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How Has COVID-19 Affected Job Recruitment?

Students in MBA and specialty master’s programs saw some drop-offs in recruiting options—but there were a few bright spots.

As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had an overall negative impact on the 2020–2021 job market for students graduating with master’s degrees in business. However, some industries fared well, and a number of schools found silver linings in the virtual recruiting market, according to new research from the MBA Career Services & Employer Alliance. The MBA CSEA Fall 2020 Recruiting Trends Survey, which was released in March, is based on confidential surveys completed in January by 94 MBA CSEA member schools.

The survey examined job trends for students in full-time, part-time, international, and specialty master’s degree programs. Overall, schools saw bigger drops in the number of full-time job postings offered off-campus than in the number of opportunities represented by recruiters who came to campus and scheduled interviews.

In all student categories, technology was the industry that saw the biggest jump in recruitment. For instance, in the category of full-time domestic students, 57 percent of respondents saw an increase in technology job postings. The hospitality industry, one of the sectors hit hardest by pandemic-driven lockdowns, saw the biggest drop, with 61 percent of schools seeing a decrease in job postings for full-time students.

Among the other findings:

  • Twenty-two percent of schools reported an increase in off-campus opportunities for full-time MBA students. That was a precipitous drop from the fall of 2019, when 49 percent of schools indicated an increase. The difference in on-campus recruiting was less dramatic, with 21 percent reporting an increase in 2020 compared with 23 percent in 2019.
  • For full-time international students, opportunities decreased at 65 percent of responding schools. That was true for 55 percent of schools in 2019.
  • Forty-one percent of respondents reported that off-campus job postings were mostly flat for part-time MBA students. That figure was noticeably higher than the 30 percent who reported in 2019 that off-campus recruiting was flat for these students. By contrast, schools did not report much change year to year in the number of school-scheduled interviews.
  • For students in specialty master’s programs, 28 percent of schools reported an increase in off-campus recruiting—which was actually higher than the 2019 figure of 15 percent. But on-campus recruiting rose by only 8 percent in 2020, compared to 39 percent in 2019.

Additional Observations

While students faced an uncertain job market, survey participants did note some positives coming out of the 2020 recruiting cycle. For instance, career services were more accessible to students in virtual environments, and many schools enjoyed higher attendance at such events. Respondents also noted that virtual recruiting and career services opportunities kept the hiring landscape from becoming even worse. Alumni engagement increased over the 2020 recruitment cycle, with more alumni assisting with networking and programming.

However, a virtual recruiting environment did lead to video meeting fatigue, recruiting delays, and a diminished chance for students to develop personal relationships with companies. The pandemic also resulted in fewer U.S. companies offering visa sponsorships.

Nonetheless, schools and employers have managed to adapt to the new normal. For instance, a majority of the responding companies indicated that they were satisfied with the virtual recruiting environment, making it likely that virtual recruiting will continue well into the post-COVID world.

“The pandemic has revealed that the skills graduate business education provides are still very much in demand,” says John Helmers, president of MBA CSEA. Helmers also is associate director of graduate career management at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder. “As the global market continues to reopen,” he adds, “I suspect that the next normal will include many efficiencies that were realized out of necessity from going remote, but that other essential aspects of in-person work and recruiting will return.”