Businesses missing out on MBA talent

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Employers, business schools and students all face challenges in the recruitment process

Lack of awareness of the opportunities means many businesses are missing out on recruiting MBA students, according to Tom Lawrance, head of global industry careers at Oxford Saïd Business School.

Speaking ahead of his keynote at the 2018 Association of MBAs (AMBA) Careers and Talent Forum, Lawrance told HR magazine he is continually “surprised to see that not many organisations recruit MBAs”.

“Knowing the talent pool as it is and how possible it is to recruit this talent on scale, I’m surprised more large organisations aren’t recruiting from business schools,” he said. “Not a lot of organisations have dedicated MBA recruitment drives and they’re missing out on great people with ready-to-go business skills.”

One of the main reasons is lack of awareness of the benefits MBAs could bring to an organisation. “There’s lots of roles out there it would be suitable to hire MBAs into, but recruiters don’t seem to realise this,” he said. “Certain roles or categories in a business lend well to MBA students who have developed problem-solving and analytical skills and are ready to apply this to a business.”

Lawrance pointed to the variety of people who do MBAs, making this a good source for recruiting for a diverse range of roles.

“At Amazon, MBAs were often recruited into five main roles: marketing, product management, vendor management, inventory management, or programme management. But the variety of people doing MBAs is vast so there is no typical MBA.”

What sets MBAs apart from undergraduates, he added, is that the former can often bring work-related examples and experiences to an organisation. Other benefits include short time to hire compared with individuals already working elsewhere, and the ability to interview and hire multiple applicants in one go at campus hiring days.

However, Lawrance conceded that there are a number of challenges in trying to recruit MBAs, for the employer, the business school and the student. He recently joined Oxford Saïd Business School from Amazon, where he oversaw recruitment of MBAs onto its leadership programmes across Europe, meaning he's "seen the challenges from all different perspectives”.

“In a nutshell, the main challenges for employers are scale and the changing landscape of businesses,” he said. “I discovered that it’s a massive challenge to hire at scale and so there’s a need to create processes to scale things up and go from school to school recruiting without a lot of resources.”

For example, when interviewing 100 students in one business school over just two days there’s a lot of pressure on the recruiters, so it’s easy for mistakes to be made or talent to fall through the cracks.

On the changing business landscape, Lawrance added that “the goalposts often move and priorities change so we have to make sure the pipeline reflects the latest goals”.

To overcome these challenges Lawrance recommended recruiters keep open communication channels with stakeholders to help influence upwards and ensure the organisation is tuned into an efficient recruiting cycle.

From the perspective of the business school and students, challenges lie in engaging MBA students to work with the school’s careers team. “Students face a lot of time pressure so can be too busy to go to careers events,” Lawrance explained, adding that business schools must seek ways to encourage students to commit to the process, to help them hear from employers about opportunities.

“In the space of just one year MBA students must decide what they want to do long term in their careers, immerse themselves in the experience and learning that goes with that, deal with the pressures of exams, and so on. So there’s a lot of time pressures,” he said.

“When I was a recruiter I wasn’t aware of this side of things so much,” he added, encouraging recruiters to recognise these challenges and not lose the human element in the process.

Lawrence advised: “Recruiters should open the communication lines between all parties concerned and work with the schools to build awareness of the current challenges facing students at the time of recruiting, such as where they are in the lifecycle of the MBA.”

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