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Why it's a good time to be an MBA
With hiring way up, MBA candidates have more job options. Plus: what recruiters want.
By Anne Fisher, FORTUNE

Making career moves
FORTUNE
NEW YORK (FORTUNE) - Not so long ago, most companies did the lion's share of their MBA hiring in the fall, and second-year students could expect to have an offer in hand by Christmas. Not any more. The Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University in Nashville is typical of the schools that are seeing a new recruiting schedule. Says assistant dean Melinda Allen: "Our fall numbers were flat compared to the year before, but our job postings this spring are 51 percent higher than in the spring of 2004." She adds: "There probably will always be companies who know exactly how many MBAs they're going to need, nine months ahead of time. But many more employers -- I'd say about 70 percent now -- are shifting to 'just in time' hiring." Christopher Morris, director of MBA career management at Wharton, agrees: "Companies like Microsoft, McKinsey, and Goldman Sachs that hire large pools of MBAs are still doing a lot of fall hiring. But everybody else is recruiting in late spring and even into the summer months. It's a big change."

Aren't those extra few months of suspense tough on job seekers' nerves? Not really, says Jeff Beierlein, an Owen student whom Louisiana-Pacific signed on in mid-April. "So many wonderful opportunities arose in the last few weeks of the spring semester, I almost felt sorry for people who had already committed themselves back in December or January," he says. Eric Mokover, who oversees the MBA career management center at UCLA's Anderson School, adds that, in contrast to previous years, students are willing to wait for the right job: "During the recession, lots of students took the first position they were offered. Now they're more confident. I've seen plenty of students turn down offers in the fall and hold out for this new rush of spring hiring."

That confidence isn't misplaced: As the economy slowly sails free of the horse latitudes and picks up speed, MBA hiring in general is way up, especially online. "We've seen an enormous jump in online job postings," says Julie Morton, associate dean of career services at the University of Chicago's B-school. "The number of companies looking to hire is up 40 percent to 50 percent." At many schools, those increases are partly due to more creative and assertive tactics for luring companies that have jobs to fill. Northwestern's Kellogg School, like many others, is taking its show on the road. Says Roxanne Hori, director of career management, "We've added some outreach. The dean and I travel to meet with employers and ask them to come here, and we're doing far more personalized pitches to Kellogg alumni-a resource we often overlooked before." Melinda Allen at Owen thinks the time is coming when "on-campus recruiting may not even remain the standard. For example, we have an online database of resumes where recruiters can get access to students without having to come here." Like Kellogg, Owen has also begun to bring the job-seeking mountain to Mohammed, flying MBA candidates to New York City, for example, to meet with New York-based employers.

What do recruiters want? Every year, the Graduate Management Admissions Council surveys employers to find out. A sign of the times: "Ethical conduct" is ranked No. 1 this year on a list of attributes recruiters care about. Last year, it didn't even show up on the radar screen. Notes Christopher Morris at Wharton: "Recruiters are asking how ethics is being taught, not just in ethics class on Tuesdays from 11 to noon but in all the courses we offer." Another change: "Employers are more concerned with critical-thinking skills-not so much 'What's the right solution to this problem?' but 'How did you arrive at this solution?' " observes Julie Morton at Chicago. "To be a leader, you need to be able to connect the dots and see how A will affect B. The days of the pure 'quant jock' are over."

Students' priorities seem to be changing, too, with more MBAs shying away from high-pressure, high-paying jobs, particularly in investment banking. "Students are more concerned now with lifestyle and work-life balance than they've ever been," says Eric Mokover at Anderson. "More and more, we see people deciding they don't want Wall Street's 80-hour work weeks, even though the money is great. In this recruiting environment, they have options, and they're taking advantage of them." Ah, isn't it nice to have choices?  Top of page

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer.

Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved.

Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved.

Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor’s Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2014 and/or its affiliates.