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Slim pickings for newly minted MBAs

This year's crop faces massive layoffs and cutthroat competition. But there is a bright side.

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By Robert Cyran, breakingviews.com

(breakingviews.com) -- It's already April, and business students would normally be weighing which investment bank's job offer to take. But this year's crop of MBAs faces bleak prospects - for the same reason it's hard to place new asset-backed debt. A shrinking and cautious finance industry means lots of already seasoned assets - including people - are available at cheap prices.

The problem, of course, is that Wall Street has been savaged by layoffs. Financial employment shrank by 43,000 in March, according to newly released government figures. That's the 15th month of steady decline.

That means that not only are many banks still cutting back, but if they are hiring there are plenty of recently-fired youngish bankers available with experience. As with financial investments in the current climate, there's no reason to go with the new thing when there are plenty of assets available with track records. And the students can't count on a government program to jump-start demand for their services.

Sure, U.S. investment banks and especially boutique firms are still doing the rounds of business schools, but they aren't hiring many people. Even top-tier Ivy League schools have seen Wall Street acceptances halved. Job offers to foreign students have even been rescinded because banks that have received government funds face extra hurdles securing visas.

There is a bright side. The number of students wanting to work on Wall Street reached historic highs before the bubble burst. Just shy of half of Harvard's MBA crop last year went into finance.

The hotter areas now, according to the universities, are venture stage businesses, the energy sector and overseas firms. Even in these areas, acceptances are down perhaps by a quarter. Regardless, this is probably a better use of talent. Finance, after all, should be an accessory for rather than the engine of wealth creation.

At least, that is, until the next time. MBA classes have a history of piling into expanding bubbles. The few that land banking jobs today will face less competition. When markets rebound, they will be well placed to profit handsomely. A new crop of young and ambitious students with short memories will notice - and a new race to Wall Street could be on. To top of page

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