What Recruiters Really Think Of The Top Business Schools

Erin Dillard GEErin Dillard, GE Recruiter

Photo: GE

What do recruiters really think about having an MBA? And which programs are the most likely to land you a job?That’s what we asked top recruiters to complement our exclusive ranking of the World’s Best Business Schools.  Our interviews covered a range of companies — from Citigroup, GE, IBM, Bain, et al, to a venture capitalist and the president of a life-sciences business.

Many executives and recruiters we interviewed were reluctant to go on the record about the benefits and drawbacks of specific schools.  Most said an MBA was great to have, but not critical. Some called out specific schools as best for their industry or company. Others said the choice of MBA program didn’t matter much, especially if it was a top 25 school.

Here, we bring you extended questions and answers with the people who might look at your resume one day.

What recruiters really think of the top business schools >>

GE's Erin Dillard

Accenture's John Campagnino (Consulting)

Name: John Campagnino
Company: Accenture
Position: Senior director of global recruitment

Does an MBA boost chances of success at Accenture?

The short answer is yes. I'd knock out four reasons off the top of my head for what we think MBA programs bring to our business.

First one would be generally the broad business view that the MBA student comes with. The second is time management. The ability to multitask -- many people balance work and school in some cases, or school and internships and other outside activities.

The third thing I think is really important and the crux of the thing is that the work we do here is very aligned with the MBA school case study methodology. It's really the presentation of the business problem, understanding the discrete elements of that problem and identifying key areas and then moving into solution mode is exactly what we do as an organisation for our clients. That's the third one and probably one of the biggest.

Finally, one of the things business schools brings is the ability to build your network and to have business contacts that may turn into client development opportunities later on. That's certainly something we value here at Accenture.

What does an MBA mean 5 or 10 years later?

After a certain point we do tend to focus on work experience. I mean listen, we want to have people who know something about something at this organisation. We can look at coming to Accenture in two different ways. If you're a career changer, then I think an MBA has high value for the reasons that I mentioned. The best way to make that leap is with an MBA program for the four reasons I mentioned.

For experienced professionals, it's a little bit more of a complicated question. We assume that individuals come in at some point in their career after a number of years in a professional work environment -- they bring the critical thinking skills, the commitment to team work with them. They can make a good transition to executive. So if you've got industry experience, if you're already a specialist in an area and plan on staying as such in that area, the MBA for us here may not be of that much value.

Are there specific MBA programs that consistently give Accenture the best candidates?

The four core MBA schools we work with are Wharton, Booth (Chicago), London Business School and INSEAD. Whenever we make a decision on the school, it's an intersection of a couple of different things.

It's the demographics -- can we get the people, the skills we need from that school? Number one. Number two is, are we in a position to effectively attract students from that school? And then third, a lot of this has to do with some of our relationships. Where have we built good, robust relationships so we can be what I call a day zero employer -- we are one of the employers that have a reputation on campus that students will pick us ahead of others to interview with first.

That's not to say we don't go to other places. For example in the U.S., we'll go to Kellogg, we'll go to Darden, we'll go to Duke, we'll go to Cornell and other institutions. And of course we've got local institutions we visit all over the world. But those four schools are where we get a large percentage of our management consulting capability from an MBA perspective.

How many programs do you recruit from total?

For MBA schools in the U.S., about 10 on top of the four core schools.

What's particularly strong about each of the four core schools?

These guys are all phenomenally good students. I would give a limb to have an MBA from one of those institutions. At the end of the day, I think they bring into balance the things that we need. They graduate people who have the right level of cross functional skill and business acumen that we need, the demographic around the people we get out of those schools. What I mean by that is those people are inclined towards the types of careers that we offer at Accenture, the type of work we do.

VC Adele Oliva

Semprae Labs' Rachel Braun Sheri (Small Business)

McKesson's Ryann Cheung (Healthcare IT)

Bain's Mark Howorth (Management Consulting)

Name: Mark Howorth
Company: Bain & Company
Position: Head of global recruiting

Does an MBA make for a better consultant at Bain?

