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Can A Rice MBA Help You Navigate The COVID Era?

Q and A with Jessica Campbell, Rice Business Director of Corporate and Employer Relations

Even in good times, top leaders are experts at managing change. Now, during the pandemic, nimbleness, quantitative strength and strategy skills may be more important than ever for landing a job. Rice Business has seen its highest enrollment ever this year, thanks in part to the changing career landscape. So, what should Rice MBA students know about the recruiting outlook? Jessica Campbell, director of corporate and employer relations at the Rice Business Career Development Office, gives a close-up view.

Industry Will Be Rebuilding

Q. What’s the first thing Rice MBA students should know about the recruiting environment?

A. The most important thing to know is that there are reasons for optimism. COVID-19’s impact on the economy is unique: the pandemic forced shutdowns to try to avoid an even worse catastrophe. Right now, COVID-19 is continuing to alter consumer behavior. Once the pandemic is under control, the economy should bounce back.

In fact, employers are expecting a rebound in MBA hiring in 2021, according to the annual GMAC survey. Before COVID-19, 92% of firms sampled said they planned to hire MBA graduates in 2020. That dropped to 77% during the pandemic. But when employers were asked about 2021, nearly 90% voiced plans to hire MBAs – close to pre-COVID levels.

Q: What are common questions from prospective students?

A: We’re getting lots of questions around GMAT scores, given the difficulties around testing. So we took that question to our employers and asked whether or not GMAT scores were necessary this year. Some maintained that GMAT scores are still absolutely necessary. Others said they will be one data point among many. Certainly, for some industries like consulting and investment banking, taking the GMAT and having a solid score makes it a much easier process.

The Internet Opens Doors

Q: What questions are you hearing from first year students?

A: We’re getting lots of questions around how many hires to expect from consulting firms. Most of these firms don’t know or aren’t yet sharing this information. We do know that consulting is always competitive, and we expect that will be especially true this year. So it’s important for students to have a range of options. It’s critical to start networking early and do your research in order to stand out.

Interestingly, students are also discovering advantages to the online job search. In a recent column, our first-year MBA student Katie Chung wrote, “The internet opens doors. You can start your day with a meeting in Europe and end your day with a session in Asia … going virtual has provided the opportunity to reconnect with alumni who can, in turn, help current students recruit.”

Employers Have Learned To Stay Engaged

Q: What’s changed about recruiters’ practices?

A: Employers have shifted to virtual recruiting for this year. Companies will return to campus physically as circumstances allow, but I anticipate that virtual recruiting will stick around. Employers have been increasing virtual recruiting efforts for years and COVID-19 accelerated this trend.

Employers also tell us they learned a lesson from 2008, when many companies disappeared from campus recruiting and then found real challenges as they returned to campus in subsequent years to recruit top talent. While a handful of employers won’t be recruiting at all this year, most of our corporate partners are staying engaged.

Meanwhile, we’ve modified all of our career education programming to reflect the virtual recruiting landscape. Students have always been able to record virtual mock interviews, but now they practice in the same format they’ll experience in their virtual interviews. And recruiting starts early! Even before the program starts, there are pre-MBA opportunities. So, although on-campus interviews for internships start in January, information sessions and coffee chats start the first week of school.

Q: What industries are most receptive to hiring right now?

A: The top four industries for our 2020 graduates were consulting (24.5%), financial services (22.3%), technology (20.2%) and petroleum/energy (12.8%). In fact, more of our MBAs accepted jobs in tech this year than in the preceding five years, and we anticipate that this could continue to grow. It’s a sector where we are focused on developing more relationships. We’re also reaching out to CPG companies, who are major recruiters for marketing MBAs. We’re ramping up outreach to these employers, some of whom who have not visited our campus. Virtual recruiting opens a really promising gateway to introduce these companies to our graduates.

Strategy, Communication, Versatility

Q: What skills do employers want?

A: What we hear from recruiters aligns with the GMAC Survey: Employers want strategic thinking, communication skills and versatility. Rice Business graduates are exceptionally well-trained in these areas. Their quantitative skills and the ability to make sense out of data are now reflected by the recent STEM designation of our entire program. Thanks to its size and culture, Rice Business is also outstanding at developing leaders. The diversity of both Rice Business and of Houston is another strength: our 35% minority student body made Rice Business the country’s No. 1 most diverse MBA program last year.

Alumni Offer Key Opportunities

Q: Are you changing your employer outreach strategies?

A: Absolutely. I think many of these changes will stick around beyond COVID-19.

Campus recruiting is 100% virtual this fall, and I expect it will remain so through the spring semester. Information sessions, coffee chats and interviews are all still happening, just in a virtual format. We’ve shifted our annual Diversity Networking Reception to a virtual networking event. And now that recruiting is virtual, we can engage with recruiters who don’t typically come to campus. Our information sessions are actually up from last fall. The recent addition of a third cohort, and our newly increased class size, may also attract more potential recruiters because of the larger candidate pool.

We also partner closely with External & Alumni Relations and Marketing and Communications on employer/alumni outreach. Our Rice Business alumni, in particular, are great advocates — a terrific resource for helping students get a foot in the door.

Meet Jessica

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