Recruiters of M.B.A.s return to campuses, looking for more

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Business schools usually hold their big recruiting events for graduating students in the fall. But in an encouraging sign for the job market, and possibly for the economy overall, a number of schools are holding new or enlarged career fairs this spring.

Last fall, investment banks and management consulting firms, two of the biggest wooers of M.B.A.s, flooded back to business schools to recruit more aggressively than they have since the blockbuster autumn of 2000, business schools report. Now on their heels comes a broad assortment of employers in fields ranging from technology to health care to airlines, hoping to scoop up the remaining campus prospects.

Some employers, wary of making hiring commitments one year in advance during an uncertain economy, didn't recruit on campus in the fall - but now realize they need the new hires after all. Others say their needs have grown since they recruited in the fall.

At the University of Chicago's Graduate School of Business last week, 29 companies attended the school's first spring career fair. They included a direct-marketing firm, a chemical company, insurance companies and software firms. Most of them didn't recruit on campus early in the academic year, but their appetites have grown, says Julie Morton, associate dean of M.B.A. career services.

In many cases the accelerated pace of spring recruiting seems tied to improved economic outlooks. At New York University's Stern School of Business, about 50 employers attended an April 1 spring career fair, up from about 35 employers in 2004, the first year Stern held the event. Many of the latest attendees are back after attending the school's fall career fair. "They underestimated their demand for talent," says Gary Fraser, Stern's associate dean for M.B.A. student affairs. "They did some conservative hiring in the fall but realized that because of the way the business has been going, their needs have increased."

Some companies "were waiting on another quarter of financials before making those kinds of [hiring] decisions or waiting for big projects to come through," says Melinda Allen, assistant dean of admissions and career management at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, Nashville, which held its first spring career fair April 15, attended by 11 companies, including health-care, technology, consumer-products and other firms.

Employers still don't seem as hungry as they were during the 2000-2001 academic year, when top business-school graduating classes racked up job-offer rates of 90% or more, estimates Mindy Storrie, president of the M.B.A. Career Services Council. But this year, with many graduations still weeks away, the job market looks better than last year.

Nearly 75% of Chicago's second-year students have job offers at this point, up from about 65% at this point in 2004. At NYU's Stern, roughly 75% of second-year students have offers, compared with about 60% to 65% a year ago. At the University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School, at least 70% of second-year students have job offers now, compared with 68% at graduation in mid-May last year.

Will Doenges, a 31-year-old second-year student at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, Austin, attended his school's first spring career fair April 15 and landed two interviews that afternoon, one with an airline and another with an oil-services firm. "Knowing that companies are still looking for candidates, that's definitely encouraging," he says.

Candidates recruited in spring aren't necessarily weaker than fall recruits. Some may be pursuing specialized industries; others are career-switchers and may have a harder time selling themselves in a new industry.

"It's a very strong candidate pool even late in the game," says Stacey Rudnick, director of M.B.A. Career Services at McCombs. Smaller companies and businesses ranging from real-estate finance to start-up entrepreneurship don't like to make hiring commitments far in advance, she notes.

Asurion Corp., a Nashville provider of insurance, roadside assistance and other add-on features through cellphone companies, attended the career fair at Vanderbilt's Owen school. Back in the fall, Asurion was projecting six or seven M.B.A. graduate hires in 2005, an increase from the four it hired in 2004. But business is better than expected. Now it plans to hire about 10 M.B.A. graduates for areas such as marketing, finance and product management, says Paige Boyd, Asurion's recruiting director.

Ms. Boyd says she had been nervous about finding good prospects before hearing about the Owen fair. "I really felt like we had missed out on some of the great candidates," she says. But there was no shortage of competition for candidates. While she tried to persuade one promising candidate to set up an interview, another recruiter across the table was trying to wrangle the same student.

The last-minute surge offers hope to the jobless. Brian Douglas, a 30-year-old second-year student at Vanderbilt's Owen, almost landed a marketing job in November but didn't close the deal. Deflated, he didn't pursue other jobs aggressively until the new year. Now, he says, "I am searching frantically." He says he got a lukewarm reception from some firms at the fair, but others were eager. "One person told me he had 22 positions open and was ready to interview me this weekend," Mr. Douglas recalls. "I was stunned."

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