It's certainly not a requirement to work at Bain & Company to have an MBA. What we do expect though is that people have a certain tool-kit if you will. A set of business understanding and experience. What we find is that people with MBAs typically have that tool-kit. Getting an MBA is a great way to get the basics of business education that our clients expect the consultants they hire to have. So understanding the basics of finance, marketing and strategy and organizational behaviour, etc.

Some say an MBA is just about a name on a resume and networking. Your reaction?

I disagree with that. I think there is a lot of value in getting an MBA. Do not underestimate what our top business schools are able to do in terms of teaching those basic business skills. Very few people have had a year or two years to go and study cutting edge thinking in terms of finance and marketing and strategy and capital markets and all the rest of that stuff. That's important for us, at least at Bain & Company, where we're trying to hire the best business talent, it's important that our consultants know that stuff. That's the first thing.

The second thing I think is very valuable about an MBA that is somewhat unique to that degree is that at virtually all the top MBA programs...you're spending a lot of your time each day getting into the heads of a bunch of different companies that have been in very challenging business situations -- really working through what did they do in that situation. For our business, the consulting business, that's a perfect laboratory to practice the skill-set that you're going to use when you come here. We help our clients out of usually pretty tough situations. Usually they've got to make some hard business decisions and so what better way to learn it then to spend a year or two going through that and sort of role playing it.

The third thing is the networking. At the end of the day, the lifetime network you build is powerful and important for our industry. Often time when we're trying to help our clients, we can talk to people you may have gone to school with 10 years ago, and be able to get help from those kinds of people. And that absolutely helps our clients -- that we have a group of people I know I can call who can help me when I'm trying to solve my client's problems.

What about different MBA brands?

I don't view one MBA brand as different from another. We interview every candidate similarly. That may come as a surprise to you, but once someone gets a job offer from Bain & Company, if you look at their career trajectory over the next three to nine years, there's no difference how somebody does based on where they got their MBA.

Most place a huge value on going to the top business schools. Is that a fallacy?

The actual education that you learn -- there are tons and tons of great schools that can teach you that. I don't control where the best business talent decides to get their MBA, so we tend to go to the places where we can find the best talent. If for whatever reason, there are five schools out there that the top students are trying to go to, then that's probably where we end up going to try and hire from places like that. But in terms of the raw education, you're going to use the same textbooks and get the same business theory at all the schools. We don't see much different from that at all.

There is something to the fact that you do get a lot of the learning from your program from the students you're going to school with. So if the best students are going to the top 30 schools, well maybe there is a slightly different level of education. But like I said, once they get to Bain & Company at least, we can't tell the difference.

Just to push you a little bit -- isn't a Harvard or Stanford MBA a little different from others?

If that were true, I'd only go to the top five programs. But I don't -- I go to 20, 30 programs to recruit. Obviously we spend more energy and put more resources against the places where we think we'll find more students that will pass our screen, and those tend to be the top 15 programs. That just makes sense, because that's where the talent is.

It's just natural resource allocation to say if a whole bunch of people go to the top three or four schools, that's where we make sure we're going to go and find those people there, because our job is to find the best business talent. But once we start the interviewing, we don't pay attention to which school they came from.

Are there other hurdles? While it's not impossible for someone to do well at Bain, it is generally tough if you have a GMAT below 650. When we're trying to sort out who we're going to interview for the jobs, we don't use GMAT as a strict screen, it is a good indicator -- if someone got a 550, they're probably not going to do well at Bain & Company. The schools tend to collect people with certain level of GMATs. So once again, we're going to go where we think the most talent is, but that doesn't mean that if we find some random MBA program and somebody has done well and they get their application in to us, we're certainly going to interview them.

What's the value of having an MBA 10 or 15 years after the degree?

