Uncertainty Prevails as ECs Begin Job Search

Last week, as EC students sent in their resumes to apply for on-campus job interviews in October, the mood was dour. The news coming from the Career Services “Market Update” did little to brighten spirits.
Rather than sugarcoating the facts, Ron Peracchio, Acting Director of MBA Career Services, and Tim Butler, Director of MBA Career Development, provided a realistic assessment of the job market for this year’s graduating class.

“I’ve never experienced this level of uncertainty,” Butler said in an interview. “In times like these, companies tend to be conservative.”
That has definitely proven to be true. Last Wednesday, a check of the HBS Career Link website showed 275 available job postings, most of which had application deadlines of September 28th. However, several firms normally found on that list are not present. Most notably, there are no listings for investment banking, research, or sales and trading jobs at Merrill Lynch, and all of the interviews for positions with Lehman Brothers, Booz-Allen Consulting, and Mercer Consulting, have been cancelled.

While Peracchio and Butler emphasized that this was not a final list and that many of these companies will still hire members of the Class of 2002, the absence of such prominent names during the recruiting process is a testament to the weakness of the economy. For those companies, particularly professional services firms, who will be interviewing later this month, the likelihood is that the number of positions offered to students in the “general pool” (not former employees or interns), will be smaller than in previous years. “However, Fortune 500 Companies who are coming to hire two people still want to do so,” Butler said.
The major problem, Butler continued, was the rapidity with which the economic slowdown occurred. Students last year quickly accepted positions that were available and abruptly shifted from their prior trends toward entrepreneurship and high-tech jobs.

This can be clearly seen in statistics Peracchio provided during the Market Update. Preliminary results of Class of 2001 placements shows a 77% jump in graduates who accepted consulting jobs than in 2000, while the percentage of graduates taking high-tech jobs dropped 50% (see graph page 3).

Members of the Class of 2001 had an average of 2.1 job offers, down from 3.2 in 1999 and 2000. Peracchio expects this number to remain constant for the Class of 2002.

In the face of this market environment, the Career office has been taking several steps to address the situation. Career counseling appointments have increased to 40 minutes, and additional counselors are on staff to help students. The office is also in regular contact with the Dean’s office and the campus Operating Committee to identify additional resources available to assist students with their job hunts. Finally, MBA Program Chair Carl Kester has asked the faculty to make some personal contacts to encourage on-campus recruitment.

But recruiting does not end in October. The season will continue throughout the winter and spring. By the end of the year, Peracchio expects that there will be at least 1,000 jobs in Career Link, roughly comparable with last year’s result. Some companies that have deferred recruiting in the current environment may realize that additional positions are open by the spring and may return to campus. “Sometimes additional needs are identified later in the year,” Peracchio said.
Regardless, students are not going to have the luxury of being as picky as in previous years. “You probably won’t get your first choice in geography, industry, and function,” Butler told the assembled students at the Market Update. “But just getting a job is not important. Finding a job that will help you fulfill your long-term career goals is what matters.” He suggested alternative search possibilities such as a networked job-search and the use of executive recruiters and said that now may be a good time for entrepreneurship in a less-crowded market.
“This is going to be a tough year,” Butler concluded. “But HBS is a great place to be in a tough year.”