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MBA Recruiting - How it works

After speaking with a number of MBA students recently who have struggled to grasp the mechanics of the MBA recruitment market I thought I would pen a piece outlining my view on how things work. As a jobseeker it is vitally important that you understand how a process operates so that you can position yourself accordingly, hopefully this article can help.

Generally how MBAs are recruited into an organisation can be split between 2 main types of corporate hiring activity, Programme hiring or an Ad-Hoc approach.

Programme Hiring
This is the typical expectation for many students when beginning an MBA, that by the end of their course they will be hired onto a big branded MBA Recruitment Programme. These programmes generally consist of a structured 2-3 year rotational tenure within an organisation, exposing the participant to a wide area of different functional activities before being placed in a relatively senior permanent position at the end of the rotation. The corporate rationale and thinking for these initiatives is driven by the belief that in exposing new starters to many aspects of the business they will be better equipped to make more holistic corporate decisions later in their career and be ideally suited for senior management positions. Examples: Amex, BT, Shell, Microsoft, Barclays

Other MBA programmes are not rotational in nature but hire into specific functional niches such as Marketing or Finance, this type of process is usually delivered around a structured training, development & support programme which lasts 2-3 years with the objective again of fast-tracking senior leaders through and up the business. Examples, I-Banks, Consulting Firms, JnJ, DHL, P&G, L’Oreal, WPP, Astra Zeneca

MBA Programmes share a lot in common with numerous High Potential Programmes and in fact many organisations seek out MBAs as ideal candidates to be part of this process. High Potential Programmes often operate in a similar way to a rotational programme however their intake is not restricted solely to MBA graduates. Examples: Prudential, BT – FTLP

You must be aware that Programme Hiring has fit with a certain profile of individual, candidates are typically aged under 30, still building a career, have the ability to be flexible geographically and tend to be motivated by building a corporate career. In Europe this profile is most strongly correlated with Full Time MBAs, a large proportion of which fit into this category. In the United States the correlation with Full Time MBA’s is even stronger, not surprising if you consider that many of the corporate programmes evolved from and have their foundations in the USA.

Ad-Hoc Hiring
The other type of hiring we see in the MBA market is of an ad-hoc nature, here organisations do not typically recruit MBAs in large volumes but hire according to organisational need at a given moment in time. These companies hire around demonstrable experience and skill-sets and are very specific with their requirements. Examples: Pepsico, Apple, Amazon, SME’s

The approach is akin to more general senior level recruitment with MBA engagement forming one part of a portfolio of candidate acquisition channels. Due to the nature of experience based hiring it has a correlation with all student populations however is particularly powerful for, older Full Time, Distance Learning & Executive MBAs and Alumni given their added maturity and experience which often deems them unsuitable for many MBA hiring programmes.

In my experience a larger proportion of European MBAs tend to get hired via the Ad-Hoc route, this is mainly driven by the fact that student profiles here in Europe tend to be more mature. The important thing to remember is that the approach methods for gaining a job can differ considerably between these 2 routes and you must have a carefully designed strategy for each. By understanding your fit, your aspirations and the most effective route to yield results you can apply your energies strategically.

Happy hunting!


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Posted on June 19, 2012       


Bilal Ojjeh, June 19, 2012    

Many thanks Leon for this great summary. Very clear and well done. I fully agree with your segmentation of the MBA hiring.

At, we cover both types of MBA recruiting:
> For students interested in MBA programs, we compiled a global comprehensive directory with 265 up-to-date programs so far. See the related section on the top navigation of this page. This is really a must for candidates interested in these programs. It includes when possible the program description, required profile, target schools, application deadlines, etc. They also include links to the program website and online presence (FB, T, LI, YT, etc) so candidates can learn more (and network their way into the organizations).

> For alumni and other students, we have our jobs from all over the world, plus our CV / résumé database so that employers or we can reach out to them with matching opportunities.


Yonna Hardt, July 29, 2012    

Thank you very much Leon. Very insightful and definitely helpful. Do you have any idea if there is a difference in terms of salary between both ways of MBA hiring?

Leon Richards, July 30, 2012    


Unfortunately that is a bit of a "how long is a piece of string?" question. It all depends - a stock MBA answer - some programmes pay more than others, some direct hire roles pay less than programmes and some pay more than programmes. it all depends on the value contribution you can bring to a company and how that company assigns a salary to that value!

If you are looking for benchmarking data these 2 sites may help:

Good luck.


Abdullateef Babatope Gbadamosi, July 31, 2012    

Amazing insight into the MBA hiring process. Thank you Leon.

NARAYAN ADEEB, August 4, 2012    

Well put together Leon. Thank you.

To be added for the benefit of the international candidate...
Two things the importance of which just can't be underlined enough (particularly in Europe).

1. Work Authorization: Because of a number of restrictions placed on employers willing to sponsor visas for candidates in the wake of the prevalent socio-economic conditions, fewer and fewer would want to go down that road with you. A pre-existing authorization helps! Particularly in the case of Ad-hoc hiring. The company may not be able to keep the vacancy open for long and time and effort (money is generally not an issue) needed on their part to have your case process may compel them to look the other way. Having said that, if they were desperately looking for a very rare commodity and if that happens to be you, you may even make it empty-handed. You may also make it if they've managed the vacancy rather well (but don't bank on that).
Programme hiring has its cyclical application window. Those needing a visa sponsorship from the prospective employer (if the employer has such a provision) should positively be the early birds. Most programmes would explicitly state this, but take that as an unwritten rule if they don't.

2. Local language skills: There's a new language wherever you go in Europe and in most cases, you'd be expected to know the local one. Agreed that in certain countries and with certain skill-sets, you might be able to get away with just English, but the least the lack of local language skills would do is drastically reduce your options. I mean C'MON.. we're into business and the value of an MBA degree has a lot to do with soft skills. If you aspire to talk for a living, it is important that you and the other person understand each other (yes! that's what language is for!!)

Cheers and Good Luck!

Raphael Prync, August 2, 2013    

Thank you Leon for this very interesting point of view.

Ivan Filice, May 19, 2015    

It's a very interesting article which let me know more about the MBA hiring process. Thank you Leon for sharing it

Pablo Romero Yusta, September 21, 2015    

Thank you very much Leon. Very insightful and helpful article.

John van der Laan, September 30, 2015    

Hi Leon,
Thanks for the insights.
I think your remarks are timeless and still very applicable. As (former) students we must understand which of these hiring activities we want to aim for and set our actions accordingly.

Matteo Inverardi, November 28, 2015    

Hi Leon,
thanks for the interesting article.
I think it is really useful

Nounagnon Alexandre DJOSSOU, January 5, 2016    

Very detailed article! Thank you.