Zero. Obviously it's nice if they have an MBA, but when we're hiring people at the manager or partner level, 99 per cent of what we're looking at is what they've done with their business career, what kind of experiences they've had, and whether or not they've a track record of being able to crack tough business problems and help change clients. That's really what we look at there -- we pay almost no attention to the school at all.

Excluding undergraduate hires, what percentage of new employees have MBAs?

At a consulting level, it varies by year, but it'll typically be that 70 or 80 per cent of the people will have MBAs. However, recognise that there is significant geographic differences is that. Culturally, the MBA is viewed very differently in Europe and Asia than it is in North America.

In Europe -- let's use Germany as a good example. The MBA degree doesn't really have a lot of -- I don't want to say credibility -- frankly people aren't even all that aware of it. As a result, the best talent doesn't go get an MBA. In Germany, as an example, what you do is go get a PhD.

If you look at Asia, there's some value on the MBA degree there, but there are limited sources of good MBAs there. Just because of the hard demand for talent we have there, by definition we're bringing in people who don't have that kind of degree. They are still top -- our rule is not let's look for the degree, let's find the best business talent.

Note: Bain declined to provide a list of schools it recruits at, but its recruiting website has dedicated pages for MBA programs at Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Northwestern, INSEAD and LSE, among others.

Citigroup's Eileen Stephan

IBM's Peggy Tayloe

Name: Peggy Tayloe
Company: IBM
Position: Director of Recruiting

How does an MBA help IBM candidates?

There is a portion of the hiring that we do that's specific targeted to candidates with MBAs. For those specific types of skills and talent needs, we absolutely target a business school background. Usually, we like to have some practical experience on top of that or to compliment the business school training. And mostly those are analytical skills -- business intelligence, business analytics and optimization, enterprise resource planning, those kinds of consulting and leadership development positions.

I'm not saying that's the only criteria, or if you don't have your MBA you won't be considered for those jobs, but it definitely is something we look for and our attracted to.

Does an MBA teach relevant skills for working at IBM?

Yes, especially on the consulting side. The idea of honing an analytic approach to problem solving -- modelling out some scenarios to help with problem solving -- absolutely that way of thinking is developed in MBA programs and that is something we look for in our candidates. I wouldn't say it's just a credential, it's absolutely a good investment if you're looking for a job in certain areas of IBM. But does it mean someone without an MBA does not have those skills? No, not necessarily. So, it's not a base-level criteria that we look at, but it's definitely a preferred part of the background.

How much does an MBA mean 10 or more years out?

I don't think it plays far less of a role. I think an MBA from 10 years ago is still an incredibly powerful part of a candidate background. It also depends on what that candidate did in addition to . We really look for well-rounded resumes. In this day in age, we look for the global citizen, who is going to having experience with multiple languages or experience with a corporate that has presence in multiple countries or if they've worked abroad, or if they've got an upbringing that was abroad outside of the United States. That would be great and that would be considered in addition to any kind of formal education. But the formal education, whether an MBA was 10 years ago or this year, an MBA is a very powerful part of your credential.

Are there specific schools you like to recruit from?

It would not be fair to call out one school over another. Because we hire so many people around the world and the skill ranges are so broad, we might work with a local program to be the pipeline in to certain skill sets or hiring initiatives. And we might work with the top tier MBAs. We don't specifically partner with some subset of schools. Our needs are so broad. It can come down to one hiring manager being interested in one candidate and it really doesn't matter what school that candidate is from.

There is no targeted strategy at IBM for MBAs. We are very thoughtful about engaging with those programs, but when it comes down to candidate selection, the gamut is open.

Is there really no programs that stand out on a resume?

I understand where you want to go with that, and I would tell you if we did. We just don't. We don't as a matter of practice think one school brings something better to the table consistently to another school. It really is a matter of the needs of the business and the specific talent and location needs -- and the candidates. That determines who we hire and where we hire them from. We really don't target X number of students from X school.

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