may decide to adjust your list of target schools to ensure that you receive the amount of job-search support you desire.